An Idea Whose Time Has Come—at Least for Democrats
In part one of this series, we saw that the idea of a “Green New Deal” had made it into mainstream Democratic thinking. The idea, of course, has been popularized by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. soon to take her place as a Member of the 116th Congress.
Since then, the Green New Deal idea has gained momentum. The news that Nancy Pelosi’s House Democrats will create a select committee to draft legislation might seem to be mere dry proceduralism, and yet in fact, it’s a significant signal that Democrats intend to fast-track Green legislation.
The idea of a select committee—that is, a committee specially picked for one purpose—is not new. Typically, select committees have been used for investigations, as in the Truman Committee, which investigated World War II profiteering, or the Watergate Committee, or, most recently, the Benghazi Committee.
However, select committees can also be used to advance a policy agenda. That is, when the normal committee leadership is deemed to be insufficiently committed to a cause, new leadership is brought in.
This was the case with the Green New Deal; under normal circumstances, the House Energy and Commerce Committee would claim this “turf.” However, the chairman of that committee in the next Congress, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), has been in the House since 1988; as an elderly white male, he’s not exactly the committed young hipster that progressives are looking for these days.
Thus Pallone was bypassed; the chair of the just-unveiled Select Committee on the Climate Crisis will be Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL). She is not only a woman and 15 years younger, she has also vowed not to accept any more campaign contributions from fossil-fuel companies. (Which is to say, we can see where Castor’s committee is likely headed, policy-wise.)
For her part, Ocasio-Cortez heaped praise on Castor, describing her decision to forgo Exxon money as “an important move that should be considered square one for any climate leader. Rejecting lobbyist money is the foundation for impactful policy that puts people before profits.”
To be sure, some on the left are still not satisfied. They complain that the select committee fails specifically to bill itself as “Green New Deal”; indeed, it’s not even clear whether or not Ocasio-Cortez will have a seat on the new committee.
Still, the select committee, by any name, is coming in with plenty of oomph behind it. Just on December 27, Michael Bloomberg, now a Democrat—and thought likely to be a presidential candidate himself—announced that he will insist that every Democratic presidential hopeful have a plan for getting rid of carbon dioxide.
Of course, most Democrats think that Bloomberg has little or no chance of winning their party’s 2020 nomination, and he has no direct power over any other Democratic wannabe. Yet still, one can never ignore the influence of someone with $50 billion. (Bloomberg’s philanthropic website, for example, pats itself on the back for its efforts to close coal facilities—and there are quite a few such “successes” to point to.)
In other words, the Democrats in the House will do their darnedest to produce some sort of legislation—probably including the words, “Green New Deal”—in the upcoming session of Congress.
Of course, the Republican-controlled Senate is not likely to go along with anything so ambitious, nor is the Republican-controlled White House.
Yet Democrats are hoping that the GOP-dominated status quo will be changed in the 2020 elections. And they seem to see the Green New Deal as a political force-multiplier.
The underlying theory of the cause was put forth by Mike Konczal, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute—you know, as in Franklin D. Roosevelt, our 32nd president, and architect, back in the 1930s, of the actual New Deal.
Writing in the venerable lefty magazine the Nation, under the headline,“The Green New Deal Is Good for the Planet—and the Democratic Party,” Konczal explained, “The goal is for congressional hearings in 2019 to create a bill for 2020.” That is, use the coming year to tee up the idea, and then make it a campaign issue in 2020. Thus if Democrats do well in ’20, then Green New Deal, here we come.
Because the Democrats are putting so many political chips on the Green New Deal, it’s worth pausing to let them describe what they have in mind. Here’s Konczal:
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.
So we can see, Konczal sees the Green New Deal as far more than just an environmental cause; it’s also a vehicle for many social reforms, too—all ultimately adding up to overcoming, as he puts it, the Democrats’ “ideas problem.”
On that score, Konczal certainly has a point: In recent decades, the Democrats have, indeed, suffered from an ideas deficit.
Yes, for the past 40 years or so, the GOP has mostly had the intellectual edge. That is, in response to the “stagflation” of the 1970s, Republicans, led by Ronald Reagan, coalesced around the idea of smaller government and lower tax rates as the solution.
In response . . . the Democrats didn’t have much of a response. Instead, they offered a melange of answers, from a rote defense of the status quo to a partial agreement with the Republicans. In his 1996 State of the Union address, President Bill Clinton, always flexible, sounded Reaganesque when he declared, “The era of big government is over.” Of course, big government didn’t exactly go away; we might say that Clinton had his fingers crossed when he spoke.
Still, the fact that a Democrat would say such a thing at all was surely seen as a low point by Konczal and other neo-New Dealers; the New Deal, after all, was big government.
The New Deal as an Enduring Beacon
In fact, even in the Clinton 90’s, many key programs of the New Deal, notably Social Security, survived without a scratch—and Clinton, his rhetoric notwithstanding, actively defended those programs.
Then came the 00s and the 10s, when outsourcing and other tech trends took their toll on old-line America. All of a sudden, the proletariat started to realize that maybe they, and their interests, needed active defending, after all.
Moreover, the 2008 financial meltdown was yet another shock to less-government thinking. Many Republicans, including then-president George W. Bush, concluded that some New Deal-type Keynesian financial maneuvers were desperately needed.
And in 2016, Donald Trump campaigned, at least a little bit, in the spirit of his fellow New Yorker, FDR. Trump pledged to protect Social Security and also promised a 13-digit infrastructure package. In addition, in his MAGA mode, he spoke with a bold optimism about solving problems that seemed to some Rooseveltian in spirit.
Thus there was the hope, in some quarters, that the Trump presidency could cause a political realignment. That is, the proletarian working stiffs—the “old left”— would join Trump Country, because the Trump agenda reflected more of the old New Deal values than the newer avant-garde Democratic agenda.
To some extent, this realignment has happened—especially in small towns and in surviving pockets of blue collardom, where Republicans now rule. And yet as the 2018 midterm elections indicated, this is a big country, and there hasn’t been nearly as much realigning as Republicans might have hoped.
So now the Democrats have their Green New Deal, and they fully intend to be activist, once again, in the spirit of Roosevelt. Indeed, Ocasio-Cortez recently retweeted an illustration of herself looking like FDR.
The Roosevelt Institute’s Konczal reminds readers that the Democrats are “the party that electrified the nation during the Great Depression and developed the space program that put a man on the moon.” (Konczal is referring, of course, to the literal process of electrification, as in, the wiring the nation, overseen after 1935 by FDR’s Rural Electrification Administration.)
It’s that largeness of vision that made FDR, and his moonshot-minded successor, John F. Kennedy, so popular. To be sure, not everyone agreed with them and their policies, and yet between them, FDR and JFK were five-for-five in presidential elections—and so they were doing something right. So if Democrats could think big like that again, then yeah, the Green New Deal could be quite a force.
Just One Thing About That Green New Deal
Yet here’s the hangup for Green New Dealers: FDR wasn’t a Green. And neither was the New Deal. That is, the New Deal was about economic growth, and so, for instance, it focused on building public works, damming rivers, establishing new towns, and grading and paving roads. (In fact, the Interstate Highway System was first conceived during the Roosevelt administration, although World War Two prevented most of the actual work.)
Obviously, none of all this work can be considered to be Green. In fact, it’s anti-Green.
We might consider the particular New Deal program that Konczal praised: rural electrification. According to an admiring Roosevelt Institute summary of the program, under FDR, American farms went from 10 percent electrified to 90 percent electrified. That was great news for farmers, of course, but it wasn’t good news for Greens. We might ask: What was the environmental footprint of all those power plants and power lines? Moreover, what was the impact of all the washing machines, refrigerators, radios, and other appliances that rural folk would now be wanting to buy?
In his monumental history, Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945, David M. Kennedy wrote of the impact of yet another New Deal program, the Tennessee Valley Authority. The TVA, of course, built dams and power plants all over seven states in the Middle South. In addition, it drained swamps—now known, of course, as wetlands—and built roads and towns, even as, of course, it created thousands of good jobs at good wages.
As Kennedy noted: “TVA would become the forward edge of the great transforming blade of federal power that would within two generations resculpt the cotton belt into the sun belt.” Yes, the TVA did change the South for the better, and yes, it did “resculpt” the region—and that’s why the Greens hate it. The Sierra Club, to name just one Green group, has sued TVA, many times.
So that’s the choice: If the emphasis of the Green New Deal is about Green, it will reflect the preferences of the Greens. That is, it will likely be all about more restrictions on growth, higher taxes on energy consumption—you know, as seen in France—and subsidies to favored Solyndra-type companies. Yes, there’s also the possibility that a Green New Deal will inspire some massive breakthrough in, say, solar power or carbon capture, and yet if the Greens control it, whatever it is, it will not be about producing abundance for ordinary people.
That is, in the hands of the Greens, a Green New Deal will not be about more. It will not be about more possessions, larger homes, better infrastructure, and a better life for people, as they themselves might choose to define a better life. Instead, it will be about how the Greens, led by Bloomberg-type billionaires, define a better life for the masses.
To put the matter bluntly, growth is not what the Greens are into; they’re into nature, not people. After all, if your goal is to save the planet, on your terms—that is, with people like you running things—then forbidding new economic development is a small price to pay (and especially if somebody else is paying the price).
On the other hand, if the Green New Deal is about New Deal, then it will be much different. It will be about more: more growth and jobs. As we have seen, the actual New Deal built lots of wealth-producing infrastructure; in addition, it cut the unemployment rate from an astonishing 25 percent in 1933 to 10 percent in 1940. (And in World War Two, which was a kind of accelerated New Deal, the unemployment rate fell to one percent.)
Admittedly, everything about the New Deal, and World War Two, is controversial, at least to some. And yet it’s impossible to deny that during that period, real GDP—that is, adjusted for inflation—tripled. In other words, a lot of growth.
So we can apply the same point to today: a Green New Deal in which the “green” is just a cover for major investments in technology and infrastructure, as well as good jobs at good wages, would be quite popular. For instance, one poll of 2016 swing voters found that more than 90 percent of them supported a “green jobs” program.
As an aside, we might add that there’s a much greater understanding today, than eight decades ago, about the impact of pollution. That is, we know a lot more about the impact of particulates and heavy metals on public health.
These days, everyone wants clean air and clean water. What’s controversial, instead, is the concept of climate change, as well as the active desire of Greens to restrain growth, clean or not. That is, Greens oppose the kind of growth that benefits people but nevertheless upsets the NIMBY ideal of pristine nature, unbothered by people. It’s possible to achieve a compromise between nature and people, but that requires a spirit of pro-human compromise that Greens typically lack.
Yet for now, Green New Dealers insist that we can have it all. That is, we can have growth and jobs and reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide. As noted, to do all that, we’d need some technological breakthroughs that we can’t yet foresee, or at least plan for.
And yet it’s worth recalling that, back in the 30s, few foresaw the breakthroughs soon to come in the 40s, including radar, jet aviation, synthetic rubber, antibiotics, and, of course, the atomic bomb. Those were, indeed, all great achievements, mostly driven by the urgency of winning World War Two—and they all had significant spinoffs for the civilian sector, thus assuring our post-war prosperity. And yet, of course, none of these advances were Green.
In the meantime, today, here’s the thing: Even if we could achieve the ostensible twin goals of the Green New Deal—that is, lots of jobs and a solution to the carbon dioxide crisis—we will not have achieved what the Greens really want, which is less.
We might consider: This is a country of 330 million people, and they all want to have a nice life, mostly defined by having more. As has been noted here at Breitbart News, California, population 40 million, is already coming up against the limits of available space in the state—and so it’s time to create more space, by opening up more land. But tell that to the Greens.
So today, we can ask: Could a Green New Deal have the same positive impact that the New Deal had in its day?
Answer: It would all depend on who’s really running it—the Greens, or the New Dealers. After all, the Greens are anti-growth, and the New Deal was pro-growth.
So while the two groups might be allied today, they’re not the same. In fact, if they are true to their respective ideals, they will ultimately come into conflict.
So with that split in mind, Republicans—including New Deal Republicans, of whom there were once many—have an opportunity to do their own kind of constructive politicking in the Green New Deal era, if it comes.