AOC’s Green New Deal as Politics

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].


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]


[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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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. None

    AOC will) be on the finance committee which is an exclusive committee. Does that stop her from being on the GND committee?

  2. Ignacio

    In fact I believe there is one way to bring “markets” in support of a Grand Green New Deal and it is related with the metrics option:

    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

    Metrics is important for market, isn’t it? What about subsidies? The contrary of markets, aren’t they? Well then ask yourself about the cost of energy in your house, and the cost of energy of, for instance, some factory nearby. I don’t know how it is in the US but in Europe, because “competitivity”, because “markets” the largest consumers of electricity tend to pay the lower in terms of € or $ per kwh.

    This paper is in spanish but take a look at the first graph in the paper which is in english and shows electricity prices for industrial consumers in Spain and Germany. Energy, the more you spend, the cheaper it is!

    This implies that there is an implicit subsity in energy tariffs: we, the regular people, subsidize the energy consumed by the big corporate spenders. As a Green New Deal starter: eliminate this subsidy!!! Metrics show it!!!

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      because “competitivity”, because “markets” the largest consumers of electricity tend to pay the lower in terms of € or $ per kwh.


      That happens in a lot of places, I think.

      For example, if you buy, say, black beans bulk, it’s cheaper per kg or lb. For another example, look at beer. Kegs of beer are cheaper (I think, I have no personal experience).

  3. Chauncey Gardiner

    Thank you so much for this post. Coupling this with the post by Kate Voder from Grist here on NC today about shifting public opinion in the face of the very well-funded, organized, longtime and ongoing propaganda and persuasion effort against climate science, and that the majority of Americans now accept that climate change is a real and extremely serious issue. Thank you, too, for featuring AOC’s effort and noting Dem establishment oppo. Looks to me like the latter Luv the Money a little too much.

    Might also be an opportunity to restore some semblance of U.S. diplomacy and moral authority in the world.

  4. Oregoncharles

    AOC, ” an actual, as opposed to a notional, “rising star” in the Democrat Party”.

    I question that last phrase (but then, my priors should be well known by now.) She is certainly a star; a politician like that comes along once in a generation. But the DP has maintained policies completely at odds with its membership and the voting public for a couple of generations now. The firewall is clearly iron clad, and probably (I’m not an insider) composed mostly of money.

    Never underestimate pros; they know how to defend their rice bowls from someone like AOC. Oregon knows about that, because Wayne Morse was one of our Senators for a long time. That meant almost no military facilities in Oregon, a good thing in the long run. But Morse was very effectively isolated, and AOC will be, too, barring a complete breakdown in the status quo – in which case she won’t be a Democrat any more..

  5. Oregoncharles

    ” 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. ”

    All it took was the Civil War.

    1. knowbuddhau

      I cringed when I read that. Sorry, Lambert. I do very much appreciate your work. Thrilled that a GND is even a topic. Just don’t think it was that triumphal. It changed form, but I’m sure you’re familiar with the work of Douglas Blackmon, author of Slavery by Another Name.

      Were those the sole goals of Douglass, just improving material conditions, or did he aspire higher? If Maslow’s pyramid applies, why not appeal higher up?

      A slave power ended, as you say, but, pace Douglas Blackmon, wasn’t an entire political economy. Still got a ways to go on that.

      You’re framing it as offering people a carrot to get “buy in.” And that works, sure. I have my doubts about the long term efficacy. Kids paid to get better grades don’t learn more, or even get the grades. And in that way of thinking, isn’t there always a stick, too? Is carrot & stick really the best we can do? Not a beast of burden, nor am I that easy. Whatever happened to inspiration?

      My message to politicians is: Improving me on the physical level does not necessarily equal doing me, as a dignified human being, any good, nor does it relieve you of your duties as my public servant. Providing the conditions for me and my community to thrive is to be expected. The proverbial “3 hots and a cot” ain’t good enough. We also need to do it with dignity.

      If you’re just going to upgrade the conditions in which I am still in misery, leaving me unable realistically to look forward to a meaningful way of being in a healthy, sustainable, community, not just for the short term but for generations to come; offering me just another g.d. job when what I need is a livelihood, let me save you the trouble.

      It’s what those conditions mean that matters. It if ain’t about getting right by Nature, marrying Her for the long run, not just for me but my better half, too: my community, go back to the drawing board.

      1. knowbuddhau

        As an example of how one’s beliefs come shining through, get a load of Elizabeth Warren: “The American people deserve competitive markets.” That’s her belief system, right there. So we get the best health coverage money can buy. Or go die.

        Yo, Senator Warren, Gov. Inslee: not your market fodder, tyvm.

        Likewise, the “Green” in GND is more than a color. It speaks of a whole new approach to being human. I like it already, just for changing the narrative. I like that its popularity, and that of M4A, might be enough irresistible force to remove the immovable from office on the way to putting Sanders and his crew in their place. I like that they both make Pelosians make blatantly absurd excuses for not doing the right thing, right now.

        I like it as politics. A lot. I hope it’s proponents walk the talk. And even if the reaction appears headed for scorched-earth levels, remember all the plants that look forward to a good fire.

        Thanks, Lambert. Go AOC, more like this, please.

      2. Lambert Strether Post author

        I disagree. Slavery as a means of production means ownership. That is why billions in capital was destroyed. That’s why I wrote “Slave Power,” as opposed to, say, white supremacy.

      3. drumlin woodchuckles

        By the same token, for those with no hots and no cot, appeals to higher meaning seem like so much inaudible twittering, like bats screeching in the night.

      1. Jessica

        That mobilization also included large numbers of enslaved people who ran away to freedom whenever the course of the war created that opportunity. In large parts of the South, the Emancipation Proclamation did not so much free enslaved people as promise that they would not be re-enslaved.

  6. Stanley Dundee

    Lambert on Stoller:

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

    So much to like about these arguments, even beyond loser mafia. Keep the focus on concrete material benefits and maybe we can beat the neoliberals and their macronies. When I read your posts, I feel I could almost be a meliorist myself.

    Great post, Lambert! Many thanks!

  7. Tyrannocaster

    I think the French term you are looking for is “la lâcheté”, or…cowardice.

    Hat tip for the Wayne Morse mention in the comments. I’m proud to say my father worked on Morse’s campaign. Boy, was he a pain in the ass to the party.

    1. Oregoncharles

      You’re welcome. Ursula LeGuin actually references him in “The Lathe of Heaven,” which is set in Portland. She comments that there are hardly any military installations in Oregon because Morse made a point of antagonizing the rest of the Senate.

      And we loved him for it. He is missed. Him and Tom McCall, a Republican!

  8. John k

    Thanks for the good work. Yes, she is stellar. Pity she can’t run with Bernie until 2024.
    I think it would take a progressive pres to break thru the calcified dem party. And even with that he she would need the power that comes from inheriting a deep recession… or the power the former pres had in 2008.

  9. notabanker

    Like this piece a lot Lambert, thanks for doing it.

    I’ve been following BNC since it’s inception and AOC from her earliest days. Instincts told me she was going to take that seat well in advance of mainstream coverage. The doubt from establishment sources right up to election day proved just how out of touch they were.

    That said, instincts are really bothering me right now. The cult of personality, identity politics, pushing Pelosi’s leadership is all off message. I don’t know how you fight the loser mafia from within, maybe she and her team do and it’s all part of a larger plan. But it doesn’t feel right, yet.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      I worry a lot whenever I see liberal catchphrases like “the conversation” creep into AOC’s vocabulary. The thing is, liberal Democrats are very nice, very personable, like the soothing NPR voices or a professor’s soft leather elbow patches. You feel good after a “conversation” (in which all power relations are erased, and every person is a person of good will, speaking in good faith). Thing is that, well, they’re a loser mafia, emphasis on mafia*, and they lose because of what they do, not because of what others do. (The wilful refusal to take responsibility for failure goes back at least to the Bush campaign in 2000, where the Blame Cannons were pointed at Nader. It’s not just the Clinton faction, dominant as they are. It’s always somebody else’s fault. That’s not only why RussiaRussiaRussia is so corrosive, but identitarian politics as well. The othering is industrial strength.)

      * See issues of ballot access and who gets on the ballot line and why

  10. rob

    First off I have to say, I am rooting wholeheartedly for AOC. So far she has been exceptional.
    I also believe people shouldn’t put such a burden upon her outcomes. As long as she fights the good fight, win or lose…. we will all be better off in spirit. I doubt that any one,two or three actors alone can make a difference. But her fight will hopefully inspire others as to what “the good fight” is. And at this point, that IS the point. if for no other reason than the fact that the republican party, and the democratic establishment;including Elisabeth Warren, don’t seem to have a clue as to what the “good fight” is.
    The saying “you can’t get there from here” ,fits in the sense,in that all the people at this time who would be in the room talking and listening, are people who don’t seem to get it.For whatever reasons, they are the product of wherever they came from.And this “GND” that is the product that we need to create, will not be made by them. They don’t have the inclination, to divorce themselves from the donors who paved their way. they will dance with who brung ’em.And like they say,”you can’t make chicken soup, from chicken poop”.
    I think that if the whole ball of wax here is up for discussion, it will take time to gather the inertia, beyond a handful of people who are actually open to the ideas. And considering we are talking about lawmakers, and congress critters and their staff, (which the few and only congressional staffers and interns I have ever met were koolaid drinkers ,too),and not the myriad of people in all walks of life who actually concern themselves with higher aspirations, there is no hope of a fruitful outcome, now.
    But the timetable has to be ignored, It can’t happen in a dozen years. But we will hopefully at least be dealing with real issues by then, and despite being behind the eightball,we will still have to go “through”, as lambert had said. There is no option.
    But since we “can’t get there from here”, we need to get to a place that we can “get there” from. And AOC is a bright spot, on the way there….

  11. Jeremy Grimm

    I remain skeptical about AOC’s Green New Deal. It might hold great promise — but also holds great opportunity for exploitation. The situation reminds me of a Jimmy Stewart movie from the late 1930s but I’m not sure the remake will be a comedy. My lack of enthusiasm doesn’t translate into a lack of support. After Obama I am very wary of ‘good’ things happening in US politics. I sincerely hope AOC proves me wrong. And I can accept a great deal of compromise for strategic and practical reasons … but only up to a point.

  12. Craig Dempsey

    Occupy Wall Street really only left one major legacy, but that one (percent) legacy continues to resonate years later. AOC in a similar way has put GND on the map. It takes a while to teach America a new vocabulary. If people are still talking about GND in 2020 and beyond then GND is a great success, no matter what Pelosi does. It is, however, hardly the end of the road. We still have a long way to go. However, as it happens, AGW is bashing the foundations of the existing order, and GND may be far more politically significant soon. So discussions like this are very important as we need to define what GND needs to be soon. This is also the way to keep AOC on track. She needs to know she is not alone!

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