A Green New Deal
I try not to follow the particulars of politics anymore for one reason. Signal–noise. I’m very and truly happy that I didn’t learn about Nancy Pelosi’s “tinkle contest with a skunk” comment immediately. I’m very and truly happy that Pelosi worked Trump against the ropes in the Oval Office when he tried to spring a surprise press conference on her, but not heartbroken that I only learned of it a couple days after the fact. The balance seems a bit better. There are numerous things about which I care and follow deliberately, but as far as the daily racket goes, only when something pops up on my radar repeatedly or spectacularly does it merit investigation. For what it’s worth, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal” has surfaced often in the last month.
A few reasons why I appreciate hearing about it:
Progressives and liberals are often wary of talking about the environment. It’s a soft issue, politically unpalatable to swing voters. I’m not sure how true that is: clean air, water, and surroundings tend to be quite popular. It’s only when conservatives attack environmental regulations as job-killers that they become unpopular, generally speaking. More to the point, however, it is one of only a small group of issues that qualify as great moral challenges of our time. It’s also the only one of that group that has the potential to utterly preclude the resolution of any of the accompanying challenges. We’ll have a bear of a time addressing wealth inequality when properties in poor, flood-prone areas of Texas and the Gulf Coast are no longer just figuratively “under water.” Further emphasis belongs on the “moral” aspect of the challenge: the economic impact is outweighed by the moral imperative, which brings me to my next reason.
The “Green New Deal” frames the issue as an economic one. Perhaps we shouldn’t need an economic incentive to stop driving the world to hell in a rickety, rusted out garbage truck, but environment doubles as economy. A federal green-job guarantee gives people an immediate economic stake in a massive revolution that previously promised (real but) abstract benefits. In a more superficial political way, the message of a “Green New Deal” calls back an era when government did real work to help working class people survive a catastrophe. That can’t hurt either.
The very specific message – a New Deal – also makes me cautiously confident in a wing of the Democratic Party about which I’ve been skeptical. The Democratic Party is wracked by a disconnect between loyal voters that want concrete incremental change whether the message is inspiring or not and more roguish voters who want the inspiring message whether it leads to concrete change or not. That characterization is likely not fair, but there’s ample reason for it to feel that way. I know very little about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (as does everyone else) but her focus on a “Green New Deal” could be a clue as to how a group of young legislators might bring those two factions together. The original New Deal was an inspiring, sweeping, popular front message pushed by one of the best messengers ever to grace the Oval Office. We remember that: fear itself, the fireside, the New Deal. But we forget what the New Deal actually was. There was no “Deal” that anyone could point to. Roosevelt’s plan, rather, was a massive web of legislation, large and small, designed to help put suffering Americans back to work and reshape the economy. It could be a bit of messaging, but if Ocasio-Cortez and the rest treat this New Deal like the last – a massive endeavor that will proceed inch-by-inch, compromise-by-compromise, under the auspices of sweeping inspiration – then she might be the sort that changes her party.