By Colleen O'Connor
Just as Hillary Clinton channeled a legendary American first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, freshman New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez seems to be tuning into Argentina’s own beloved first lady, Eva Peron.
Indeed, Peron could have been Ocasio-Cortez’ spiritual and political grandmother.
Not to dramatize or over-exaggerate the influence of “AOC”—as she is known—but to marvel at the parallels with Peron’s career.
Both AOC and “Evita”—as she is commonly known—experienced familial deaths and hardship at a young age.
Both women possessed stagecraft talents, telegenic good looks, a stylish flair in wardrobes, rare speaking abilities, and a fearless demeanor coupled with a genuine gift for compassion.
Both women supported women’s rights, union rights, and help for the neglected.
After Argentine President Juan Peron signed the law granting women the right to vote, he very publicly handed the bill to Evita, “symbolically making it hers.”
Evita even created the Female Peronist Party.
Both Evita and AOC were schooled in Catholic environments. Both became ardent “populists”—in the revolutionary, almost Jesuit, sense of the word—not just the modern “celebrity” version.
One is a millennial fighting the “old guard” politicians of both parties. The other was an icon of the 1940s fighting the European elite. And both expanded their base.
Ocasio-Cortez forged ahead in exactly the same fashion as Evita—as an outsider.
“I knew that if we were going to win…it’s by expanding the electorate, speaking to those that feel disenchanted, dejected, cynical about our politics, and letting them know that we’re fighting for them,” she said.
Evita started a similar effort with her own charitable foundation—spending her money and a large part of every day on her personal crusade against poverty and neglect.
“During [her] meetings, Evita often kissed the poor and allowed them to kiss her. She was even witnessed placing her hands in the suppurated wounds of the sick and poor, touching the leprous, and kissing the syphilitic,” according to Wikipedia.
Eventually the title “Spiritual Leader of the Nation” was bestowed on Evita at the young age of 33.
While AOC might never reach Evita’s level of saintly devotion or adoration, she does spend her considerable political capital combating the same entrenched and powerful elites.
Indeed, at the age of 29, AOC seems to truly frighten ultra conservatives in Congress—as well as business groups.
Witness the Times Square digital billboard that blasted AOC for opposing a new Amazon headquarters in Queens, the working class neighborhood she represents.
Ocasio-Cortez and other local activists were vocal in their opposition, claiming Amazon would not create jobs for people already living in the area while causing housing prices to rise.
Another complaint was offering Amazon incentives worth upwards of $1.5 billion—a taxpayer’s gift on the promise of jobs.
Stunned by the fierce opposition, Amazon pulled out of the deal. AOC celebrated via Twitter:
“Anything is possible: today was the day a group of dedicated, everyday New Yorkers & their neighbors defeated Amazon’s corporate greed, its worker exploitation, and the power of the richest man in the world.”
AOC, just like Evita, became more popular for her “crusading” efforts and social media skills.
She enjoys more than 36 million Twitter followers, over 2 million Instagram friends, and in excess of half a million Facebook devotees.
Elected in the biggest upset of 2018—albeit with only 15,897 primary votes—she did so while being outspent 18 to 1.
Granted, Bernie Sanders’ progressive network helped with her campaigning—as did Evita’s husband, the president of Argentina. But each woman carved out her own destiny.
Each maximized, magnified, and muscled raw power through their own intelligence, intuition, and hard work. And each was driven by personal experiences and core convictions.
Evita, who rose from a life of ill-repute and poverty to the status of near sainthood, will probably always outrank AOC in the history books. Evita still lives on in stage plays, movies and musicals, on stamps, coins, and monuments, and in an afterlife of legend still aflame with contradictions.
Millions of Argentinians attended her funeral. After a coup ousted Juan Peron, the military junta forbade any photographs of the Perons in homes or businesses. They even transported Evita’s body to Milan, Italy, for fear her mythical presence might haunt them from the grave.
As Mexican journalist Alma Guillermoprieto wrote of the phenomenon, decades after her death, “Evita’s life has evidently just begun.”
So, too, has Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s.
Colleen O’Connor is a native San Diegan and a retired college professor.
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