The party’s 2020 contenders are making promises they can’t keep in an effort to win progressives’ favor.
Given the incredible speed of the Twitter-driven news cycle, it’s often hard to stay focused on the developments that truly matter. In the days since Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey unveiled their “Green New Deal,” we’ve seen the headlines lurch from new rape allegations against Virginia lieutenant governor Justin Fairfax, to confusion and lies about a background document issued by Ocasio-Cortez’s office that contained some, ahem, vivid interpretations of the Green New Deal (upgrading every building in ten years, sustaining people “unwilling” to work, phasing out nuclear power, and – of course – “farting cows”), and now to anti-Semitic tweets from one of the most celebrated freshman Democrats in Congress.
Each of these mini-tempests is interesting, but let’s keep our eyes on the ball. This is actually important:
— Shane Goldmacher (@ShaneGoldmacher) February 7, 2019
And so is this:
The U.S. is the most powerful economy on earth and we must lead the world in the fight against climate change. We can do that by passing the Green New Deal to save the planet and create millions of new jobs.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) February 10, 2019
For those keeping score at home, that’s five prominent contenders for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination embracing the Green New Deal. They haven’t just made vague promises to “combat climate change” or “reduce greenhouse gases.” They’ve signed on to a specific document with specific provisions that urge a series of truly immense political, economic, and cultural changes to fundamentally remake the United States.
Forget the Ocasio-Cortez background document; the actual Green New Deal is extraordinarily radical. It calls for a ten-year “national mobilization” to not only achieve “net zero” emissions but also provide “economic security for all people of the United States.” This means meeting 100 percent of America’s power demand “through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.” It does appear that many Green New Deal proponents do at least include nuclear power in that mix, but even with nuclear power, that single plank of the Green New Deal is, well, a practical impossibility.
As Slate’s Mike Pesca writes:
The Union of Concerned Scientists hope we can get to 80 percent by 2050. Stanford professor Mark Z. Jacobson, co-founder of the Solutions Project and 100.org—the 100 percent clean, renewable energy movement—has estimated that his goal cannot be achieved by 2030 but holds out hope for 2050. By comparison, renewable energy accounts for only 18 percent of total U.S. power generation.
And we haven’t even gotten to the other elements of the plan, such as “overhauling transportation systems in the United States,” “restoring and protecting threatened, endangered, and fragile ecosystems,” and “providing resources, training, and high-quality education, including higher education, to all people of the United States.” Do I need to bring up the promise to “guarantee a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States”? Should I even mention the pledge to provide “all people of the United States” with “high-quality health care”?
Look back at the list of presidential-candidate endorsers of this plan, all experienced politicians, all with years of experience working through the American legislative process. Now look back at the promises above. If you believe for one second that any material provision of the Green New Deal will become policy, you’re being conned.
A competent media could and should prove as much in mere moments. A competent media could and should ask Kamala Harris at every campaign stop for her precise plan to “guarantee a job with a family-sustaining wage” to every person in the U.S. A competent media could and should rush to press Elizabeth Warren about her precise plan to completely overhaul American power generation in a mere ten-year span without crushing the economy.
After all, if a series of Republican presidential candidates pledged together to, say, abolish Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid yet still also guarantee health care and retirement security for all Americans, wouldn’t the media be extremely curious as to how they could pull off such an astounding achievement? The press relentlessly and rightfully pressed Donald Trump on the feasibility of his most outrageous campaign pledges. And, by the way, building a wall and making Mexico pay for it is child’s play compared with the promises in the Green New Deal.
There’s even cover on the left for aggressive, informed questioning. Thoughtful progressives, including Jonathan Chait and others, have excoriated the Green New Deal. Nancy Pelosi is singularly unimpressed. And there is a real need for more like them.
To some, the Green New Deal shows “how grand climate politics can be.” To others, it’s an idea whose “time has come.” It’s what Democratic young people really, really want. Spend five seconds online or on Twitter, and you’ll find a host of progressives simply outraged at the notion that the Green New Deal is impossible or unaffordable. These folks need a public education every bit as intense as the public education attempted after each of Donald Trump’s wildest claims or proposals.
Call me a cynic, but I somehow doubt we’ll see it. For all too many members of the political class, words and promises matter far less than whom you’re with, and whom you’re against. If AOC is for a Green New Deal, then the Democratic contenders will back it, because hers promises to be arguably the second-most-coveted endorsement (after Obama’s) in the 2020 primaries. If AOC triggers Fox News more than any other Democratic politician, then the Democratic contenders will stand firmly behind her every move.
And so the very same people who laughed at Trump supporters and called them rubes for believing Trump’s promises now indulge progressives who believe even more insane promises. This time it’s the Democrats’ turn to tell the wildest tales. It seems they aren’t above Trump-style politics after all.