Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the biggest star in the Democratic Party, and she has been ever since she unseated Rep. Joe Crowley in a surprise primary upset in May. That her win didn’t, in the final analysis, launch a wave of leftist primary victories only goes to show what a phenomenon she personally is.
Not everyone shares her brand of politics, of course, but her constituency has exploded beyond the initial set of ideologues who powered the challenge to Crowley because of her incredible wit, charisma, social media savvy, and basic political smarts.
In a year when moderate incumbents generally didn’t lose primary challenges from the left and in which Our Revolution endorsees failed to flip a single GOP-held House seat, AOC constantly dominates the conversation — living rent-free in the heads of conservatives, racking up magazine profiles and Twitter followers, engaging supporters on Instagram in a heretofore unprecedented way, and pulling back the curtain on some of the seamier aspects of “business as usual” in the US Congress.
She’s an outside politician in the best possible sense — quietly loathed by many of her colleagues for beating a well-liked incumbent and being, frankly, more impressive than they are — but still well-liked by normal rank-and-file Democrats. Having spent more time as a bartender than a politician, she has an appealing everywoman persona, and a Latina from the Bronx is the reminder mainstream politics needs that there’s more to working-class life in America than old guys in Appalachian diners.
Yet a completely ridiculous constitutional provision makes her ineligible to run for president.
Young is better than old
While the law prevents anyone under the age of 35 from becoming president, we currently have a septuagenarian in the White House whose frequent nonsensical diatribes and notoriously scattered Twitter outbursts repeatedly raise the prospect of mental decline. Meanwhile, the top two Democrats in national polling — Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden — are 77 and 76, respectively.
There’s nothing wrong with old people per se, but essentially everyone has lost a step or two both mentally and physically by their mid-70s.
But more to the point, the really awful thing about being old is that you just keep getting older over time. We’re sitting here in the winter of 2018 talking about filling a presidential term that won’t start until 2021 — with an inevitable reelection campaign in 2024 for a term that wouldn’t end until early 2029.
With youth, by contrast, it’s the exact opposite situation. You might worry that a new youthful president is underexperienced (but then again, which president hasn’t been a little underexperienced), but lack of experience is guaranteed to improve with time. Things are as bad as they’ll ever be during the campaign, so voters can judge for themselves without worrying about lurking problems.
Besides which, 29 (Ocasio-Cortez’s age) just honestly isn’t that young. People younger than that are routinely trusted with life-and-death situations in a huge array of contexts, ranging from parenting to military service.
The constitutional prohibition on people under the age of 35 serving as president is just one of these weird lacuna that was handed down to us from the 18th century but that nobody would seriously propose creating today if not for status quo bias. Realistically, most people that young would simply have a hard time winning an election. But if you can pull it off, you should be allowed. And I kind of think she should run for president.
AOC should run for president
One good sign that AOC should run for president is that she has a nickname — AOC.
A House Democratic staffer told me the other day that “ACO” was a good example of something, and I knew exactly who she meant despite the error because there aren’t any other members of Congress who have widely recognized nicknames that you would just drop into casual conversation.
Is having a nickname a sign that you would exercise good judgment in the Oval Office? Absolutely not. But it’s proof positive that she’s an honest-to-goodness political superstar, and it’s clear that’s what many Democrats are looking for in 2020. They are seeking an antidote to Trump’s magnetic stage presence and ability to command attention, and she has that in greater quantities than anyone else in the field — certainly more so than Beto O’Rourke, a similarly experience-light candidate whom many Democratic operatives are pushing in a quest to capture some Bright Young Thing magic.
Beyond baseline charisma, she captures what’s appealing about Bernie Sanders — independence from ossified Democratic Party leadership and a keen back-to-basics grasp of the basic people-versus-powerful stakes of political conflict — while also being dramatically more fluent in contemporary progressive discourse around race and gender in a way that makes her appealing to a much broader swath of Democrats. Of course, she’s too left-wing for some and would need to demonstrate an ability to staff up and run a big operation while getting up to speed on the dozens of random issues that get tossed your way over the course of a national campaign. But that’s what campaigns are for!
It’s silly to arbitrarily rule out one of the most talented players due to age, and tragically non-obvious that political star power can actually last for years and years without dimming. But, of course, the constitutional prohibition will not get changed in time. That, however, is one of the problems with these sorts of limitations — they’re too cumbersome to remove in a timely manner. That’s exactly why we should scrap them as soon as possible.
We should fix the Constitution ASAP
Not so long ago, Arnold Schwarzenegger cut a kind of vaguely Trumpish figure in California politics.
He was a Republican in the sense of stridently opposing the course the Democratic Party had taken the state on, but not a loyalist member of the conservative movement. And while he wasn’t a great governor, in my view, he certainly accomplished some things in terms of political reform and offered a glimpse of a world featuring bipartisan sanity on climate change.
Had he run for president in 2012, he probably would have lost badly in the primaries on the grounds of not being right-wing enough. But it’s at least conceivable that he would have won (it’s not like Mitt Romney’s career was composed of super-orthodox conservatism, after all), and he’d have been a tough opponent for Barack Obama to beat, for the best possible reason — his politics are considerably saner and more humane than the average Republican’s.
But, of course, he didn’t run and we never got a glimpse of what a run would look like because immigrants, like 20-somethings, are constitutionally barred from serving. At the time this was in the news, almost nobody actually defended the prohibition (because it’s ridiculous), but nobody in politics lifted a finger to do anything about it. In part, that was laziness, but in part, it was too clear any change would specifically benefit Schwarzenegger — something neither Democrats nor right-wingers really wanted to do.
That simply illustrates the cost of waiting to fix a constitutional problem until it’s “relevant” — once it’s relevant, people have a way of finding reasons to stick by even bad principles. The process of amending the Constitution is extremely cumbersome, requiring both supermajorities in Congress and ratification by a staggering 75 percent of the states. But there’s no time like the present to start working to abolish arbitrary qualifications and letting any eligible voter run for president any time he or she wants to.