Energy & Environment

The Same Old Deal

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey (at right) hold a news conference for their proposed “Green New Deal” on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., February 7, 2019. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Speaking of bovine flatulence . . .

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was supposed to be the Democratic party’s fresh new face — so why is the honorable lady from the Bronx trafficking in ideas from the 1930s?

The Left really has only one idea: control. At the end of the Cold War, when socialism stood discredited and the memory of its atrocities and repression were fresh in the minds of people who had just watched the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and much of what it stood for, the partisans of central planning found themselves in need of a new host, and what they found was the environmental movement — another vehicle for supplanting liberalism and free markets with five-year plans and political discipline. Hence the joke about “watermelons,” the new lefty activists who were green on the outside but red on the inside. The metaphor may occasion some eye-rolling and is prone to abuse, but it speaks to an undeniable truth: Environmentalism has been since the fall of the Soviet Union the world’s most important vessel for anti-liberal and anti-market forces.

Representative Ocasio-Cortez’s brief public career offers testimony to a mind that never has been at risk of being violated by a coherent thought, much less an original one, and so she has settled upon the “Green New Deal,” a concept and a marketing campaign that already was hackneyed and shopworn back when Barack Obama was pushing it years ago, and when Thomas Friedman was pushing it before him, and when the Communist Party USA was pushing it before him. Van Jones, quondam Maoist adviser to President Obama, wrote a book on the subject, The Green Collar Economy, in which he made the case for conjoining “our two biggest problems.” The program he spelled out will be familiar to any student of the history of socialism.

True to form, Representative Ocasio-Cortez calls for a series of ten-year plans aimed at putting the entirety of the U.S. economy under political discipline: The government will decide how goods are produced and how they will get to market, how automobiles and airplanes function, how agriculture is conducted. The 29-year-old congresswoman presumes to tell farmers and autoworkers how to do their jobs while in a state of pristine ignorance about their work.

Setting aside the unpleasant history of socialist attempts to forcibly reorganize agriculture, there is much that is familiar — and wrongheaded — in this iteration of the Green New Deal, though we do appreciate its honesty in promising to look after the financial interests of “those unwilling to work.” (Leon Trotsky once boasted that socialism meant that the old maxim, “He who does not work shall not eat,” had been replaced by, “He who does not obey shall not eat.” Prescient.) It contains promises that no serious environmentalist believes to be practical (or likely even possible) such as cutting carbon-dioxide emissions to zero by 2030; giving every American a government-guaranteed job “with a family-sustaining wage, family and medical leave, vacations, and retirement security”; ending the use of fossil fuels in electricity generation while simultaneously eliminating nuclear energy, the most environmentally friendly source of such power; overhauling all manufacturing; retrofitting every building in the United States with . . . something; building a new electrical grid; replacing all the cars and trucks on the road; and much more.

The document circulated in support of this nonsense is sophomore dorm-room stuff (it uses the word “massive” 13 times in six pages) and contains such wisdom as: “If Eisenhower wanted to build the interstate highway system today, people would ask how we’d pay for it.” Goodness, yes, and they’d be right to ask. As a matter of fact, they did ask, at the time, energetically, and haggling over taxes to pay for the federal highway system was a critical part of the legislative process associated with the project. That might have occurred to people who were more serious-minded and less historically illiterate.

One of the great weaknesses of progressive thought at the moment is the philosophy of “everything is everything,” the idea that all things progressives desire are intrinsically linked to all other things progressives desire, hence that weird Planned Parenthood rhetoric insisting that “justice for Mike Brown” is an abortion-rights issue. It is an odd and dopey affectation, one that indicates deficient thinking. There are things that need to be done to protect the environment, and there are things that need to be done in the interests of the poor and the marginally employed. Reforming the welfare system is a project probably best undertaken independently of any ten-year plans involving fine-tuning the methane-producing digestive systems of America’s livestock.

Representative Ocasio-Cortez has shown that she has a remarkable talent for self-promotion. Whether there is anything else to her remains to be seen, but this tired, derivative, banal — and deeply destructive — “Green New Deal” nonsense suggests that her gifts are better suited to Twitter than to public policy.

The Editors — The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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