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AOC’s Green New Deal as Politics

Summary:
By Lambert Strether of Corrente. This post is the promised companion piece to “AOC’s Green New Deal as Policy,” AOC being “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, an actual, as opposed to a notional, “rising star” in the Democrat Party. There, I looked at AOC’s “DRAFT TEXT FOR PROPOSED ADDENDUM TO HOUSE RULES FOR 116TH CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES” (“Draft text”), which would have established a Select Committee for a Green Deal Deal (GND). In essence, AOC’s proposal was a plan to have a plan, and to get everybody into the same tennis court room to hash it out. I realize that’s not a solution to climate change, and that even achieving the goal of making “the United States economy… greenhouse gas emissions neutral [and] significantly draw down greenhouse gases” might not be enough to prevent significant

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By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

This post is the promised companion piece to “AOC’s Green New Deal as Policy,” AOC being “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, an actual, as opposed to a notional, “rising star” in the Democrat Party. There, I looked at AOC’s “DRAFT TEXT FOR PROPOSED ADDENDUM TO HOUSE RULES FOR 116TH CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES” (“Draft text”), which would have established a Select Committee for a Green Deal Deal (GND). In essence, AOC’s proposal was a plan to have a plan, and to get everybody into the same tennis court room to hash it out.

I realize that’s not a solution to climate change, and that even achieving the goal of making “the United States economy… greenhouse gas emissions neutral [and] significantly draw down greenhouse gases” might not be enough to prevent significant dislocations, shall we say. Nevertheless, though not an optimist, I’m temperamentally a meliorist, which means that I tend to think things can get better, with a level of effort. The end of feudalism in France, after all, could be said to have begun with a namby-pamby centrist effort called the Cahiers de doléances, which is Bourbon-speak for “listening tour.” Frederick Douglass was giving addresses on abolition in Scotland (!!) in 1846. Seventeen years later, in his lifetime, the Slave Power — an entire political economy, of continental scale — was cast down, and billions in capital was destroyed, rightly. We can but try, the only way out is through, and the only way through is through electoral politics, a process AOC, IMNSHO, sparked[1]. I concluded that post:

If we think of the “Draft Text” of this GND not so much as a text, but as a space in which to mobilize, I think that AOC did a very good job, and in a very short time with virtually no resources, too. That’s impressive. If I pull my nose back from the grindstone of close reading, it seems to me that there are four areas where improvements could be made: (1) Clarifying the role (hopefully, zero) that finance capital will play in the process; (2) more focus on “natural” approaches like soil and reforestation [and grasses]: (3) introduce a requirement for metrics; (4) straighten out the funding language a la straight-up MMT. L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace!

Compared to dragging the GND into the realm of electoral politics, these policy flaws are minor.

Today’s Democrats being who and what they are, AOC’s proposal was naturally shot down by House Leader Nancy Pelosi, who substituted a comparatively toothless Committee (no subpoena power, hydrocarbon donors A-OK) with one of her creatures (Debbie Castor) as chair. I won’t bore you with more details, since they make for depressing reading, and who needs depressing in the midst of a winter storm? I will, however, pull out the Democrat commentary that I thought most hilariously indicative of everything about the Democrats that needs to be fixed. This from The Hill:

Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Frank Pallone Jr., who will chair the House Natural Resources and Energy and Commerce committees, respectively, have vocally criticized [AOC’s proposed] select committee. Grijalva supported the Green New Deal only if it had no legislative authority.

“The select committee is set up largely the same way it was last time which led to Waxman-Markey, the boldest, most comprehensive legislation that Congress has advanced in this regard ever,” a senior Democratic aide said in response to questions about the criticism….

Now-Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) chaired the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming between 2007 and 2011. Its key achievement was a comprehensive climate bill that squeaked by the House but failed to be picked up in the Senate.

I don’t know what the French antonym for l’audace might be, but whatever it is, these Committee Chairs exemplify it. AOC’s spokesperson Corbin Trent characterized Castor’s Committee as “about as useful as a screen door on a submarine,” but surely he’s too kind. Never mind that Waxman-Markey — I keep typing it as “Waxman-Market,” for some reason — was a cap-and-trade bill, and therefore broken, and broken in the way neoliberals break things (see NC here, here, and here). The key point: “Progressive” Democrat barons like Grijalva and Pallone are holding up a bill that failed nine years ago as exemplary, as a model to follow, as an “achievement“[2]. Stoller has the right of it:

“Loser mafia.” Ding ding ding, we have a winner.

With that background out of the way, I want to turn to political possibilities that AOC’s Select Committee would have (and still might[2]) open up. There are at least four: (a) election 2020; (b) subpoena power; (c) universal concrete material benefits, especially for the working class; and (d) redefining American exceptionalism. These items all work together, meaning that the “Draft Text” is more carefully crafted than first might appear. As before, I’ll quote a slab from the text, followed by a brief commentary. The commentary can be brief, because once seen, the implications are so obvious. (The extracts do not appear as ordered in the draft). To the text!

Election 2020

From the Draft Text:

(B) (i) The select committee shall complete the Plan for a Green New Deal by a date no later than January 1, 2020.

In other words, the GND would become the central issue on which Election 2020 would be fought (thereby either bypassing or co-opting the five or six Democrat consultants who sucked down $700 million in fees from the doomed Clinton 2016 campaign, as well as short-circuiting the DNC’s platform-making process. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of that. Of course, we could always make the election about who the press wants to have a beer with. Or we could urge that good policy is always a straight readout of ascriptive identity, never mind what the policy actually is. Which’d you rather? We have Pelosi’s answer…

Subpoena Power

From the Draft Text:

(A) Except as specified in paragraph (2), the select committee shall have the authorities and responsibilities of, and shall be subject to the same limitations and restrictions as, a standing committee of the House, and shall be deemed a committee of the House for all purposes of law or rule.

I take it that “authorities” incldue subpoena power, which is meant to build a record for Election 2020. For example, one might subpoena the Koch Brothers, the climate denialist think tank administrators they fund, and their paid [cough] “scientists,” and do to them what was done to the cigarette industry before them (and sometimes, it would be the same familiar faces). How long has it been since we’ve had national televised hearings, complete with heroes and villains? I can’t even remember.

In contrast, we have the views of the Loser Mafia:

Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, the incoming House majority leader, said last week the climate committee likely would not have legal authority to demand documents under subpoena. But he added that he doesn’t think the panel will need subpoena authority, since experts will be “dying to come before them.”

Climate scientists and other experts “are going to want to testify,” Hoyer said. “I think they’ll want to give the best information as it relates to the crisis.”

Steny, Steny, Steny. Has it never occurred to you that the purpose of subpoena power is to compel testimony from those who don’t want to testify? And that we’ve been taking testimony from scientists for decades now, and the net result has been a putatively “bold” bill that never passed? And that perhaps it’s time to, well, recalibrate a little? Make a mid-course correction? A half-time adjustment?

Universal Concrete Material Benefits

From the Draft Text:

(B) The Plan for a Green New Deal (and the draft legislation) shall recognize that a national, industrial, economic mobilization of this scope and scale is a historic opportunity to virtually eliminate poverty in the United States and to make prosperity, wealth and economic security available to everyone participating in the transformation.

I’ll skip the details, like the Jobs Guarantee (and how nice it is to have a program where the JG is a detail). I’ll also skip my views on the political power universal concrete material benefits, especially for the working class — never mind the morality part of not throwing the 90% under the bus because markets — since readers are familiar with them (see here, here, and here). Suffice to say that universal concrete material benefits are how you achieve buy-in for the GND from the 90% — even a consumption drawdown is conceivable if you’ve got a JG and a society mobilized for something other than avoiding being gutted by financial predators. Universal concrete material benefits are how FDR’s original New Deal enabled the Democrats to achieve political dominance for two generations, and LBJ for decades more. But let’s reluctantly quote that senior Democratic aide once more:

“The Green New Deal gets into things that are completely unrelated to climate so it was always an unworkable construct.”

Au contraire, Loser Mafia! Getting voter buy-in is the only way to achieve a workable construct. Another hearing with scientists — even the most credentialed — won’t do it. Tinkering with markets won’t do it. Repeating the same thing while expecting a different result won’t do it. “Putting America back to work” would.

Redefining American Exceptionalism

From the Draft Text:

[M]aking “green” technology, industry, expertise, products and services a major export of the United States, with the aim of becoming the undisputed international leader in helping other countries transition to completely greenhouse gas neutral economies and bringing about a global Green New Deal.

Now, it’s only fair to say that the Greens in Germany and here who seeded the GNS weren’t going to “export” GND techniques; they were going to give them away. I imagine there’s space for a Marshall-style plan to do that in the plan to have a plan. That said, however crazypants it might be, American Exceptionalism is deeply embedded in the American psyche, and won’t be going away anytime soon. However, I — and I suspect many voters, across the electoral terrain (I won’t say spectrum) would be more than happy to replace an America that’s exceptional for losing very expensive wars (conservatives), or selling tubby overpriced aircraft that catch on fire (liberals), or whacking wedding parties with drone strikes (the left), and I don’t see why we shouldn’t enter into a friendly competition with China to do it (liberals, conservatives, left)[3].

Conclusion

Summing up, this post has been a bit more rough and ready than my usual, but the Loser Mafia ticks me off; it’s not so much the “Green” part, as the “New Deal” part that they object to, amazingly enough. Personally, I think the GND is a winning formula. I only hope the more clever sort of Democrat can fight through the fog of conventional wisdom (and those Loser Mafia black lists) and come to that conclusion, too. Plus, we should all do our bit to avoid the Jackpot, even those of use who own bunkers or hope to staff them.[4]

NOTES

[1] I say “sparked” in an effort to avoid being a squeeing fan boi, and giving AOC too much personal credit (but holy [family blog], a GND sit-in, in Pelosi’s office, one week after the mid-term elections? That’s impressive). Black Agenda Report has a very good summary of how the “Green New Deal,” as a talking point, evolved, which you should read. “Howie [Hawkins] says he stole it from the European Greens who’d been intrigued by the old American New Deal of the 1930s under Franklin Roosevelt.” What goes around…

[2] Wait for the so-called “public option” — didn’t pass in 2010, either — to thrust a skeletal hand from the earth when Pelosi’s Democrats get down to health care policy.

[3] Better than a shooting war, no?

[4] And if AOC drops this, I’ll be extremely disappointed. Stay the course. Heck, the aliens might lift the quarantine if we get our act together. Kidding!

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