“There’s a lot of folks that I think sometimes want to brand me as a flamethrower,” she said. “I think the truth of what I am is I’m a consensus builder.” Breaking into a wide grin, she added, “And I like to think that I’m persuasive.”
Cooper asked her about centrist Democrats who worry that she and other progressives will push the party too far. “While I understand that concern, I think that I’m a much more reasonable person than people tend to make me out to be,” she said.
The 60 Minutes spot was Ocasio-Cortez’s first high-profile interview since taking the oath of office late last week and was likely her longest serious sit-down to date. It’s unusual for a freshman representative to land such a prominent interview, but since her improbable primary win over the summer, she’s been the subject of countless stories in both the mainstream and the right-wing press, fed in part by her unusually transparent approach to public relations. The frenzy has created a feedback loop, with Ocasio-Cortez winning media attention because of all the media attention she’s already received. Still, the 60 Minutes interview did provide some substantive details about how Ocasio-Cortez plans to work in Congress.
Ocasio-Cortez positioned herself as a principled insider rather than a purist outsider. She articulated goals that fall within the mainstream of the post-2016 Democratic Party: “I want to be able to tell my grandchildren that we established a single-payer [health-care] system, tuition-free universities, and that we saved our climate for their future, because we decided to be courageous in the moment and make it happen.”
Yet she also continued to promote progressive policies outside the Democratic comfort zone. For example, she affirmed her goal of reducing U.S. carbon emissions to zero by 2030. When Cooper asked how that unlikely scenario might be possible, she talked briefly and vaguely about “trying to push our technological capacities to the furthest extent possible.” To fund the “Green New Deal” she and other progressives demand, she suggested returning marginal tax rates for the highest earners to levels not seen since the 1970s. Such rates would mean a massive tax hike on what she called the “tippy tops” of personal income.
“What you are talking about, just big picture, is a radical agenda compared to the way politics is done right now,” Cooper said. Ocasio-Cortez didn’t run away from the label. “Well, I think that it only has ever been radicals that have changed this country,” she said, citing Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation and Franklin D. Roosevelt creating Social Security.
“Do you call yourself a radical?” he asked.
“Yeah,” she replied. “You know, if that’s what radical means, call me a radical.”
One moment in particular grabbed outsize press attention compared with other, more revealing exchanges: when Cooper asked whether Ocasio-Cortez believes President Donald Trump is a racist. Ocasio-Cortez said she doesn’t spend much time talking about the president, because she sees him as the symptom of a broader American problem. To her, there’s “no question” he is a racist.