The Briefing

Documentation and Additional Reading

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New York Times

One Cheer for the Green New Deal

by Ross Douthat

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The Briefing

Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019

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Transcript

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It's Thursday, February 14, 2019. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part

Unbridled liberal ambition: How the ‘Green New Deal’ packages every dream of the American left in one single proposal

As Christians tried to understand what is going on in the world. One of the hardest questions for us to understand is what in the world is happening in American politics? We are watching the fact that the energy right now is on the left. It's in the Democratic Party precisely because that party has to determine a lot of issues including who will be a standard-bearer in the presidential election of 2020. You already have several Democrats announced. Indeed, we are told 12 at least to have announced. We'll be looking closer at those candidates, but right now we need to look a little more closely at their ideas. But in this case, it's also interesting to note that some of the most important ideas aren't actually coming from the Democratic presidential candidates. They are coming from others in the Democratic Party. That's part of the story.

In particular today, we need to look at the worldview implications of what is called the Green New Deal. It is indeed a proposed new deal and involved in it is a lot of green, not just ecological but economical, a lot of money. And we are also looking at a proposal that turns out to be one of the most interesting if radical proposals about the future of the United States. It tells us also a great deal about how politics happens in our country right now. What frames reality, how policies come to be proposed, and whether or not people mean anything close to what they say when they are talking to the American people.

In a front-page article on the Green New Deal, the New York Times in an article by Lisa Friedman and Glenn Thrush tells us, "Liberal Democrats put flesh on their Green New Deal slogan with a sweeping resolution intended to redefine the national debate on climate change by calling for the United States to eliminate additional emissions of carbon by 2030." Now, that's an interesting lead, and it tells us that the Green New Deal is primarily about climate change. But it turns out that it is really just originating the energy and climate change. Indeed, the entire purpose of this bill is to drag just about every idea that the left-wing of the Democratic Party can combine in one resolution in one set of proposed policy guidelines and goals.

The New York Times again, "The measure drafted by freshmen representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts is intended to answer the demand by the parties restive base were a grand strategy that combats climate change, creates jobs and offers an affirmative response to the challenge to core party values posed by President Trump. The reporters continue, "The resolution has more breadth than detail and is so ambitious that Republican's greeted it with derision. Its legislative prospects are bleak in the foreseeable future. Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California has no plan to bring the resolution in its current form to the floor for a vote, according to a Democratic Leadership aid with direct knowledge of her plans."

Now, that tells us something really interesting, but combine the fact that indeed the Liberal Democratic Speaker of the House does not intend to bring the resolution to her own chamber for a vote with the fact that the conservative Republican Leader of the Senate intends to do just that. In what kind of world does that make sense? Well, that makes sense only in this kind of world, the world in which the Democratic Leader knows that there is no way this kind of proposal will ever see the light of day, but she can't say that, she can't alienate her Democratic Party base. She certainly can't alienate the left-wing of her party that is currently in control. She makes statements about the fact that she doesn't really know what's in it. She may find it interesting, but it's not going to get on the floor anytime soon.

With the fact that in a political masterstroke, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican Majority Leader of the Senate, announced that he was going to bring the measure to the floor for a vote. Does that mean he supports it? No, not at all. He knows that in doing so, he will actually make the Democrats, who want right now to act as if they are for it, to take a vote for or against it. Knowing that when it comes down to the American people figuring out what's actually in it, they can't excuse having voted for it. It is again, a brilliant political move. This is yet another reminder that we have to watch politics very closely. There's a lot going on here, almost all of it with really important worldview implications and almost none of it meaning what it appears to mean on the surface.

But there's another fascinating thing that's going on here. Edward Markey, the Liberal Democratic Senator from Massachusetts who is the Democratic Sponsor of the bill. He's fairly well known in Congress and in the Senate. He has had a very predictable kind of identity. He has tried to initiate climate change legislation in the past. But representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, what makes her very interesting in this case is that in almost no case does a freshman legislator, a freshman member of Congress, even of the majority party, get to sponsor any kind of legislation. The fact that you're not thinking or talking about many freshmen members of Congress is because almost no one talks about freshmen members of Congress. It is because freshmen generally have very little influence and don't get anywhere near the actual making a policy.

So why is there such a difference in this case? It is because representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez now represents what may be the second or third most influential Democrat in the entire nation because she knows exactly how to capture a microphone. She knows how to leverage social media, and she knows how to push her party to the left and fast, and she's showing it. But going back to the actual legislation, the New York Times writes, "But as a blueprint for liberal ambition, it was breathtaking." I have to stop there for a moment to recognize that when you're dealing with a paper like the New York Times for it to find a liberal proposal breathtaking, that itself means it's pretty breathtaking. We better take a closer look.

The Times goes on to say it includes a 10-year commitment to convert 100% of the power demand in the United States to clean renewable and zero emission energy sources, to upgrade all existing buildings to meet energy efficiency requirements and to expand high-speed rail so broadly that most air travel would be rendered obsolete. The proposal, we are told this Green New Deal is going to include an infrastructure program that should create millions of new green jobs. We are told it is also to guarantee health care, "A family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations and retirement security to every American," This isn't a Green New Deal. This is an entirely new conception of the American government sitting in the form of one legislative proposal that even its authors might not intend to be taken seriously.

But they do mean seriously to move the entire political discussion in the United States to the left. If you look at the legislation, it really does become something of a Cornucopia of liberal dreams. Under the guise of a proposal intended to address climate change, they bring about a revolution in every dimension of American life. They guaranteed jobs. They defined them as green jobs. They just declare that within the next 10 years, every building in the United States is going to be energy-efficient.

They went on to say that they want to leverage the United States towards the building of a new high-speed rail system that would make airline travel obsolete. Remember, we're talking about a relatively short amount of time as if this is even accomplishable. They promise a guaranteed job with a guaranteed wage with guaranteed vacation. They go on to say this would include guaranteed medical coverage for all in a state-sponsored, state-run system. They even go so far as to say that this kind of guaranteed wage or guaranteed jobs should be made available, and they don't even say for people who are willing to work, everyone's going to have a wage and everyone's going to have a job even if no one actually does the job. Everyone's going to have medical care. All of the buildings are going to be energy efficient. Carbon emissions are going to go down. We're going to have entirely new systems of energy and no one's even going to ride on planes anymore because a train system is going to make planes obsolete.

Representative at Ocasio-Cortez said, "I think it's a green dream. I will not allow our caucus to be divided by whatever narrative," that includes the narrative that her legislation is nuts. As the New York Times team of reporters indicated, there are a lot of generalities in this proposal as they tell us, "For example, the resolution does not specify a date for eliminating planet-warming emissions, instead calling for the elimination of fossil fuels from major economic sectors, 'as much as technologically possible.'" That means as much as is technologically possible, regardless of whatever goals they supposedly set and benchmarked for all the rest of this resolution. And again, even as they want to get rid of fossil fuels following the agenda of the left, they can't propose an obvious alternative, which would be nuclear energy.

So instead they want to phase out nuclear energy as well over the same 10-year period. So we're talking about cutting out the vast majority of energy sources in the United States, shifting to technologies of energy that includes some that currently exist, and some that have not yet been invented. And shifting everything within 10 years to bring in a new era, a new green deal for the United States of America. But as I've said, it really represents a transformation of just about every part of American society.

When you look at this plan, you come to understand that it includes almost every dream of the American left for the last 30 years packaged as what's called a Green New Deal. Now, for years, even as Christians should understand, there are very legitimate ecological climate concerns before us. There has been the suspicion on the part of many Americans that the green language, and the green urgency is often just really leverage in order to bring about other issues of social change and to bring about a transformation of other sectors of society. Now, it's simply profoundly true to say that if this Green New Deal means anything, it means that those fears were very well established.

Here's something else that's really interesting in this ties into an earlier part of our discussion. When you look at the major Democratic candidates for president, let's just imagine for a moment the declared candidates on the Democratic side in the United States Senate, every single one of them has come out saying that he or she enthusiastically supports the Green New Deal. But it's one thing to say they support this Green New Deal in order to please the increasingly liberal base of their party. They effectively have to say it, but you will also note that they don't want to have to say it in the form of a vote. And so in one of the most hilarious turns in American politics in recent years, the Senate Sponsor of the Legislation, Senator Edward Markey, is complaining that the majority leader's plan to bring his own legislation to the floor is a trick to try to get it defeated.

Honestly, I've never seen this argument used in recent American history. It reveals the absurdity of so much current American politics. The Democratic Senator who brought the legislation and enthusiastically urged its passage now is complaining when the Republican Majority Leader says that he will schedule an early vote on the bill that the Democratic Senator brought. The Democratic Senator claims that it is an attempt at sabotage when the Republican Senate Leader says that the scheduled vote will be soon. When it's sabotage to adopt your own legislation maybe you didn't mean it in the first place.

One of the big problems, especially for the Democratic presidential candidates in this context, is that they have to say politically that they are for this legislation, but there is no way that it can ever happen. Even if you were to make every single member of Congress a Democrat, if you were to put a Democrat in the White House, there is no way this can happen. There's not enough money in the entire economy of the United States of America to accomplish the specifics that are indicated as goals in this plan. What does that tell us? It tells us that when you are looking at this kind of legislation, especially in the context of an upcoming presidential election, you are looking at a strategic attempt to try to tell the party base, "We're going to give you everything you have ever dreamed, all of you. We're going to leave nothing out. We're going to put it all in this proposal. We're going to call a Green New Deal."

What they don't say is that even as they do so they know it is not going to happen. But there's another dimension to this that intelligent Christians should note. If this isn't going to be passed in its current form, if it's fairly ridiculous, even ludicrous in the form it was officially proposed in the House and in the Senate. If you have Democratic candidates for president saying that they're for it, but wanting, against all hope, not to have to vote one way or the other, then there must be something else going on here. Something other than merely short term politics, and there is something else going on here. This kind of proposal with all of its ambition and with all of its worldview implications is actually an attempt to shift the entire political discussion so that the realm that is considered normal or reasonable is shifted at least a little bit. In the case of this legislation a great deal simply by forcing this discussion and by forcing Democrats, in particular, to sign on whether they actually think it's rational or not.

Part

The reality of the ecological crisis and and the rational contours of the Christian worldview

But as I spoke about the worldview implications, again I want to return to a baseline. The baseline is this. Christians understand that we are stewards of the environment. We are stewards of the garden that we have been given to which we had been assigned. We are given responsibility for dominion. That is not a reckless dominion that does damage to the creation it is rather a careful stewardship.

Those themes of dominion and stewardship are found throughout the entire Bible. The left hates the idea of dominion, but even its own proposals require what effectively is dominion. If you're talking about harnessing the wind, it is just another form of dominion as well as harnessing any other form of energy. The question is, is that dominion rightly exercised? Is its ultimate goal and its ultimate purpose stewardship? And this is where Christians understand there is a reality to the ecological crisis. This is not a sudden problem. There is a responsibility that falls to us, but this issue has to be put in the reasonable rational revealed contours of the Christian worldview.

It has to be based upon that very understanding of the fact that we are stewards. Not because we are just some kind of evolutionary accident, that wouldn't make much of a stewardship, but we are stewards because there is a creator who has given us this assignment and who will judge whether or not we have tended his garden well. But you will note that by definition the secular worldview can't use the word creation, not in any straight forward or honest sense. It can't use creator because it rejects the very idea of a creator. It can't use the word creation because creation implies a creator, and yet, know this very carefully, the secular worldview also can't help but use the word creation when no other word will do. And it's in the very context of this legislation. And frankly, it is in one of the most sweeping, theologically, messianic statements I have ever heard uttered by a politician, in this case by Senator Edward Markey. He is again the Senate Sponsor of the Legislation.

Senator Markey said, in introducing this legislation and announcing the Green New Deal, "We will save all of creation by engaging in massive job creation." Now, we are supposed to understand that this proposed legislation is going to save all of creation. Well, by the way, if it were possible to save all of creation, we would want to do that. We would want to adopt whatever legislation would save creation, but then we'd have to ask a question, "What would it mean to save creation for that matter? What does it mean when we say creation?" Christians understand we're actually talking about creation, but we also understand that, even in a secular society, no other word will do when talking about planet Earth, the cosmos, even the ecological crisis or climate change in making an argument that is hoped to be persuasive. Here comes that word creation wherein any other context it wouldn't belong.

But then there is also the statement that we are going to save creation, and it means by means of this legislation, but it goes on to say as Senator Markey continued, "We're going to save all of creation by engaging in massive job creation." We're going to save all creation? That's quite an ambitious goal if an ambiguous goal, but then we are told that we're going to save all of creation by engaging in massive job creation? Well, here you see again the fact that everyone's going to have to try to explain either being for or against this legislation on what is better for human flourishing. What will actually better serve humanity? What will make for a better stewardship of planet Earth? This is going to be a political debate not to be missed.

It's going to be a worldview debate that is going to shape not only the future of any legislation having to do specifically with the environment, but, as we see, with virtually everything, because the framers of the Green New Deal have put everything in this legislation perhaps because they believe everything really is at stake. Looking at what is at stake in a recent opinion piece also in the New York Times, Ross Douthat wrote this, "The core conservative suspicion is that when liberals talk about the dire threat of global warming, they're actually seizing opportunistically on the issue to justify, well, full socialism, the seizure of the economy's commanding heights in order to implement the most left-wing possible agenda."

He goes on, "A conventional liberal, up until now, would dismiss that belief as simply paranoid. The product of Fox News feedback loops and the science denying fever swamps." But says Douthat, "The Green New Deal that Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Senator Edward Marketing are sponsoring and that four leading Democratic contenders for the presidency have already endorsed, responds by saying, 'Yes, that's absolutely correct.'" So the truth is out, the gloves are on and the battle is joined. And we need to pay very close attention.

Part

Truth, morality, and politics: No matter what our cause, Christians must be people who always affirm the truth

But next, not so much a look at the Green New Deal, but a look at how political arguments and political assertions happen in America in our contemporary season. And for that, we turn to one of the sponsors of the green new deal and she is representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Back a matter of a few weeks ago, she got into a bit of controversy because after an appearance in the media, it turned out that she had said many things that simply aren't so. They're not true. And so the fact-checking universe went into full operation demonstrating that much of what she said simply wasn't so. She had talked to about the military. She talked about medical insurance. She talked about a lot of economic issues that actually were not so. They weren't true. She made assertions that turned out to be false.

Now, of course, when it comes to politics, that's going to happen over and over again. But what's really interesting in this case was the defense made by Representative Ocasio-Cortez. responding to CNN Anderson Cooper when she was confronted with the misrepresentation she had made. She said, "If people want to really blow up one figure here or one word there, I would argue that they're missing the forest for the trees." She continued, listen to these words very carefully, "I think that there's a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually and semantically correct then about being morally right." Wait just a minute. That's astounding. Here you have a newly elected member of Congress saying, "When I make my arguments, I'm going to say whatever facts I want because I'm morally right. I can use whatever arguments are convenient because I'm right, morally."

She actually indicts the American people and the American media for being too concerned with being, in her words, "Precisely, factually and semantically correct." That means she's openly complaining about the expectation that she used the right claims, assert the right facts, be careful with her numbers and use the right words. Again, I don't think I've ever seen a politician complain about that expectation ever. But it really is important to understand that she says that she shouldn't be held to those expectations because she is morally right. Again, just listen to the words. "I think that there's a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually and semantically correct than about being morally right." That kind of logic can be found to be sure in some form on the right and the left somewhere in the politics of the world. But it increasingly is becoming a principal of the left, openly embraced. And in this case, openly advocated by the single most celebrated, newly elected member of the government who is representing that Democratic Left.

Christians have to understand that whether the problem is on the right or on the left found among Democrats or Republicans or any other kind of political or ideological designation. The reality is that we must affirm the reality of truth, the givenness of truth, the ultimate importance of truth. And we must maintain the distinction between truth and error. And we, no matter what our cause, no matter how noble we believe our cause to be, we cannot say what we know to be false. We cannot give numbers we know are not true. We cannot use words we know where the wrong words just because we reassure ourselves we're serving a higher good.

It is one of the odd and unexpected twists and turns of American politics and culture at this moment that you have these kinds of arguments, not just suspected in the background but being brought eagerly to the foreground. You have the kinds of arguments that would have embarrassed any politician a short number of years ago now being made with brazen boldness. You have an acknowledgement when a politician is accused of speaking wrongly. You have the response, "Yes, but I'm morally right so who cares about the numbers?" But let's just note, you only use the numbers if you think the numbers are helping to make your argument in persuasion. So here is an open advocacy of using issues and claims in persuasion that the speaker knows aren't even true.

There is another sobering realization at this point. We are only in February of 2019. The 2020 presidential election, it's still hundreds of days off. We're looking at November of 2020. we are entering a very strange season and evidently, there is no pause to take a breath in the breakneck speed at which American politics is now moving. And even as Christians say, "Well, politics isn't everything." That is profoundly true, but when you are looking at the big issues of the day being discussed, it turns out that right now it is the central arena if sometimes the central circus.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. you can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College just go to boycecollege.com.

I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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