What the Green New Deal Says About the Young and Progressive Left

When freshman Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey’s Green New Deal resolution failed to pass on the Senate floor by a staggering 0-57 vote, her reaction (and those of her supporters) was one of both upset and outrage. Disappointedly absent from this rant was any glimmer of introspection. Ocasio-Cortez is the millennial voice in Congress, and her and Markey’s resolutions are, by its description, the legislative panacea that this generation apparently desires. The lack of presented policy action and the unrealistic cost are well-documented criticisms, but less often considered is the Green New Deal’s unwillingness to engage with non-cost related political realities and its lack of focus. These are troubling symptoms for the fledgling young progressive element of Congress, of which the prognosis appears to be a weak, overly-idealistic policy that won’t be successful.


Elected in part by significant appeal to young voters in NY’s 14th District, AOC is the foremost voice of the urban millennial left. She’s young, challenges the political establishment, carries a strong social media presence, and targets policies salient to the young left, including climate change, economic inequality, college loan debt, and gender/racial issues. These millennials, and the even-younger Generation Z, which respectively encompass those born between the 1980s and 2000s, differ greatly in opinion from their older generational counterparts. Millennials and Generation Z are more liberal, more deferential to big government, and more likely to find linkage between human activity and climate change than their generational predecessors. Millennials, in particular, live predominantly in urban settings and are much better educated in the aggregate. With that said, they are, according to some measures, less knowledgeable of personal finance, less participatory in formal politics, and less knowledgeable overall of government and world history. AOC is a figure drawn from this pool. Her Green New Deal is a distillation of her political philosophy and, by extension, those who champion her.


The drafters of the GND either didn’t consider or didn’t care about the two political realities that must be acknowledged in order to pass climate change legislation: 1) Republicans still control the Senate, and 2) there needed to be a progressive-moderate Democrat coalition. The former feature of our political reality may prove harder to overcome, in that any sort of resolution on the Senate floor with even a whiff of climate change policy sentiment is likely to be shot down, including non-binding resolutions like the GND. The progressives, however, would have a better chance if they adopted an incrementalist  approach, even just when setting goals. This would look like a smaller resolution that seeks to tackle a specific issue, which, in conjunction with a series of similar pieces of legislation and other resolutions, would become a summative policy over time. If the progressives were truly serious about such an endeavor, this would be the approach they should take, as it is the most viable under the present circumstances. The fact that they are not signals that they’re, perhaps, not as serious as they would suggest. Also, the 57 votes against the Senate resolution included a number of Democrats, including Democratic congressional leaders like Nancy Pelosi and others, who were not integral to the drafting of such legislation and were largely critical of the language of the bill. Not only does the GND require Republican support, but it also obviously requires support within the Democratic party. AOC and Markey didn’t appear to make much effort at all to appeal to their own party, perhaps even alienating it. The GND’s proponents are ardently idealistic and unlikely to waver from their principles, but if they actually aim to achieve successful legislation, then incrementalism and compromise must be the name of the game.


Another major shortcoming of the GND is that its scope is just too large for its own good. The GND, albeit presented as a climate change stimulus program, confusingly attempts to tackle income inequality and racial inequities in the same stride. The Green New Deal is basically the regurgitation of the entire Democratic-Socialism ethos into a single 14 page document. The overly-ambitious net cast by the GND comes with a number of consequences, such as its potential to alienate other members of the Democratic Party from the progressive wing and its difficulty in addressing each issue it identifies with the proper attention it may require. Frankly, it’s just messy policy. By making the scope too large and attempting to tackle too many issues at once, the GND suffers the risk of alienating those that may concur with some parts and disagree with others.


Ocasio-Cortez and her young, passionate base would do well to learn from the shortcomings of the Green New Deal and its abysmal failure in March’s Senate vote. Time will tell whether AOC, and the millennial politics popularly conflated with aimless idealism, decides to respect the political establishment and begins to produce substantive legislation. Until then, AOC’s policy, as representative of both Bronx-Queens and the millennial progressive, is going to continue to be a lot of noise but no substance.

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