Have you seen it yet? The new video from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez about what America could look like in the future if we all stop attacking each other and start working together to actually make America great again instead of dividing ourselves into warring tribes tearing the county apart?
Ocasio-Cortez has proposed something she calls the Green New Deal, a plan to remake America into that shining city on the hill that will serve as a beacon to people the world over. The heart and soul of the plan is transitioning away from an economy based on fossil fuels to one based on renewable energy. It is a dream of an inclusive society, one that welcomes all people.
Take a look at the graphic at right, which is taken from the video. See all those black and brown faces? See all the women? Ocasio-Cortez’s vision is based on inclusion instead of the exclusion we are experiencing today. It is embracing our diversity rather than building on fear of “the other.”
An Historical Perspective
In a recent op-ed piece for CNN, Joseph Ellis, an historian who won the Pulitzer Prize for his book Founding Brothers, says “The Green New Deal is a bold and controversial legislative initiative proposed by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, designed to address four pressing challenges facing American society that have thus far eluded solution. They are: reforming our extremely expensive and inefficient health care system; reducing our currently unprecedented levels of economic inequality; rebuilding our aging infrastructure; and recovering our global leadership role to combat the existential threat posed by climate change.”
The GND has been vigorously attacked as “socialism.” Nothing could be further from the truth, Ellis argues. In fact, it is the highest and best expression of the principles upon which the United States was founded. “Advocates of the Green New Deal are not proposing anything of that sort. Far from being un-American, what they are proposing is a collective response to our common problems with deep roots in American history, all the way back to the American founding. The operative word then was not “socialism” but — members of the GOP might wish to sit down to hear this — republicanism.”
The Roots Of Republicanism
Wait. What? Republicanism? What sort of crazy talk is that? Can it be that those who call themselves Republicans today have little to no understanding of the roots of republicanism? According to Ellis, that is precisely the case.
“The framers of the Constitution did not believe they were creating a democracy, a word that in the late 18th century still carried tainted implications of mob rule. They were, instead, creating the first nation-sized republic in modern history, an updated version of the Roman Republic in the classical era.
“The Latin res publica means ‘public things.’ A republic located sovereignty in the people-at-large rather than monarchs claiming divine right, so power flowed upward from below rather than downward from above. In this republican framework, government became ‘us’ rather than ‘them.'” Ellis is quick to point out that when the Constitution was written, “us” did not include women, African-Americans, Native Americans, or adult males without property.
We The People
Ellis reminds us that right from the start, some people challenged the idea that the concept of “We The People” referred to a collective or public interest shared by all American citizens. “This is what the most vocal opponents of the Green New Deal get wrong when they call the plan socialist,” he says. They fail to realize that pursuit of a collective good is the very essence of the Founding Fathers’ vision for America.
“There is an alternative vision. It includes: the Antifederalists, who lost the debate over the Constitution in 1787-88; the leaders of the Confederate States of America; the captains of industry who dominated the first Gilded Age; the Southern defenders of Jim Crow and enemies of the civil rights movement; and the current corporate leaders of our second Gilded Age. What ties all these apparently different groups together is an anti-government ethos with libertarian implications and deep-seated reluctance to share resources with multiple versions of ‘them,'” Ellis writes.
“If we were to compose a list of spokesmen for ‘us,’ it would include the following: from the founding era, George Washington, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, John Marshall, Gouverneur Morris and the younger James Madison; from American presidents, the two greatest Republicans, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, and the greatest Democrat, Franklin Roosevelt; among unelected leaders, virtually all the advocates for women’s rights, and Martin Luther King Jr. It is a list whose monuments dominate the landscape of the National Mall, though the opponents of the Green New Deal can legitimately claim the Tidal Basin and Thomas Jefferson, the chief prophet of self-government.”
Echoes From The Past
The Green New Deal, then, is but an echo of a great debate that started in the 1700s and continues to this day — what is the proper role of government? Is it a protector of entrenched interests, dedicated to increasing the wealth and power of those who already have more of both than the vast majority of people, an instrument of oppression controlled by oligarchs, or is it to build an inclusive society where all people can thrive, equally and in mutual support of each other?
“All this helps explain why the Green New Deal affords an opportunity to engage in an argument that we in America need to have,” Ellis says. “It is, in fact, our occasion to participate in the longest ongoing argument in American history. It is not an argument between socialism and capitalism. It is an argument about what we mean in the Pledge of Allegiance when we mumble the words ‘and to the republic for which it stands.’ It is an argument about what we mean, really mean in these troubled times, by ‘We the people.’ In our Trumpian moment, that is a volatile but vital question that we need to face squarely.”
A Message Of Hope
If you haven’t seen the Ocasio-Cortez video yet, take 7 minutes out of your busy life to watch it now. It’s not a polemic, it’s a vision, one that we in America can choose to embrace. If we do, we can rightfully claim to be a nation of leaders. If not, we are risking all for the sake of a few. It’s our choice and it begins with electing leaders who believe in the common good, not those who profit from promoting special interests.
The Green New Deal is consistent with the ideals America was founded upon. To attack it is to deny the very essence of our American heritage.
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