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Opinion The press needs to ask hard questions on the Green New Deal

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) hold a news conference for their proposed Green New Deal at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 7. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters) (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
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It’s one thing for a back-bencher such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) to roll out a pie-in-the sky Green New Deal with no explanation of its cost, feasibility or consequences; it is quite another for candidates running for president to sign on to something about which they cannot possibly answer basic questions.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is now planning to take a vote on the resolution, trying to force Democrats who are running for president to choose between voting for an extreme measure or extremely annoying the progressive base. (Chances are, they will vote “present”).

Instead of asking whether candidates have signed on to the GND or merely watching how Senate Democrats vote, maybe the press should start pressing Democratic candidates to answer questions about it. Here are some basics.

  • How much does it cost? How do you calculate the cost?
  • What impact will it have on existing industries and jobs, and how do you propose to address those effects?
  • What technology must exist for the GND to come to fruition?
  • Given the length of construction projects, even if we started building, say, light rail all over the country, when would it be done?
  • Which technical experts and scientists have you consulted to determine which of the items on the wish list are attainable?
  • How do we become “carbon-neutral” in 10 years?
  • How do we go about “upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximal energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability, including through electrification”? (emphasis added)
  • What is the plan for “guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States” in 10 years?

You get the idea. If Democratic candidates are going to take the GND deal seriously, they should face serious questions. We don’t know how they’d answer questions, but they cannot honestly come up with specifics to explain a fantastical program of undetermined scope and cost.

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I raise these points not because I think climate change isn’t a priority; it is. I raise these points not because I think Trump is right in asserting that those who care about climate change are socialists; that’s poppycock. I raise these points because the GND is an excellent way to discredit its supporters and the needed measures to abate climate change. Coming up with a wish list that can be easily mocked as a utopian plan is a really bad idea.

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Trump says the GND would take away our cars, airplane rides, etc. He doesn’t know that, but it’s a lot harder to make him seem like the extremist when your plan is unattainable and, frankly, silly.

Democratic primary voters should think about candidates who sign on to something this extreme and undefined without thinking through the ramifications. (Some of these candidates are lawyers and should know better than to affix their name to a blank check.)

Democratic primary voters should also credit the more thoughtful possible candidates. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) deserves points for not going down the GND road. Politico reports:

“There are going to be all kinds of specific legislation on all kinds of issues coming out of a very energized, new group of members of Congress,” Brown told reporters Tuesday at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor. “That will continue for the next year. There will be all kinds of bills sponsored by individual presidential candidates. ... I’m not going to take position on every bill that’s coming out. I support a green new deal. I think we need to aggressively support climate change [legislation]. That’s my answer.” . . .
“I’m not going to get in the position every time someone has a really good idea or a big idea I have to talk in great detail on my position on it,” Brown said. "I know the easy thing to do is say, ‘Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes,’ but I don’t know that that serves my constituents. As a progressive, I’m not going to get in this race and change my positions and go like that with people.”

Now there’s someone who demonstrates common sense and refuses to join the irrational stampede. Brown may favor much more expensive and invasive measures than I’d like, but at least he is exercising judgment. He’s thinking through the pitfalls of identifying with something that is going to scare off more voters than it attracts. He understands problems aren’t fixed by making a wish list.

Brown’s considered approach should be expected from any serious presidential contender. Our current president doesn’t think through details or explain difficult trade-offs. We shouldn’t elect a new president afflicted with the same problem, even if we approve of their policy ambitions.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: Should Democrats take the Green New Deal literally or seriously?

Megan McArdle: ‘We’re nuts!’ isn’t a great pitch for a Green New Deal

Catherine Rampell: Democrats in 2020 are at risk of turning into Republicans in 2016

Megan McArdle: Democrats are learning to copy Trump. Uh-oh.

Max Boot: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shouldn’t approach her facts the way Trump does