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“The Green New Deal and the Politics of Pessimism” (Washington Examiner) February 25, 2019

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.

I read House Resolution 109 introducing the Green New Deal so you won’t have to. I already knew that it was an effort to reinvent the economy, while also keeping sea levels from rising, eliminating unemployment, and guaranteeing healthcare for all. This new utopia was supposed to be available to us for a mere $90 billion.

What I was surprised to learn by reading the fine print, however, is that the Green New Deal is built on the politics of pessimism. Every bill starts with a “whereas” section, diagnosing the problem, before it gets to the “therefore” about how big government will solve it. This whereas section reads like a good old-fashioned doom and gloom sermon. America is now in the midst of “a 4-decade trend of wage stagnation,” the resolution tells us, with “a large racial wealth divide” and “systemic injustices,” while sea levels are rising, wildfire droughts are spreading and we tremble before Armageddon.

I suppose this gloom and doom is supposed to make us feel like we are in another Great Depression, like the one in the 1930s that made the case for the old New Deal. But, as my Depression-era mother often reminded me, we live in a time nothing like that one. When President Franklin Roosevelt was inaugurated in 1933, approximately one-fourth of the American workforce was seeking jobs. National income had been reduced by half. Thousands of banks had closed with 25 states declaring bank holidays.

Today, by contrast, unemployment is 4 percent, which the Congressional Budget Office maintains is about the rate of structural unemployment you will always have since you cannot match skills and jobs perfectly. Our gross national product has been at all-time highs. The last time I checked, banks are still open. America has problems, sure, but this is nothing compared to what brought on the real New Deal and it is silly to claim otherwise.

The gamble Democrats are taking is that somehow people are ready to buy this kind of pessimism about their country. But, as is often the case in politics, it does not seem that they have read the minutes of the last meeting. Does anyone remember President Jimmy Carter and his era of limits? Or his famous “malaise” speech of July 15, 1979? To read House Resolution 109, it sounds much more like Carter than Roosevelt.

What you might recall is that after only one term in office, the doom and gloom Carter rhetoric and presidency were replaced by the ultimate political optimist, President Ronald Reagan. He gave Americans a positive vision of the country and what was still left to be accomplished. His 1984 re-election ad “Morning in America” is still considered one of the most powerful political messages ever produced. Reagan saw America as a “city on a hill,” not a country in decline. Which leader’s vision do you want: a country reaching its limits, or a city on a hill leading the world? Even President Trump, who managed to tap into a populist concern about the direction of the country, nevertheless packaged it into that more optimistic baseball cap slogan: Make America Great Again.

Before House Resolution 109 finishes up at 14 pages, it gets to the “therefores,” what big government will do to fix America. Here the verbs become all important: The government will be “directing,” “ensuring,” and “guaranteeing.” This does begin to sound more like Roosevelt and the progressive preference for government planning. The bill will, as it concludes, be “providing all people of the United States with high quality health care, affordable, safe and adequate housing; economic security; and clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and access to nature.”

Finally, Democrats get to language we expect from them: Big government guaranteeing the good life. But first, they ask America to embrace the doom and gloom of the present moment which, both in Congress and in the coming election, will be a difficult sell.

David Davenport is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


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