Cognoscenti Cognoscenti

Support the news

Markey's Win Is A Signal That The Green New Deal Is No Longer Radical

Sen. Ed Markey raises a fist in celebration after turning aside a strong primary challenge from U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Sen. Ed Markey raises a fist in celebration after turning aside a strong primary challenge from U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Ed Markey hung his hat on the Green New Deal, a package of legislative initiatives that has been roundly excoriated as a fast track to socialism. And by a substantial margin, the 74-year-old Markey beat the charismatic not quite 40-year-old Joe Kennedy III in the Democratic primary race for U.S. Senate.

An email sent to Markey supporters the day after the election put it plainly: “There can be no doubt that the Green New Deal is, once and for all, a winning issue.” Granted, this election was a Democratic primary in a deep blue state, but it’s a positive signal for the politics of climate change when a candidate prevails while embracing what some would have recently called a radical agenda.

Media reports about the race invariably noted Markey’s prominent role in the Green New Deal resolution that he introduced jointly with progressive icon Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Kennedy also declared his support for the Green New Deal framework, but for Markey it was a signature issue — arguably the cornerstone of his campaign. It was undoubtedly the reason he attracted the enthusiastic support of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate activist group that mobilized vigorously on his behalf.

Markey may be the beneficiary of a leftward shift in Democratic voter opinion that began during Trump’s term and has accelerated during this most tumultuous year.

... it’s a positive signal for the politics of climate change when a candidate prevails while embracing what some would have recently called a radical agenda. 

The shift was visible by the summer of 2017. By then, Sen. Elizabeth Warren was already distancing herself from the centrist Clinton-era politics that had for years defined her party, proclaiming that “the Democratic Party isn’t going back to the days of welfare reform and the crime bill.”

As the Democratic presidential primary race got underway in 2019, the four senators ranked most ideologically liberal entered the contest. Political positions long considered to be on the extreme left — Medicare-For-All, LGBTQ rights, banning assault weapons, increased immigration — moved into the Democratic mainstream. Ezra Klein, writing for Vox, notes with some irony that Kamala Harris, a liberal woman of Black and Indian ancestry, was viewed as Joe Biden’s “safe” choice for his running mate.

The rhetoric around climate policy has similarly moved to the left, as evidenced by the emergence of the Green New Deal in late 2018. The goal of a virtually carbon-free electrical grid by 2035 would have been laughed at not so long ago. Now it’s doable -- and included in Biden’s climate platform. Biden has aligned his campaign with a core principle of the Green New Deal, namely, that addressing the climate crisis will require not simply reducing emissions, but also a range of comprehensive economic and social reforms.

The defining events of 2020 have only reinforced the leftward trend.

For a while over the summer, polls showed that two-thirds of Americans — not just Democrats — approved of the protests against racial injustice that followed a series of incidents of police brutality culminating with the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. (Support has since waned.) And although it was front-page news four years ago when NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the pre-game national anthem, the decision of the NBA and WNBA to suspend playoff games last month, after police shot Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., was uncontroversial.

The COVID-19 pandemic has focused attention on inequality in American society, as it has become evident that the essential workers in our economy are the ones being paid a minimum wage. The death rate for people of color has soared above the rate for whites, which has elicited calls for more equitable access to health care. And the continuing fallout of the pandemic has vastly increased the need for government intervention in the economy, now at levels not seen since World War II.

Meanwhile, global warming continued its relentless assault on the planet’s ecosystems and infrastructure. California’s wildfires destroyed over a million acres in August alone. Hurricane Laura hit Louisiana with record-breaking force. Permafrost thawed in Siberia as temperatures rose over 100º F.

As Ed Markey’s victory showed, the Green New Deal isn’t actually radical, and 2020, our annus horribilis, has revealed the proposal’s logic and urgency.   

Of course, it’s the Democrats who are pushing for sweeping policies to address the multiple crises of 2020, and Trump delights in pointing out their drift to the left. He reacted immediately to Markey’s victory, tweeting that “even a Kennedy isn’t safe in the new Radical Left Democrat Party.”

The word “radical” has appeared in Trump’s tweets more than 140 times in 2020, obviously intending to besmirch policies that are gaining popularity. And “radical left” is an epithet he invokes to tar anything remotely contrary to the Republican orthodoxy.

But people of a certain age today can recall when there actually was an organized and violent radical left in America. During the 1970s, groups like the Weather Underground, the Black Liberation Army and the Symbionese Liberation Army routinely robbed banks and bombed government buildings. By those measures, the brick-throwers of today’s Antifa -- not an organization, but a minor ideological movement — seem tame and inconsequential. Radical is relative.

As Ed Markey’s victory showed, the Green New Deal isn’t actually radical, and 2020, our annus horribilis, has revealed the proposal’s logic and urgency.

Trump will no doubt continue his scare tactics. And so we should remember the words that Harry Truman spoke, referring to Republicans, at a campaign stop in 1952: “Socialism is their name for almost anything that helps all the people.”

Follow Cognoscenti on Facebook and Twitter.

Related:

Frederick Hewett Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Frederick Hewett is a freelance writer living in Cambridge. He writes about energy, climate, politics and Boston.

More…

+Join the discussion
TwitterfacebookEmail

Support the news