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The Green New Deal: A Step in the Right Direction

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I haven’t written about the Green New Deal movement here, a result of being overwhelmed this semester. With that slowly wrapping up, let me at least link to this Mike Konczal piece explaining why it is important:

First, it proves that the grass roots can drive the Democratic agenda. Just a few months ago, virtually no one in DC policy circles was discussing ambitious climate plans. But four years ago, that was also true about a $15 minimum wage—which only became a priority after service-sector workers started to pressure cities, states, and the federal government to ensure that nobody working a full-time job lives in poverty. And it’s the same with Medicare for All. After Trump’s attacks on health care, activists have not been content merely to clean up the Republicans’ mess and embrace Obamacare; instead, they want every American to have genuine access to public health care.

Organizers across the country are forcing Democrats to fully confront real issues. The party can no longer get away with offering milquetoast solutions that don’t address the scale of the problems. And so far, the people most affected by the inequities in our economy are actually the ones setting the agenda. It is telling that the Green New Deal is being helmed by millennials, who will live long enough to see the most vicious effects of climate change.

Second, a Green New Deal helps solve the Democrats’ ideas problem. Whereas Republicans have continually pointed to “small government” as their ideal (even as they’ve built up a massive carceral, military, and surveillance state), Democrats often have trouble communicating what they stand for. Ocasio-Cortez describes the Democrats, correctly, as the party that electrified the nation during the Great Depression and developed the space program that put a man on the moon. Fighting climate change is a challenge worthy of this party—and by tying climate action so explicitly to new jobs, high-tech training, and investment in collapsing communities, it can be sold as something that benefits people and the nation as a whole. With the Green New Deal, Democrats can honestly say they are the party ready to take bold action to save the planet.

Finally, we are not prepared for the next recession. With low interest rates, corporate balance sheets bloated with cash that companies won’t spend, and workers without the power to demand higher wages, the next recession will be just as devastating as the previous one and will require an even bigger response. During the 2008 financial crisis, progressive groups had to scramble to prepare their proposals to rescue the economy. The resulting plan funded infrastructure insufficiently and was too focused on temporary spending. Until now, no progress has been made in addressing these problems. This is where a Green New Deal will be essential. The next recession will see a shortfall in investment as well as millions of unemployed people badly in need of jobs—both of which a Green New Deal can address in a generationally transformative way.

A few additional thoughts:

First, in terms of actually solving climate change, the Green New Deal isn’t nearly enough, whatever it turns out to be in the end. Without basically banning fossil fuels, not much is going to change. But at the same time, things can and will continue to get worse and we need to articulate and fight for a series of changes to help move us in the right direction. That might happen in the political timeline of years or decades, far slower than climate change, but still, you have to fight for something.

Second, I know some LGM readers will balk at the assertion that Democrats have trouble articulating what they stand for, but in terms of the public eye, that’s often true. And no, having a plank somewhere deep in the 2016 Democratic platform is not the same as articulating a progressive message. If you can’t inspire and convince people of your wide-ranging agenda, you don’t actually have one. This is part of the difference between people such as Nate Silver, embarrassing himself yesterday by attacking the advertising boycott of Tucker Carlson, who believe that politics is about data and wonks and those who correctly understand politics is about power and streetfighting, mostly figuratively but sometimes literally.

Third, I strongly believe that the primary reason so little of consequence happened after the last recession to fix the structural problems in the economy and put bankers in jail is that the left basically had no real agenda in 2008. Having been in the wilderness for 20+ years, it was a struggling basketcase of ideas, lacking focus, agenda, or organizing. The decade since has been an exercise in reconstructing the left. Occupy, the Fight for $15, the Bernie campaign, the rallies after Trump was elected, etc., were all pieces of figuring out what the left is, what it stands for, how it should act, what it should demand, etc. We are in a much better place now than we were in 2008. But we aren’t there yet. The election of Ocasio-Cortez, the work of people and groups such as Data for Progress in pushing leftist ideas within the Democratic Party structure, and other such huge gains in left-leaning power over the past couple of years has significantly advanced the project. The Green New Deal can be and must be part of this process. That’s perhaps the most important piece here. At some point, a recession will happen. At some point, Democrats will win the presidency and other levers of power. When these things happen, the left has to have control of the Democratic Party agenda if we want real change to take place.

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