Alexandria Ocosio-Cortez has burst on to the American political landscape. As part of a 2018, “blue wave” where democrats gained back over 40 seats in the House of Representatives, Ocosio- Cortez, or AOC as she has defined herself on Twitter has made quite a splash with bold statements, masterful social media skills and legislation on a very bold and by some points of view the utterly ridiculous “Green New Deal”.
AOC was a bartender prior to unseating the 3rd most powerful member of Congress, Joseph Crowley in the 2018 mid-term elections. Crowley, who was seen as a potential heir apparent to Nancy Pelosi as the leader of the democrats in the House was defeated in the primary by just 4176 votes; 15,897 for Ocasio-Cortez and 11,761 for Crowley. (NY Times, 2018). Ocasio-Cortez is a registered member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and is a self-described socialist. (Haltiwanger, 2018). Frances Fox Piven, a political scientist at the City University of New York defines socialism as an elimination of an open market or its strict containment. Socialism, by most measures has been a failure; from the Soviet Union, to Cuba and more recently Venezuela with is vast oil wealth have all seen political and economic upheaval that left its people and governmental infrastructure in tatters. Some, like Bernie Sanders and AOC like to cite the Nordic countries of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark as socialist nations but they have used their mostly open market success to fund very generous governmental safety nets. It is by the nature of their successful market-based approach that allow for the high taxes it charges its population to pay for those social benefits. It was not the government benefits that created the wealth of those countries but the success and hard work of its people that did. (Dorfman, 2018)
As AOC assumes a leadership role within the Democrat party those in power have grown scared of the negative impact her, “radical ideas” like guaranteed housing, income whether you can or want to work and the “Green New Deal” will have on the long-term viability of the party and certainly the likelihood that they win the 2020 presidential election and get Donald Trump out of office.(Aleem, 2019) The leadership position AOC has found herself in connects to the definition of contingency theory which looks to match a leader to appropriate situations. It sees effective leadership being contingent on matching a leader’s style to the right situation. (Northouse, 2007). While some of the ideas outlined within the Green New Deal are seen as radical; eliminating all fossil fuels in 10 years by replacing all combustion engines in automobiles stopping air travel and renovating or tearing down all existing buildings in the country there is little argument that climate change is a significant threat to the United States and the rest of the world that our political leaders must deal with. (McDonald, J).
Ocosio-Cortez is seen by some as making enemies in the House Democratic Caucus by challenging the moderate positions of many of her colleagues. Contingency theory suggests that situations can be characterized in terms of three factors; leader-member relations, task structure and position power. (Northouse, 2007). AOC, who has been thrust in to this leadership position with almost no experience is creating a scenario where the atmosphere is unfriendly, filled with friction and missing trust. Rep. Yvette Clark, a fellow NY Democrat in a recent interview advised Ocasio-Cortez to “give herself an opportunity to know her colleagues and given herself a sense of the chemistry of the body before passing judgement on anyone or anything”. (Bade & Caygle, 2019). While Ocosio-Cortez, through a massive Twitter following of over 2 million and a media following that has made her as well-known as Nancy Pelosi and John Lewis who have been in Congress for decades her position power; or authority a leader has to reward or punish followers (Northouse, 2007) may appear to be stronger than it actually is.
Ocosio-Cortez, as a 29-year-old Puerto Rican first term Congresswoman has the potential to help transform a Congress and political system that is seen as ineffective and stuck in its ways. Contingency Theory suggests that the current situation she has put herself in may not allow for all of her potential to be realized. With the election of Donald Trump and now Ocosio-Cortez it seems these new political novices would be well served by putting themselves in positions where they can best shine. One of the core strengths of contingency theory is that it doesn’t require that people are effective in all situations, it matches the leader and the situation but does not demand the leader fit every situation. (Northouse, 2007).
Boin et al (2005) define crisis, contingency and leadership in politics as needing three criteria: threat, uncertainty and urgency. Threat is defined as high-stake politics, based on some crisis, urgency as a commanding necessity of action based on the crisis all within the context of an uncertain outcome. (Korosenyi, Illes & Metz, 2016). The position Ocasio-Cortez has staked on climate change puts her in an envious position as a leader as she engages in the task necessary to define a path to a sustainable world. Structuring her leadership with more specificity around this critical task of solving for climate change will give her more control as a leader from a contingency theory perspective. (Northouse, 2007).
I believe if AOC can buckle down, learn how to work better with her peers, be more measured in her communication she can serve as example for others in her generation to get involved politically to change our country for the better. If she stays on her current course, she may be a one term congresswoman who was a shooting star that burned out way too soon.
Northouse, Peter Guy. (2007). Contingency Theory. Leadership: Theory and Practice. Thousand Oaks. Sage.2007. pp.113-126
New York Times. (2018). Live Results: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Defeats Joseph Crowley in New York’s 14th House District. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/elections/results/new-york-house-district
Haltiwanger, J. (2018, July 1). What’s the difference between socialism and democratic socialism? Independent.co.uk. Retrieved from https://www/independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/whats-difference-socialism-democratic-socialism
Dorfman, J. (2018, July 8). Sorry Bernie bros but Nordic countries are not socialist. Forbes.com. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/jefferydorfman/2018/07/08/sorry-bernie-bros-nordic-counties-socialist
Aleem, Z. (2019, Jan 14). Democrats attacks on AOC are silly and self-defeating. Vice.com. Retrieved from https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/wj3vvz/democrats-should-stop.
McDonald, J. (2019, Feb 15). The facts on the green new deal. FactCheck.org. Retrieved from https://www.factcheck.org/2019/02/the-facts-on-the-green-new-deal
Bade, R., Caygle, H. (2019, Jan 11). Exasperated democrats try to rein in Ocosio-Cortez. Politico.com. Retrieved from https://www.politico.com/story/2019/01/11/alexandria-ocasio-cortez.
Korosenyi, A, Illes, G, Metz, R. (2016) Contingency and political action. The role of leadership in endogenously created crises. The first PUPOL International Conference. Retrieved from /Users/Downloads/korosenyi-illes-metzpupol2