By John Nichols
Supporters of action on climate change must borrow a page from FDR by laughing off critics—recognizing that there are times when we must indeed be radical.
Republicans in Congress say the Green New Deal is “radical.” Excellent!
Even before a historic congressional resolution to address climate change and create jobs was introduced last week—in the House by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with backing from Progressive Caucus co-chairs Mark Pocan and Pramila Jayapal and in the Senate by Ed Markey with backing from Democratic presidential prospects such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Jeff Merkley—the Republicans pounced.
The reactionaries who represent the nation’s fossil-fuel industries griped that the Green New Deal would negatively impact their paymasters.
“As Democrats take a hard left turn, this radical proposal would take our growing economy off the cliff and our nation into bankruptcy,” cried Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chair John Barrasso (R-WY). “It’s the first step down a dark path to socialism.” Illinois Republican John Shimkus, the ranking member on the Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, decried “radical policies like the Green New Deal.”
Thank you, Senator Barasso, Congressman Shimkus, and all the reactionary Republicans and docile Democrats who are doing their best to portray the Green New Deal as “radical.” Please, please keep it up.
Climate change represents a stark threat to the planet and the people who inhabit it. When Pocan says “we can’t afford to wait any longer and need to take action on climate change,” he’s right. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that dramatic action will be required over the next 12 years to avert environmental and economic disaster.
“The climate crisis is a problem of epic proportions that requires a level of ambition just as big,” explains League of Conservation Voters president Gene Karpinski. “This is an all hands-on-deck moment, and now is the time to challenge ourselves as never before.”
Denial won’t cut it anymore. Nor will the half-steps of those who acknowledge the crisis but refuse to respond in sufficient measure. “Even the solutions that we have considered big and bold are nowhere near the scale of the actual problem that climate change presents to us, to our country, to the world,” explains Ocasio-Cortez.
So a radical solution is called for. No one should make apologies for recognizing this necessity. Radical change goes to the root of the problem and addresses it. The details of the Green New Deal are up for debate, as were the details of the original New Deal. FDR taught us that responses to historic challenges develop as an understanding of crises evolves and a real sense of urgency takes hold.
Wisconsin State Representative Greta Neubauer, who worked as a fellow with 350.org and as director of the Fossil Fuel Divestment Student Network before her election, says that what matters now is an understanding of the need to advance an ambitious program “that provides living wage jobs and protects our environment.”
Those who seek to divide us against one another say this is impossible. Don’t believe them.
FDR’s New Deal proposals to address the economic crisis that extended from the Great Depression were attacked as radical too—even before he and his brain trust had developed specific programs. Why? Because entrenched special interests are always frightened by the prospect that government might get focused on addressing serious problems with serious proposals.
Senator Markey has the right attitude. Arguing that climate change deniers “are threatened by [the] Green New Deal because our FDR New Deal-inspired plan threatens their corporate polluter pals’ bottom lines,” he says: “Good.” Like FDR, Markey invites Americans to “Judge me by the enemies I have made.”
That’s a reference to an argument Roosevelt made when he was bidding for the presidency in 1932. Facing criticism from business executives and their amen corner in the media for proposing to regulate utilities and to crack down on the overcharging consumers, the Democratic presidential nominee declared:
To the people of the country I have but one answer on this subject: Judge me by the enemies I have made. Judge me by the selfish purposes of these utility leaders who have talked of radicalism while they were [defrauding] the people and using our schools to deceive the coming generation.
My friends, my policy is as radical as the Constitution of the United States.
I promise you this: Never shall the federal government part with its sovereignty or with its control of its power resources while I’m President of the United States.
When critics called FDR radical, he embraced the term. “There is no question in my mind that it is time for the country to become fairly radical for at least one generation,” he explained in the early 1930s.
In 1936, when he was bidding for a second term as president, Roosevelt addressed those who attacked him as too radical by saying of his first term: “We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering,” he told a mass rally in New York at the close of the campaign. “They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.”
Supporters of a Green New Deal should borrow a page from FDR by laughing off the critics and by recognizing that there are times when the United States must, indeed, become fairly radical.