The Green New Deal — big on ideas, but with no details

The 2018 blue wave that brought a strong Democratic majority to the House of Representatives in 2018 unleashed all sorts of interesting things. It also jump-started the 2020 election.

The new House in the 116th Congress brought many eager and ambitious young members, a great development. New ideas and new vigor are important. One Democrat, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat from Queens, New York City, has dominated press attention concerning the freshman class. For the party’s sake it would help if more of the new members of the caucus received some of the focus.

Some Democrats cheer Ocasio-Cortez while others tip-toe around her policy proposals. Republicans mostly love the attention she gets, because they view her self-proclaimed socialistic views as red meat for their own base.

I thought, therefore, that it was about time to actually read Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s House of Representatives resolution that is attracting all the attention, the “Green New Deal.” It’s only 14 pages. Here’s a copy if you want to read it yourselves.

Reading it reminded me about a political campaign long ago that I have noted in a previous post. That was the one where Steve Banko and I wrote an economic development plan for a candidate that led us to conclude that the only thing we really had written was 49 action verbs with a bunch of clichés added in for length.

I am proud to say that the record Steve and I achieved in that campaign document remains the gold standard for action verbs in a press release. Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution has only 32 action verbs!

While the substance of the House resolution is on a higher plane than that of local politics, it is not a whole lot different than our 1979 economic development plan. The Green New Deal does a whole lot of building, repairing, upgrading, spurring, overhauling, and promoting. It outlines a series of “goals” and talks about “mobilization,” noting the nation’s efforts to get out of the Great Depression and to win World War II. In the end, World War II had as much to do with ending the Great Depression as most any of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs.

As the title suggests, the Green New Deal (GND) is built around the recognition that climate change is real and serious and the problems of greenhouse gas emissions won’t solve themselves. So if you are a Republican and have read this far, I will excuse you for not finishing this post. Republicans, it seems, are not allowed to believe the science that says that humans created the environmental crisis, since doing so would mean that you are not fine with burning coal and are bothered by any emphasis on “clean” energy. If you are a Western New York resident, perhaps you have no recollection about how the skies above Lackawanna and South Buffalo were once a color not observed elsewhere, and the air had a funny smell to it. That couldn’t have been from the chemical factories and the steel mills, could it?

It is not hard to imagine that most people would want clean water or clean air. So good for the GND in making improvements in the environment the focal point of public policy. Where the GND gets dicey is when it tries to superimpose issues relating to the economy, health care, and education unto the clean air-clean water plan.

The GND lists a variety of goals. Here is just a sampling:

  • Achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030
  • Create millions of “good, high-wage jobs”
  • Invest in infrastructure
  • Upgrade “all existing buildings in the United States” and “build new buildings to achieve maximum energy efficiency”
  • Work “collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions”
  • Provide “resources, training, and high-quality education, including higher education to all people of the United States”
  • Guarantee “a job with a family-sustaining wage”
  • Strengthen and protect union rights

But the thing is, how is all that going to happen? How are all these ambitious goals going to be paid for?

The more basic question is why does a plan that is being promoted as an environmental program use so many bullet points to promote what is really an economic plan? No matter how important, or needed, or well-intentioned the Green New Deal is, what is the rationale for trying to solve every real or perceived national problem in one 14 page resolution? Challenge Trump and the Republicans to put up or shut about their supposed support of a massive infrastructure program – which can have environmental consciousness built into it. Here’s an idea – make every week “Infrastructure Week.”

I know, I know, I am revealing my “practical progressive” tendencies. Far reaching goals are great, but what do they mean if there is no logical way to achieve them? The perfect shouldn’t get in the way of the good stuff.

If there any Republicans still reading this far into the post, you might want to think about what a Republican GND-like document would look like – basically defining MAGA in longer than 280 characters. A Trump New Deal (TND) has to include things like unregulated coal mining and oil drilling. Trump promised that millions of jobs would be re-created in the mining industry. How is that going?

So instead of getting all worked up about a resolution that is not a policy document, not a piece of legislation, but the thinnest of plans to make America better, just think about the GND as something to think about. Go ahead, take a vote on the Ocasio-Cortez resolution in the House, and even in the Senate as Mitch McConnell plans to do. But Democrats should not be afraid to amend it, or even to vote against it. The resolution is, at this moment, just an airy, dreamy promise without the substance than can be discussed and debated.

Real public policy requires a great deal of hard work. Bumper sticker or baseball cap slogans are meaningless. It takes discussion and compromise. It requires getting past the political attacks that come so easily in situations like this. Just imagine how nice that would be.

2 thoughts on “The Green New Deal — big on ideas, but with no details

  1. In my opinion when you want to start a conversation you write something like the new green deal. Then people can add their two cents, hopefully in a positive manner. What is not helpful is knuckleheads saying things like she wants to eliminate air travel or make everyone vegetarians.
    Most people probably would agree this plan is less than ideal, or feasible. But it is a start, something to chew on. We should all act like adults for a change.

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  2. Jim … that is absolutely the first step. Talking is what everyone seems to think is the essence of political compromise, which we have learned is an oxymoron these days. But you are right, we begin at the beginning – serious talk about what needs to be done and how we might actually get it done. Instead, we have a president who doesn’t think you can watch television is the wind isn’t blowing.

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