If Democrats want to see large victories in 2020, they need to steal the narrative away from their left flank. The new voice of the left wing of the party is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The 29-year-old freshman Congresswoman from the Bronx is engaging, articulate, funny and everywhere in the media. Her Green New Deal has become a rallying point for the left and a litmus test for presidential contenders.
If Democrats make the Green New Deal the centerpiece of their 2020 campaign strategy, I suspect we should get comfortable having Donald Trump in the White House. It’s too complicated for most people to understand and most likely full of unintended consequences. I’ve read a bit about it and I still don’t understand it. I believe that climate change presents an existential threat and I also believe that our economic and tax systems disproportionally benefit the wealthy at the expense of the working class. That said, I don’t believe the answer to either problem can be addressed in a single program that is more of slogan than a solution. And I don’t think most voters believe so, either.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not scared of government programs. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are foundations of our society that have helped people better their lives. Public schools, community colleges and universities have offered people the tools to escape poverty and build better lives for their children. We should support and expand on all of these programs.
I believe that addressing climate change requires government intervention now, not later. Waiting on a free-market solution is like waiting on the Republican health care plan; it’s never going to happen. We need to move away from reliance from fossil fuels and we won’t do that without nudging from the government to both penalize polluters and reward developers of clean energy.
I believe in universal health care and I don’t care how we get there, whether it’s a single-payer program like Medicare for All or revised version of Obamacare that keeps private insurance an integral part of the delivery system. I just know that every other developed country has a system that’s less expensive and more efficient than ours and covers all their citizens. I also know until we fix it, health care will be the top domestic problem facing the country. Nobody wants to go broke because they get sick and they don’t want to watch their loved ones die just because they can’t afford treatment. Republicans still don’t get that.
I believe that everybody should have access to higher education without taking on mortgage sized debt, but I don’t believe in free college for everybody. I’ve got no interest in letting my hard-earned tax dollars subsidize millionaires to send their children to college. That said, I believe corporations should pay for community college education that serves as job training. Our government has a responsibility to ensure that our citizens have access to the tools to succeed in the 21stcentury economy.
I believe our embrace of supply side economics in the 1980s has led to the economic inequality we see today and has exacerbated the social turmoil that’s rocking the country. We created a system where winners win big and losers get left behind. We reward those who live off of investments far more than we do those who work for wages. We need to revise our tax structure to pay for the investments we need in energy, infrastructure, health care and education. We don’t, however, need to believe that the rich can pay for it all. We need rely on economic growth that sees more people making more money, not fewer people making a lot of money and paying less taxes on it.
We can’t hide from globalization but we can make sure that our free trade policies are also fair trade policies. When industries get wiped out like they did in the wake of NAFTA, we should help ease the burden of communities that are affected by investing in infrastructure and education to attract new industries and jobs to those areas. The big winners shouldn’t always be investors and consumers while workers end up the big losers.
Catchy names like the Green New Deal might excite activists and others predisposed to embracing change, but they scare the hell out of folks for whom change is usually painful. Most voters aren’t big idea people. They’re self-interested “what can you do for me people.” Democrats should offer them hope for the future and a vision of what that looks like, not some amorphous slogan that sounds like it’s going to save the world.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >