The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A video of Ocasio-Cortez dancing in college leaked to smear her. Instead, the Internet finds it adorable.

The clip was circulated to smear the progressive politician. It backfired.

A dance video featuring Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), recorded when Ocasio-Cortez was a student at Boston University, went viral Jan. 3. (Video: Reuters)

First it was a photo of long-haired Beto O’Rourke playing in a punk band. Now, it’s college-age Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez dancing on a rooftop.

Both were surfaced by the right to seemingly smear the progressive politicians. Both efforts backfired spectacularly.

The Ocasio-Cortez clip in question shows the politician rocking some 1980s “Breakfast Club”-style dance moves with friends on a rooftop to Phoenix’s “Lisztomania.” The video, shot while Ocasio-Cortez was a student at Boston University, has bounced around the Internet before, but it went viral Thursday.

(A reader sent along the Youtube link to the full four-minute music video. Watch it here.)

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It first resurfaced on Twitter on Wednesday, the day before Ocasio-Cortez was sworn in as the youngest-ever female member of Congress. A Twitter user that affiliates itself with the far-right conspiracy theorist QAnon posted the video with the caption: “Here is America’s favorite commie know-it-all acting like the clueless nitwit she is...”

But if the point of releasing the video was to mock the young congresswoman, it elicited the exact opposite response:

Since Ocasio-Cortez burst onto the political scene with her surprise primary victory over incumbent Joseph Crowley, she has become a favorite punching bag for the right. They are offended by her politics — she’s a self-described democratic socialist — and her inexperience. They’ve attacked her clothes and that maybe she went by “Sandy” in high school?

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been live broadcasting congressional orientation, speaking directly to her viewers as members of Congress have never done before. (Video: Elyse Samuels/The Washington Post)

But the attacks often fall flat. Ocasio-Cortez, 29, catapulted to celebrity-level fame in the past few months, buoyed by live, unfiltered social media videos that offer a more authentic glimpse at who she is. The right’s attacks target the things that make her so popular: her fresh, unjaded view of what can be accomplished in Washington. Maybe it’s naive, but for many Americans, it feels refreshing.

It’s reminiscent of candidate Barack Obama who figured out early the power of connecting to voters via social media. And remember those pictures of a young Obama smoking what looked like marijuana (though it could have been a cigarette)? Those images only added to his “cool” factor.

It’s hard to see the strategy in unearthing old photos or videos of politicians actually looking hip and fun in their youth.