Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the freshman New York representative, joins Intercept reporters Ryan Grim and Briahna Joy Gray for an in-depth conversation about her approach to politics and social media, her thoughts on the 2020 presidential election, and her out-of-nowhere congressional campaign. As a new member of the House Financial Services Committee, she’s already shaping the conversation with her call to raise the top marginal tax rate to 70 percent. Former North Carolina Rep. Brad Miller, a progressive Democrat who served for years on the Financial Services Committee, joins the conversation to talk about the challenges Ocasio-Cortez will face there.
Watch the behind-the-scenes video of the interview:
Ryan Grim: Hello Deconstructed listeners, I’m Ryan Grim, D.C. Bureau Chief for The Intercept.
Briahna Joy Gray: And I’m Senior Politics Editor Briahna Joy Gray.
RG: This week we’re bringing you a special dispatch from The Intercept’s Washington offices. Mehdi will be back with a regular episode of the show on Thursday, but today we have an extended interview with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. We will also be joined by former Congressman Brad Miller who previously served on the House Financial Services Committee, which we now know AOC will be joining. We talked with her about her first few weeks on the Hill, her thoughts on 2020 and reflect on her out-of-nowhere congressional campaign. Enjoy.
BJG: So Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, it’s so great to have you here. We know that your time is in high demand and you’ve already had such a busy week. I saw you on Monday having that discussion Ta-Nehisi Coates at Riverside Church in commemoration of Dr. King. That night you jetted off and you went on the Late Night Show with Colbert, where I heard you cursed out the entire country.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Oh yeah, apparently!
Stephen Colbert: On a scale of zero to some, how many [bleep] do you give? [Audience laughs.]
AOC: I think it’s … zero!
BJG: And this morning I saw on Instagram Stories that you had a Democratic caucus meeting, and you were explaining to your followers exactly what it meant, and the way that you, you do, in what is one of the only remaining civics classes I think that’s left in the country.
AOC (instagram video): And movement-based campaigns are very powerful because they’re issue focused. Anyone can run an issue-based campaign. What the heck is going on with this? I’m going to whisk this coconut milk.
BJG: So I just want to start by asking you, like, how are you feeling right now?
AOC: I’m feeling good. You know, it’s funny, most days I have no idea what day it is. And people are like, “Have a good weekend.” And I’m like “What?” So.
BJG: Would be fair to say that some of the cooking that happens on Instagram Live is a necessity because you just have to multitask?
AOC: Oh. Absolutely, absolutely. It definitely is. It’s, it’s it’s a total necessity and I figured it’s also a good way to use technology to reach constituents because sometimes it’s just physically almost impossible with demands on our time. So we have to figure out ways to kind of use the the small pockets of time that we do have creatively, even if it’s just when I’m, you know, prepping vegetables for dinner, if I can get, if I can get a conversation about policy in there, it’s tremendously effective.
RG: That might be like a 200-level or 300-level social media course that you taught.
RG: So how did you, how did the course go that you taught, you know, you taught a kind of Twitter for Dummies class, you know?
AOC: I mean, I wouldn’t say dummies …
RG: Twitter for members of Congress, which is kind of synonymous.
Brian Kilmeade: Ocasio-Cortez will be leading a session on the Hill to help school her fellow Democrats on social media skills.
Jeanne Moos: She offered fellow Democrats nuggets like: “If you don’t know what a meme is, don’t post a meme.”
RG: How’d that go, like — ?
AOC: It went really, well. I mean this one was more of a rapid fire, so this session was really a panel. And it was myself it was Ted Lieu, who himself has a very large Twitter following, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell as well as some of the Twitter government kind of outreach folks at, at Twitter itself. And, actually, House Ethics was there because there are House ethics rules based on what you can tweet, when you can tweet it, and so they kind of covered the ethics side. And I kind of covered just my approach and how we can better get, I think, a party message to really resonate with people.
RG: And Twitter has come a long way on the Hill. When, when it, when it first came around I remember seeing a sign in Longworth for the cafeteria that said to to follow the Longworth cafeteria, call this extension.
AOC: Whoa! [She laughs.]
RG: Call them up, they’ll tell you what the handle is, and then you can go —
AOC: Oh my gosh.
RG: I did not follow Longworth cafeteria.
I’m curious as you went from kind of an obscure candidate to a then much-less-obscure candidate but still not global celebrity, then go to Democratic nominee, then go to Democratic Congresswoman, each moment you kind of ratchet up and the amount of public attention that you’re getting, did you ever notice yourself sort of self-censoring a little bit or thinking in extra beat and, and how did you deal with that or, or did you not?
AOC: Yeah, I mean —
RG: If you didn’t, it’s almost kind of weird?
AOC: Yeah. Yeah. No, I, I — actually for me, the most stressful time was right after the primary, because that I think was the biggest, starkest difference in my life — like literally overnight I went from no one caring who I was unless I was swiping my Metro card too slow, to like, to like everyone being like, “Who is she?” “What is this?” All these cameras all over the place. And it was just a completely alien change. I was extremely stressed out because it felt like everything I said had so much more weight overnight.
A couple of days after the primary, I was in my neighborhood and I turned around this corner to get on the street and this woman saw me and just started crying. She just broke down crying. And even though I didn’t feel like a different person, I felt this immense responsibility of all of these people’s’ hopes and dreams for our future. It is something that I grapple with a lot because I know it’s not me, it’s like this avatar of me. But I still feel a responsibility to do the best that I can.
BJG: If I can make an observation about you, having watched your Twitter come up over the past few months, or 6 months, or whatever it’s been. I’ve given this some thought myself. I’m, you know, obviously not Ocasio-Cortez, but I went from relative, you know, like a nobody lawyer to working for The Intercept and I remember feeling suddenly, you know, I can’t tweet about my digestive tract today —
BJG: — in the way I might have before, and suddenly feeling like, “Oh maybe this is going to have a stymieing effect, a silencing effect on what I actually say and then having to think about, well, the reason why anybody actually cared in the first place is because there was a kind of a zeitgeist that I felt like I I was tapping into, and you said this in your remarks with Ta-Nehisi Coates the other day, that you felt as much as you were talking or tweeting, that you were also listening, and you felt like you were one of many voices, and you just had a platform to amplify those voices more, so.
AOC: Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s also, that’s probably one thing that I that I did not share in this Twitter 101, because maybe that’s more of a 201, in that it’s not just in outlet, it’s also an inlet, in that it is a place where you can — where you take temperature, where you take pulse, and it’s not just how to tweet but it’s also how to listen and how to read. And, and that really tells you where people are at, where the zeitgeist is, so that you can kind of be speaking in a way that is not going against the tide of of the language and the mood in the sentiment of where people are.
RG: What are you — can you think of any examples of where your kind of antenna was tuned to like the public reaction to a particular thing? Did you like notice like, oh wow, the Green New Deal is really popping now, like people are really hungry for this? Or any of the reverse?
AOC: I think — yeah, well I actually feel like I do, it started off unintentionally, but I feel like I end up listening to things in that, I’ll tweet something and something that gets particularly extra traction, I, I kind of dissect especially if I, if I didn’t expect it to build traction and I’m like hmmm.
It was a similar thing actually with the Green New Deal is that we were floating this as a policy discussion before even the general election and what we found was that we were, we were interviewing policy experts and academics and activists and advocates about this and we weren’t even sure if we wanted to call it a Green New Deal. I wasn’t 1000 percent sure on that kind of branding, if you will, or how we would talk about that. And what we found was that it was. kind of a working title, Green New Deal was a working title, and we almost had the understanding that was going to be called something else, but it kept like leaking and catching and people just started writing articles calling it a Green New Deal before we even said anything or called it that ourselves, and so because of that it was that was in a moment where it was listening, and I was like OK let’s not try to force our own thing on this, if this is building traction, if it’s easily being communicated then let’s just run with it.
RG: And one thing I noticed after the election in that kind of fraught moment where you were kind of proving yourself to that the country, you really leaned into it, like you you you basically took all comers, and then you know, and you were hitting on all of the strides, and then you did the one, I forget what the exact quote was, it was some misstep about Israel.
AOC: Oh yeah, the firing line, which then got doctored and then the doctored video is the one that made it on Fox News.
AOC: I think what I meant is like the settlements, places where more Palestinians are experiencing difficulty—
Margaret Hoover: Do you think you can expand on that?
AOC: I am not the expert on geopolitics, on this issue.
AOC: And then, like everyone just sees the doctored version instead of the actual exchange which is, you know —
RG: It did feel like you stepped back a little bit and —
RG: Maybe there was already a scheduled recalibration, but it did feel like after that you’re like, “OK, I think we pushed it as far as we could, now it’s time to —”
AOC: I think that there were a couple of things happening in that moment. One is that everyone in the world thought that my general election was a sure thing except me. I did not think that my win in the general was a sure thing.
RG: I didn’t either.
BJG: Yeah, we talked about it.
AOC: Yeah, no, I did not, and like, everyone around was like, “You’re crazy, like, it’s going to be a landslide.” And I was like, “No, it’s not,” and we’re getting a lot of evidence on the ground that supported my feelings on that, and so I really did not want to reach over what I thought I could and, and actually before that interview even happened, I had already agreed that that was going to be my last one, and it just end up ending on a bad note.
RG: Did not stick the landing.
AOC: Did not stick the landing at all!
RG: We recently learned that Ocasio-Cortez had been assigned to the powerful House Financial Services Committee, along with progressive freshman Katie Porter, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib, as well as new member Tulsi Gabbard.
It’s pretty unusual for that many progressive freshman to get such a prestigious committee assignments.
BJG: We sat down with former North Carolina Representative Brad Miller, who served on the Financial Services Committee during the 2008 financial crisis and saw firsthand how that committee had been captured by the industry it oversees.
RG: Brad, thanks, thanks for joining us Brad Miller is a congressman—represented Raleigh in North Carolina on the Financial Services Committee, one of the kind of leading progressives, became one of the leading progressives on the committee, pushing for Glass-Steagall to be reinstated, for the, for the banks to be broken up, for bankers to be thrown in prison—
Congressman Brad Miller: [Laughs.] With a, with a fair trial.
RG: Fair trial first. Subprime lending to be regulated.
RG: Lead sponsor of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, over at the House. But before we go to Brad, I wanted to get your insight on banking issues, because of your own experience with banking now that, after you won the nomination, your mansion in Yorktown.
AOC: [Laughs.] Yeah. My two-bedroom mansion.
RG: And that had actually been part of our coverage of the race, and part of, of your story the entire time but it did involve foreclosure, it involved — was it called the probate court?
AOC: Yeah, the surrogate’s court.
RG: The surrogate’s court. So what, what was your experience with the banks and, and with foreclosure?
AOC: Well I feel like, for me, I was largely shielded from direct interactions with the bank, because at that time, when my father passed, I was just around 18 years old, and this was, and this was, you know, we’re confronting the double whammy, as as you already reported on of, of us struggling with our payments in the middle of a financial crisis but also losing my father who was the main breadwinner in our home.
I remember being at the house and there would be these cars that started pulling up and taking pictures of our house; they were just anticipating something happening. And so, and my mom would walk up to them and be like, “What are you doing?” And they basically would say: “Well, we’re taking photos from the street you can’t really tell us what to do.” And it was just very deeply unsettling, very deeply unsettling. And that’s when it, that’s when these predatory practices that we knew banks engaged in, leapt off the page, leapt off the television and it was literally in the street in front of my house.
RG: And it’s not just what banks, right, do, it’s often what they don’t do, which is follow the law when it comes to modifications or refinancing or, or just work, work with people.
So you’re now going to be in a position to regulate those banks, you know, the banks that were unwilling to work with you a couple years ago, now they’re going to have to work with you. You know, what’s Brad, what is she facing from the banks on the Financial Services Committee?
BM: You’re facing on a lot of members who will be more senior than you who don’t have those sympathies, have certainly not experienced for themselves. Most members of the committee are not going to be all that immersed in, in the details.
Certainly in the time that I was there, towards the end, after the financial crisis hit, after we were in the foreclosure crisis it became apparent that servicing of mortgages was a huge problem. And we just couldn’t get, those of us who were trying to do something about it just could not get them to do anything. And there were times that I just wanted to take, you know, somebody from Fannie or Freddie who said, “We can’t do it anyway except the way we’re doing it,” and just throw them out the window. Fortunately, it was on the first floor as I recall.
RG: Right, the issues are complex —
BM: There was all this pain out there in America over foreclosures, and the unspoken, unacknowledged priority was always about helping the banks kind of jiggle their finances so they could appear to be solvent and they wouldn’t have to recognize losses on mortgages. I mean it was a shameful time in our history. And I think household wealth, and people’s life savings fell by $9 trillion, and it was just not the priority of anybody in Washington and that was never acknowledged.
BM: They always wrung their hands and said, “Oh yes, gosh, we’re doing so much, this is so bad we’re doing everything we can.” But everything they could have done that would have been effective would have made the banks recognize her losses and that the banks would have been revealed, to many of them, to be insolvent and it was a great frustration of my life.
AOC: So I have a question —
AOC: — because you were serving in Congress and on the committee in the years leading up to the crisis. And I know that — I remember very well when the crisis was unfolding — because this was around the time that my father passed away and there were so many momentous things that were happening: Barack Obama was elected that, you know, that November but earlier that year was when Lehman collapsed.
BM: Yeah. Lehman collapsed, that was really what precipitated the real crisis.
AOC: Mhmm, and so there were all these things unfolding but I remember it was really in that, it was really that fall when everything was starting to fall apart. And there was just this universal sense of: “What is going on? We know that — we know that the markets are crashing, we don’t know why, we don’t know what’s going on.” And then it wasn’t until later that we, you know, that conversations about derivatives and credit swaps and all of these things were going on, but in that moment there was so much bewilderment. And I’m curious for you serving in the time that you did, how, what was it like? Were members passing things and like, we just didn’t know what was getting passed?
BM: Nobody, nobody knew. And I think one of, one of the things that I think you need to think about just trying to make sure you get a variety of sources of information, because the committee was being spoon-fed by the industry, the industry said all these financial innovations are just great, they’re making homeownership available, they’re, you know, the derivatives are allowing people to manage risk.
RG: “It’s making things more secure.”
BM: It was all good, it was all good. It was just, it was the wonders of an unfettered, of unfettered capitalism. And we were completely unprepared.
It took years, I mean, to try to piece together what really did happen and I don’t think we’ve done it. I know that we had the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, but people sense, their sense is that in Washington the real decisions are made behind closed doors and they aren’t made in their interest. And you know they’re not wrong about that.
AOC: Mhmm. Mhmm.
BM: And I think that’s why Democrats need to look at ourselves and say: How could we have lost to this guy?
AOC: Yeah. Absolutely.
BM: I mean we can talk about how bad Trump is all we want, but we lost to that guy.
BM: You know, the Clinton campaign ran as the … everybody who is anybody was for her.
BJG: The word coronation’s been throw around. Not my word.
BM: To make sure the field was cleared for her, and they seem never to understand that it was a changed election, that the electorate was fit to be tied, was angry. And Bernie was thought to be that, you know, this year’s sort of Dennis Kucinich — I say that with no disrespect to Dennis, but Dennis never got more than about 5 percent — and Bernie was thought to be a message candidate I think even by Bernie. And he got 47 percent of pledged delegates. He won 20-some primaries, 20-some states and the Clinton campaign and the Democratic establishment never really figured out: Things have come unstuck. Things have come unstuck. And they talked about how the math didn’t work and Bernie couldn’t possibly win the nomination, and I think that Bernie supporters already thought that Clinton and the Clinton campaign were the Borg, and that just sounded like ‘resistance is futile’, so they never quite caught on. And I’m not sure they’ve caught on yet.
RG: One thing a lot of people might not know about the committee structure is that there’s a literal price tag for joining the these committees.
RG: You know, the more powerful a committee is, the more powerful industry it regulates, the more money you’re expected to be able to raise and therefore you have to ante up. And this is not kind of a theoretical thing. There’s — they put a they put a price on this stuff.
BM: Right. Right.
RG: And they call it dues. And you, you turn this money over to the DCCC.
AOC: Yeah, I remember in kind of expressing interest in which committees I wanted, first, very early, after I won my primary, there was a lot of outreach from incumbent, from incumbent Democrats, and the one question that everyone kept asking was: What committee you want to be on? What committee do you want to be on? And I literally had just gotten elected, and I’m like, “I don’t know! What committees are there?” You know? And they do change in name, from one administration, one majority to another, and everyone was so immediate in that one question. Not: “How are you doing? How are you coping? “Hey, you came out of nowhere?” You know, it was “What committee do you want to be on?” And I remember thinking, “Wow, why is this THE question?”
And I spent one day in D.C. and I met with some folks and it wasn’t until like the very end of the day that, that I was told, “Well, you know, if you want to good committee, you’ve got to raise funds.” And, and I remember saying, “Well,” — and I was like, because at that time I had raised funds for other progressive candidates, I had driven folks to their donation links and things like that and so by that time we had raised over, you know, I think $50,000 or $100,000 dollars for other other progressive non-corporate funding campaigns. And I was like, “Oh, but I am raising funds!” And they’re like, “Oh, no, no, to — to the DCCC.” And I was like, “Oh!”
But I had just gone through this year where at the time, the DCCC had gone against other progressive candidates. And I was like OK, I remember leaving and I’m like, well I’m going to get put on some terrible committee. And, and so, you know, the election time comes and we’re just getting our committee assignments this week, so it’s January, you know of, of the new term, but we’ve basically spent the last three months since election day lobbying — and it’s this very opaque process, no one gives you a sheet of paper that says like, “This is how you get on a committee.” And so a lot of freshmen are just kind of babes in the woods like, “How do I do this?” And you just talk to a lot of people.
But one of the interesting developments on financial services is, is because we were asking to be put on an exclusive committee, and Financial Services is an exclusive committee and for a freshman that’s a very — that does not normally happen. And, and then we started feeling like, we’re feeling much more reception to this request than we had anticipated, and we’re like, “Hmm, like what’s going on.” And I had sat down with, with Chairman Waters, and I had spoken with a lot of other members.
And it seems like we’re in this very interesting moment where after the financial crisis, all these activists and advocates really started zeroing in on the Financial Services Committee, and because its members were getting so much more scrutiny than they had in the past, it no longer became the same kind of fundraising committee because those members were getting targeted a lot. And so, as a result, a lot of these even incumbent members that were on it have left the committee to go to other money committees, and so it has opened up this huge window. And so this year the Financial Services Committee has actually been staffed with a lot of progressives on it, to kind of occupy that space. And, in fact, frontline members are, it’s seen as too difficult of an assignment, like on Judiciary, you’ll have too many tough votes.
BM: Yeah, I think it’s changed dramatically from when I was a part of the committee, and I was appointed as a first-term member, and then what it became. I mean, it seems kind of odd to remember this, but when I was elected I wanted to avoid the committees that seem to have a lot of litmus-test, party-line, hot issues because I perceived myself as a moderate, and so I avoided Judiciary, and the same thing was true of Education and Workforce, or Education and Labor, as the Republicans call it when they’re in control, and Financial Services was thought to be kind of a backwater, but not certainly not where the fault line in American politics would be, and a lot of technical issues.
And the issue I picked, the old advice for new members of Congress, is pick some obscure technical issue but become the expert on that and, you know, your picture will be on a milk carton, but you’ll be doing important work. So the obscure technical issue I picked was sub-prime mortgages.
AOC: Wow. Wow.
RG: And it shows how Congress responds to incentives, like that shame works, that political organizing works.
BJG: Yeah, I think you did a tweet thread about this, and you have a picture of a somebody sitting with a Monopoly Man, the guy dressed as the Monopoly Man behind them, applying that kind of psychic pressure.
BM: But then from that, the committee became more and more dominated by first-term members in presumed-to-be-competitive districts so they could raise money. And then all they did in Washington was make phone calls.
BM: So if you’re a bank lobbyist or Wall Street lobbyist, all you had to do to to have the ear of a member the Financial Services Committee was wait for the phone to ring, and you didn’t have to wait very long.
And it became a really tough committee for any progressive points of view.
RG: Brad Miller, former congressman from North Carolina and member of the House Financial Services Committee, thank you so much for joining us.
BM: Glad to be here.
BJG: So, in our last few minutes I just got to talk 2020 with you.
BJG: Some people hate the horse race; I unabashedly love it. We had a lot of excited, high-profile announcements this week, Kamala Harris is in there, obviously Elizabeth Warren has been in the race for a while now, Kirsten Gillibrand. I mean, we have three of the top leaders now, all women. This is generating a lot of excitement. Depending on how much credibility you put in certain DNA tests, several of those women are women of color. [Laughs.]
AOC: Oh my gosh.
BJG: So the question becomes, you know, what are we looking for? What are the kind of priorities in this race? You know I have been you know noticing a lot of excitement around the idea of kind of glass ceiling-breaking candidates or candidates who will be firsts for reasons that are understandable, but there —
RG: Pete Buttigieg, on the cover of The Washington Post magazine, first millennial president.
BJG: First millennial president, first gay president, you know, there’s a lot of firsts.
RG: He’s the mayor of South Bend.
AOC: Oh! Sorry, I didn’t mean that in a disrespectful—
RG: It’s warranted.
AOC: I don’t know, so, he could be great.
BJG: He could be great, but the question becomes in that profile, there was nary a mention of new policy, so the question becomes, there seems to be this division between candidates where identity is being emphasized in candidates where policy is being emphasized and I think that what a lot of people are really attracted to you about you is that you’re a candidate or a representative now who is able to merge the two in a way that fulfills a lot of people’s interest.
So I’m curious, about you, there’s a lot of talk of what litmus tests, people put a lot of different things in litmus tests, what are you looking for in an emerging 2020 candidate? What are your priorities?
AOC: So, I think that, often times policy and progressivism gets pitted against identity in a lot of different ways and, and it just like makes a mess, I think. And, and for me I think it’s important on one side for the progressive side to not ignore the power of identity, because I know when I was running my race in the very beginning, I was running with a very strong progressive base and a very strong progressive coalition. But that alone was not enough to take me over the top. And it was when I really leaned in on this broader message and crafted a progressive message that was rooted in my life story that we were able to really capture a much wider electorate, even though my progressive message was still the same.
And so I think it’s important that we don’t ignore the power of identity, because it is very powerful, especially for women, especially for the rage of women right now. It is, you know Rebecca Traister has written about this, it’s like women’s rage is a very potent political force and it changes things on the right and the left, you know? It was primarily these women back in the 1940’s, ’50s, and ’60s, it was primarily these white women who were supporting the the Ku Klux Klan that got all of these statues erected in the South that are being taken down today that people think were erected around the time of the Civil War. And so it’s, it’s a very potent political force on both sides of the aisle and so I think it’s something that we shouldn’t ignore.
I’m — I think it’s great that we have multiple female presidential candidates, so there’s not the woman running, and then it’s like, “Oh my God?” You know so I’m very excited about there being multiple women across — that can represent different parts of the political spectrum on the left, so that’s something that I’m thankful for, because it means that we don’t get boxed in as one belief. And so I think that’s really good.
I am a horse-race hater. I hate them. I’m like, I’m like don’t ask me until the day before the New York primary is like, how I feel!
But I do think that obviously from — maybe not obviously but I think it’s pretty obvious like what we’re trying to do is is frame the debate and the conversation that are going to be happening in the next, that we’re going to be having in the next two years regardless of what that candidate is.
So I do not think that for the future of humanity, and for our country to continue to prosper, that we cannot have another presidential cycle where climate change is not being asked about at almost every debate, and that includes the role of fossil fuel, fossil fuel industries, and that includes the role of a broad spectrum of issues.
BJG: So one thing that was really interesting in your, in the whole course of the remarks of the Martin Luther King Day event on Monday, was that this is an event that is honoring Martin Luther King, a civil rights hero, it’s predominantly, you know, overwhelmingly African-American audience and speakers and, you know, movement leaders who were there. And my impression of the event was that the politics being espoused were much more to the left of what we normally hear out of mainstream Democrats.
BJG: And that is in direct contrast with the message we constantly hear about what certain communities, what the black community really wants.
BJG: And the idea that progressivism and people of color are in two different buckets and need to be catered to in these two very different ways.
AOC: Yeah, which I find funny because the polling and all of the data, and everything that we feel and see, shows that the opposite is true is that communities of color are usually much further to the left than white liberals, because racism, colonialism are — we understand through lived experience in a way that many don’t understand — that these are issues that are part of a capital, a hyper-capitalist framework, you know?
Black folks are descendants of slaves that were imported, quote-unquote by slave owners, to the United States for the explicit purpose of cultivating crops. And it was predicated on white supremacy and racial superiority, but we have to understand that white supremacy exists for a reason, and they exist for a very specific cultural and economic reasons. And LBJ talked about this — like, if you can convince a poor white man that he’s superior to a black man, he’ll empty his pockets for you.
And so it’s not just economic reasons why racism exists but there are economic reasons why racism is perpetuated and incentivized, whether that’s housing, income, et cetera. And like I said on Monday with Ta-Nehisi, until America tells the truth about itself we’re never going to heal.
And this — it’s like this thing that as a culture we hide, we make excuses for, we do the economic anxiety thing when Trump wins and it’s like we, it’s, it’s like this big wound with a big ugly scab on it, and it’s just going to stay this itchy thing that we keep going back to until we just deal with it.
BJG: And so what is — I think the part but it is interesting to me is certain people have appropriated the idea that we have to acknowledge and deal with a problem, which I think is right, as a kind of be-all, end-all.
Kamala Harris: It is clear now racism is real in this country and we need to deal with that.
BJG: And I think that some of my political concerns is that there is this this kind of space in the Democratic Party that says, “You know, if I stand on a stage and I say the word intersectionality; if I stand on the stage stage and say you know we have to address these issues and racism is real, then everybody applauds and there’s not necessarily kind of the policy follow up that’s necessary to start to address those root causes.” And so I think I do think that’s what makes your message particularly powerful, that you’re someone who’s able to blend those interests together and I’m curious to see what’s going to happen in 2020 if we get people who are really good at kind of saying the thing that over the course the last five years or so people have kind of gotten that you need to say, and those who can actually connect that to, “OK, I’m not going to say we need to address, redress past harms.” And then say, “But, I don’t care that the most you know uninsured population in the country is, you know, Hispanic and we’re not going to, you know we’re not going to get Medicare for everyone —”
RG: And Briahna and I were talking about this other day, it would be like the cheering at just the mention of racism would be like if, if a politician went up and said unemployment is at 15 percent, and the crowd cheered. They like, wait for applause.
AOC: Right. Right! Yeah!
RG: Economic misery is real, yet —
AOC: What I imagine is they’re like, “We need to,” and like, when they say, “discrimination, or unfair incarceration of black men” and then they pause and the crowd cheers and it’s like, in their mind, it’s like, “You’re welcome. Yeah, you’re welcome.” It’s like, you’re acknowledging it. It’s like, OK, acknowledging racism is a really big step.
BJG: It’s a necessary first step.
AOC: It’s a really big step from where we were, but you’re right, it’s nowhere near enough. And the solutions are so painful, frankly. I find it — I find the solutions for white communities to be very painful, because it’s very painful for a community to understand and have, go through this, like you can be, the idea that you can be poor and benefit from the color of your skin does not compute for a lot of people.
AOC: And going through that realization is very painful or even just economically for people that are that were born with silver spoons, it’s very painful to admit that you had advantages and it’s just —
RG: Look what happened to Brett Kavanaugh when he was confronted. He melted down!
AOC: It literally — it literally is an identity meltdown.
RG: “I worked for everything I ever had!”
AOC: Yeah, and like that is the majority of a lot of communities, how a lot of communities feel and it’s because if you haven’t had a transition in your life where, you know, you were maybe born poor or born without, you know, certain privileges and then especially as you transition into having certain privileges in your life, you actually see and feel and sense and taste and smell all of the differences. If you’ve never experienced different treatment in your life, you wouldn’t know what different treatment feels like or looks like.
And we can all — almost every single person this country can acknowledge some privilege of some type, you know? I’m a cisgender woman. You know, I will never know the trauma of feeling like I’m not born in the right body, and that that is a privilege that I have no matter how poor my family was when I was born. But it’s really hard for some people to admit. It’s part of this weird American dream mythology that we have, that for a lot of, in a lot of circumstances isn’t as true or isn’t as clearly communicated as we’d like for it to be, or we wish it were.
BJG: Yeah I’m working on it. Maybe, maybe the next piece on privilege dialogues and how to make it more constructive.
RG: Look forward to that one.
BJG: My mentions don’t.
AOC: It’s hard. I don’t envy you.
BJG: Well, thank you so much for coming and spending the time with us.
AOC: Of course.
BJG: And getting into all of these subjects. We hope to have similar conversations with you in the future.
AOC: Totally. This was great. Thank you.
RG: See you.
BJG: That was freshman congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and former North Carolina congressman Brad Miller. I’m Briahna Joy Gray, and my co-host was Ryan Grim. You can follow us on Twitter @briebriejoy and @ryangrim.
RG: We hope to be doing more interviews from Washington like the one you just heard over the coming weeks and months, with key figures in the Democratic insurgency that is reshaping both the party and our national politics.
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This podcast is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Zach Young. Leital Molad is our executive producer. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.
BJG: Did you enjoy this conversation? Hate it? Let us know at [email protected] We’d love to do more conversations like this, so please do tell us what you thought of it.
RG: See you again soon.
BJG: Hopefully! [Laughs.]