William Watson: How the Democrats’ ‘Green New Deal’ could get Trump re-elected

A good many people believe (and some pray) that Donald Trump won’t be re-elected. Two people who may help Trump win a second term held a rally on the steps of the U.S. Capitol last week to unveil the platform that could hand him the election. They’re the new social-media phenom Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and veteran Massachusetts Democrat, left-wing senator Ed Markey. The platform they gifted the president with was their “Green New Deal.” If they do manage to saddle their party’s nominee for president with this political kryptonite — it’s green and it saps your strength — Mr. Trump may yet turn his under-40-per-cent approval ratings into a second surprise victory.

The classic way to beat an unpopular incumbent is to avoid unforced errors. Being too specific about your plans creates handholds an underdog can use to climb back into the race. Franklin Roosevelt ran in 1932 in the politically safest way possible, by condemning Herbert Hoover’s deficit spending. At last week’s State of the Union address, Donald Trump looked gleeful as he tested out the talking points that may become 2020’s version of The Wall: “America will never be a socialist country.” It doesn’t quite swing like “Lock her up” but it might sell just as well.

Democratic strategists must understand the danger. But in the party’s activist base these days, “moderate” is a dirty word. The Democrats’ hard-left wing won’t play traditional strategic games but instead wants to load the party with a Big Green Government platform that would be two-ways dangerous: If it doesn’t re-elect Trump, it will hobble whoever beats him.

You’d think environmentalists would be careful with hot air, but the AOC-Markey manifesto is entirely aspirational. The most common complaint about it is that it provides hardly the slightest hint about what it will cost. But that’s because it provides hardly the slightest hint about what it actually will do. It’s all blue sky, no blueprint.

At 14 double-spaced pages, the greenmanifestoruns about 2,000 words, i.e., about two-and-a-half times longer than this column. Its statements of “whereas-es” are 766 words, so its operational bit — which aims to largely re-make the U.S. economy — is a little over 1,300 words.

The whereas-es are a litany of actual and foretold woe: racial and gender differences in income and wealth (though it’s hard to see how they’re due to climate change); wildfires that will consume twice as much forest in 2050 as now (which at least might be linked to climate change but haven’t actually happened yet); declining life expectancy (mainly the fault of opioids); economic immobility (on which, studies say, the U.S. has lagged for at least a century, dating back to when the climatic change that people feared wasn’t warming, but a new ice age); depopulated rural communities (the trend for at leasttwocenturies); and imperiled national security (will a green president therefore declare a national security emergency?).

The new “New Deal” gets only the most vaporous outline. The government will be obliged to: repair and upgrade infrastructure; guarantee access to clean water; reduce the risks posed by climate impacts; within 10 years meet “100 per cent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources” (though it’s not clear whether every adjective must apply to every energy source); restore and protect threatened, endangered and fragile ecosystems; and so on and so on — although some of this you’d think the federal government already considered its duty.

The deal’s most specific requirements are that government “ensure” it create “high-quality union jobs” and “guarantee a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States.” “Guarantee” is a strong word. Regarding what people would actually do in these jobs and who would be purchasing their output, if any, nothing is said.

In popular memory, the original New Deal that FDR rolled out between 1933 and 1936 has a wonderful reputation. In a 2016 poll, FDR was favoured to be next up on Mount Rushmore. It’s true the U.S. economy was a lot better off in 1939 than when Roosevelt took over in 1933. But scholars debate just how much improvement was his doing. People forget: A big part of the New Deal was detailed price and wage control of most of the U.S. economy — the so-called “Blue Eagle” program — which can’t have been good for investment and which the Supreme Court found unconstitutional in 1935. If a Green Eagle is what the Democrats’ socialists have in mind, the Court may have to step in again.

The U.S. unemployment rate is barely half what it was during Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” in 1984, and just a sixth what it was in 1933. It’s a strange time to want to enmesh the world’s leading economy in 1930s-style statism.

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