Why Congress needs AOC, more waitresses, fewer millionaires

Why Congress needs AOC, more waitresses, fewer millionaires
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The congresswoman known as “AOC” — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezBiden narrowly ahead in Iowa as Sanders surges, Warren drops: poll Democrats reach cusp of impeachment Progressives hopeful for deal with Pelosi to avert showdown on drug prices MORE (D-N.Y.) — once again has found a way to trigger conservatives and, maybe even more so, establishment Democrats. This time, in answer to a question posed by journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Is it possible to live in a moral society with billionaires?,” Ocasio-Cortez replied: “No, it’s not. I’m not saying that Bill Gates or Warren Buffet are immoral, but a system that allows billionaires to exist when there are parts of Alabama where people are still getting ringworm because they don’t have access to public health is wrong.”

These words are revolutionary. They cut to the core of the agreement that Democrats and Republicans have made with the American oligarchs who really run our country. The consensus both parties seem to have come to is that the goal of American society should be to form a more perfect meritocracy, that there is no higher goal than making sure that those who win the genetic lottery of skills currently prized by the market can ascend to their rightful slot and make their billions. It’s their right. Those who don’t happen to have that particular combination of currently marketable skills can rot in minimum wage jobs, catering to the whims of the deserving creative class.

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Yes, both parties have adopted this exalting of the meritocracy. The only difference is that Republicans believe the meritocracy is more or less functioning, while Democrats believe that if we can just rid ourselves of the biases of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., we can achieve the perfection of the meritocracy.

Gone is the embrace of a life of dignity for all, such as what FDR proposed with his Four Freedoms. Gone is the solidarity of the labor movement’s seeking through unified struggle to secure a decent living for all workers. Gone is the call for economic justice by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who fought against the oppression of the poor as well as structural racism. We have traded a vision of humanity and dignity for all for a vision of the fundamental righteousness of plutocracy. Today’s billionaire kings have a divine right to their largesse because the meritocracy said so. They deserve their vast wealth, just as those stuck serving the overclass deserve their lives of struggle and hopelessness.  

This is the real divide in the Democratic Party: those who believe every citizen deserves a decent life, regardless of their zip code or their math score on the SAT, and those who just want to give people the vaguely-worded “right to compete.” As if that competition could ever be fair-minded, and as if the losers of that competition deserve their fate. It’s no accident that the alternative view — that we are all worthy — would be elevated by a bartender from the Bronx. AOC doesn’t know struggle from reading an article about it; she has seen it, smelled it, felt pressure to pay her own rent. And not 30 years ago before she made it, but today.

Recently, over eggs at the Holiday Inn Express in Charleston, West Virginia, our waitress pulled up some pics on her phone. “This is my son, Theo,” she told us, his name emblazoned in a tattoo on her arm. “He just turned 3 and he really wanted a sandbox. I couldn’t afford that, though, so I just threw some sand out behind the trailer and he had a blast.” She proclaimed it with a big  smile at adorable Theo romping in his birthday sand.

Just think: This woman works full time in America, the wealthiest nation on the planet, and she can’t afford a sandbox for her kid’s birthday. But a couple hours’ drive down the road and you’ll arrive at the mountaintop mansion of former coal baron and Senate candidate Don Blankenship, complete with helipad and private water line. Is this moral? No, it is not. Is it moral that Redskins owner Dan Snyder can buy a $100 million yacht while homeless people lie in the streets of Washington, D.C.? Is it moral when cities throw hundreds of millions of dollars at Jeff Bezos to get him to please locate Amazon in their city, while public school systems are starved of funds?

AOC is right. America’s economic system is immoral. And if we had more waitresses in Congress, and fewer millionaires, we might actually do something about it.  

Krystal Ball is the liberal co-host of “Rising,” Hill.TV’s bipartisan morning news show. She is president of The People’s House Project, which recruits Democratic candidates in Republican-held congressional districts of the Midwest and Appalachia, and a former candidate for Congress in Virginia. Follow her on Twitter @krystalball.