What’s Right: The Green New Deal

Ryan Zoellner, Maroon-News Staff

To be clear, the United States and her colleagues ought to be doing everything they can to limit carbon emissions and reduce dependency on plastics, animal husbandry and, yes, even oil. Let me also be clear: I am not much of a fan of the “own the libs”-type Republicans who have paradoxically become obsessed with Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez; they, much like Trump’s detractors, only fuel her fame in an era where media mentions are confused with qualification. That said, Ocasio-Cortez and the Green New Deal deserve a monumental dose of skepticism.

In assessing the Green New Deal, I think it is actually very helpful to compare the proposal with its two predecessors under FDR. The first New Deal in 1933 was a stimulus effort designed to bring the country out of the Great Depression. After major sections of it were ruled unconstitutional, FDR’s coalition sought to revive the spirit of its political base by proposing a set of more permanent and controversial measures in 1935. The language of the Green New Deal seems to indicate its authors’ wish to follow in the model of FDR’s first, while its goals are more expansive than the second. Both are problems. Oftentimes, defenders of the first New Deal point to the fact that in this case, swift action was better than none and that flaws in specific programs can be explained in this way. While the urgency of the Green New Deal is perhaps an important cultural movement, this approach is no way at all to begin a process as grand as the document’s authors intend. If the Green New Deal is to more closely resemble FDR’s second, its proponents are in for a generations long political battle.

The second relevant comparison is this enormous, albeit now forgotten, political fight that ensued in response to FDR’s initiatives. After losing a number of cases over the program in the Supreme Court, Roosevelt had to threaten to add more justices to the court in 1937, and while this was not ultimately successful, caused a public relations uproar against the program and the formation of a political coalition designed specifically to oppose it. This coalition was the birthplace of Reaganite conservatism. If Ocasio-Cortez and her acolytes wish to change energy policy in any meaningful way, following the path of one of the greatest political rifts in the 20th century seems a poor place to start. The Green New Deal is, politically speaking, a losing idea unless of course there is a presidential primary coming up.

But for many (presidential candidates of course among them) this is part of the appeal. The Green New Deal follows the model of its predecessors by opening a new platform of issues for a new era of candidates. However, even 60 years later, it is not as if the comparably modest issues of the original era are resolved. Social security will exceed its self-sufficiency by 2034, unemployment benefits have been re-restructured five times in the last decade and farm subsidies remain a battleground for political favoritism. Nearly every standing initiative for the first two New Deals continue to be either hotly contested or in serious disrepair. Radical tax increases, regulatory expansions and all, Majority Leader Feinstein is right to point out there is no reason at all to believe a new, even less carefully crafted program would be any more successful. Oh, and by the way, the self-estimated cost for the plan is $1 trillion annually.

The thought “Green New Deal—yay” is not necessarily a wrong one if the background facts of the proposal are omitted. As I said before, something—really a lot of somethings—need be done to shift American business and infrastructure onto a more sustainable path forward. But the idea that somehow this 14 page document thrown together in the time it took this year’s junior Congressional class to move into their offices could do this is absurd; the idea that Uncle Sam will re-route the entire structure of the American economy in under ten years is frightening. The original New Deal regime was an overreaching monolith with decent intentions but an unconstitutional shadow and the legacy of a political bloodbath—knowing this, let’s try something new this time.

Contact Ryan Zoellner at [email protected].