Young people running for office, regardless of their ideology, is inspiring and encouraging for America’s future. However, there are already so many stereotypes thrown at Millennials and Gen-Zers that we, unfortunately, have to work harder to prove that we’re really ready to take over the world.
The oversimplified, watered-down hot takes from Twitter just aren’t sufficient when running for office. It’s easy to tweet “taxation is theft,” but if you don’t know your actual policy position on taxes, you’re going to get destroyed in a political debate or interview.
Enter Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who issued a blistering defeat to prospective Speaker of the House Joe Crowley in their Bronx-based primary. Regardless of one’s opinion of her or her brand of socialism, Ocasio-Cortez’s win is impressive and significant for the 2018 midterms.
That said, Ocasio-Cortez is showing a major flaw in the younger generation of politicos. We know what we think, and we can articulate it fairly well in 280 characters with a sprinkle of sass, but when it comes to complex policy, we throw our hands up and say, “I’m not an expert on geopolitics!”
For a Twitter politico who has a day job or is going through school, that’s a pretty acceptable answer. After all, very few people truly understand all the nuances of, say, the Palestine-Israel conflict. But, when one is running for office and begins to criticize “Israeli occupation of Palestine,” one needs to be able to defend that opinion with some facts and figures.
This isn’t to say that Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t have something valuable to offer to the political realm, but it does mean that her fellow young politicos can learn a thing from her recent gaffes. Since many politicos now get their start on social media, it’s important to understand the what works on Twitter does not always translate into offline politics.
Twitter lacks a decorum that is expected in elections
Although American political elections are getting dirtier and dirtier since the days of George H.W. Bush versus Michael Dukakis and especially after the rollercoaster that was 2016, there are still some expected norms of decency. Ocasio-Cortez made a bit of a blunder when she called out primary opponent Joe Crowley for “still running Third Party” and “not answering her calls,” but just ended up looking foolish when the political veteran responded with a polite, well-worded response that sounded a bit like a deserved scolding.
.@repjoecrowley stated on live TV that he would absolutely support my candidacy.
Instead, he’s stood me up for all 3 scheduled concession calls.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) July 12, 2018
Alexandria, the race is over and Democrats need to come together. I’ve made my support for you clear and the fact that I’m not running. We’ve scheduled phone calls and your team has not followed through. I’d like to connect but I’m not willing to air grievances on Twitter. https://t.co/hxEeWEpI2O
— Joe Crowley (@JoeCrowleyNY) July 12, 2018
Ocasio-Cortez is a new kind of Democrat; her energy and youth make her seem like the perfect poster child for the Party. She has the ideas of Senator Bernie Sanders with the persona that is more relatable to the college students who supported him so passionately in 2018. But, she won’t be the poster child for long if she continues to bite the head off of fellow Democrats.
There are no mute or block buttons in elections
Social media has actually been a great way for young people to try out political opinions and find like-minded people, but minds aren’t being changed on Twitter. In fact, people often create echo chambers for themselves and avoid users who may think differently from them. But, there’s no mute button in elections. Political opponents can’t be blocked or silenced. Instead, candidates are expected to confront these opponents and prove why their ideas are superior in debates and town halls. A quick quote-tweet saying, “Delete your account” or “I have an economics degree” isn’t proving that an idea is better and isn’t swaying any voters.
A retweet from someone in California isn’t a vote gained in a Bronx election, so young candidates who have great social media presences have to remember that the Twitter community is not their constituency.
Elections require more knowledge than 280 characters can hold
As shown by Ocasio-Cortez’s PBS interview, she is incredibly charismatic and energized about her message, but some of the supporting details fall flat. She supports Palestinian sovereignty, but she can’t exactly tell you why she doesn’t support Israel. She believes the current unemployment numbers are misleading, but her reasoning that “unemployment is low because everyone has two jobs” doesn’t quite make sense. When a candidate is being interviewed and can be asked follow-up questions, a talking point that sounds great on Twitter won’t exactly cut it.
Gaffes live forever on the Internet
Younger generations are taught relentlessly in school that the Internet is forever, and posting should not be done lightly. In college classes and seminars, students are taught how to use social media appropriately so that their accounts won’t hinder job prospects. So, it is puzzling why Ocasio-Cortez, who is considered a social media influencer, would allow a video of her saying, “we’re going to flip this seat red” when she’s campaigning for a Democrat – whose color is pretty famously blue – anywhere on the Internet. The tweet was later deleted, but the damage was already done.
Of course, she knows that the Democrats are blue and Republicans are red. She misspoke, which is absolutely fine because we’re all human and she’s running a stressful campaign. But, quite literally, all she had to do was not post the video and redo it. As avid social media users, we’re so used to spitting out a hot take in a timely manner to get the most attention on posts, but veteran politicians know that sometimes one has to take an extra minute to make sure the message is being portrayed accurately. That’s why the most polished politicians on social don’t run their own accounts. They hire someone to properly preserve their brand.
Maybe it’s unfair that young politicos will have to work harder to prove their worth, but there’s no use in lamenting that. Veteran politicians don’t necessarily have better ideas – actually, many of them definitely don’t – but they have the political know-how to preserve their seats and keep constituents satisfied. If Millennials and Gen-Zers are really going to flip primaries and find their way into Congress, they’re going to have to delete the sassy hot takes, put down the phone, and expand their positions beyond 280 characters.