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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) explained her proposal for a 70 percent marginal tax rate for the richest Americans on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert." (Photo: @headlineplanet/Twitter)

Putting Tax Rates and Billionaire 'Excess' in Moral Terms, Ocasio-Cortez Asks 'What Kind of Society Do We Want to Live In?'

"I do think that a system that allows billionaires to exist when there are parts of Alabama where people are still getting ringworm because they don't have access to public health is wrong."

Julia Conley

Appearing on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" Monday night, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) once again brought to American households a discussion of the economic system which has allowed an extreme wealth gap to widen in the United States, explaining her proposal to impose a far higher tax rate on the wealthiest Americans in order to even the playing field.

"At what level are we really just living in excess, and what kind of society do we want to live in?" —Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)

Weeks after telling Anderson Cooper on "60 Minutes" that Americans who make more than $10 million per year should be taxed at 70 percent, Ocasio-Cortez explained to Colbert that her proposal is far from radical.

"It's not a new idea," she said. "Under the Republican administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower, we had 90 percent marginal tax rates."

The first-term congresswoman, whose outspoken advocacy for a Medicare for All system, a Green New Deal, and bold reforms to pull working Americans out of poverty has left establishment Democrats and their supporters claiming that she is a "radical," did not mince words in summing up how economic inequality in the U.S. has spiraled out of control.

"I do think that a system that allows billionaires to exist when there are parts of Alabama where people are still getting ringworm because they don't have access to public health is wrong," she said.

While Ocasio-Cortez clarified that she doesn't believe billionaires like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet are "immoral" just because they are billionaires, she highlighted the moral question around an economic system that permits a handful of people to amass such wealth when so many in society are forced to live in poverty as they work long hours for meager pay.

"At what level are we really just living in excess," she asked, "and what kind of society do we want to live in?"

The line drew loud applause from Colbert's studio audience.

When Colbert asked, "How many fucks do you give?" about establishment Democrats and critics who have scolded Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives for their outspokenness regarding improvements the party leadership could make, the congresswoman replied, "I think it's zero."

She added that she rejects the characterization of her advocacy and activism as "divisive," saying she looks to civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. for examples of tactics which bring about lasting change.

"People called Martin Luther King divisive in his time," Ocasio-Cortez reminded Colbert. "We forget he was wildly unpopular when advocating for the Civil Rights Act. I think that what we need to realize is that social movements should be the moral compass of our politics."

Ocasio-Cortez elaborated on her point in another Monday interview with author Ta-Nehisi Coates, explaining that elected officials in the current political climate must take extra care to prove to the public that they are working for American families—by forcefully fighting against the systems which have created massive inequities in one of the richest countries in the world.

"Right now, I think with this administration, with the current circumstances, with the abdication of responsibility that we've seen from so many powerful people—even people who kind of abdicate that responsibility by calling themselves liberal or a Democrat or whatever it is—I feel a need for all of us to 'breathe fire,'" Ocasio-Cortez said.

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