The Battle of the New Yorkers

February 10, 2019

We’ve just begun a two-year-long election campaign during which we will hear about Medicare-For-All and the Green New Deal ad nauseum. No-one wants to be beaten over the head with the debate for twenty-one months, but there’s really no alternative. 2019 represents a critical fork in the road that will determine the quality of life in America, and possibly the world for at least a generation. We cannot defer those conversations any longer. 

The voices of three New Yorkers will frame this fight. If I were writing a fantasy about a nation in desperate need of a champion to put its house back in order, who rises from obscurity and inspires a revolution that redirects the future of the country in two hours of screen time, my protagonist would be modeled on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the freshman Congresswoman from New York’s 14th District. 

Ocasio-Cortez’ message of Medicare-For-All and a Green New Deal is both noble and vital for our future. But just as Dusty Springfield and Burt Bacharach once warned us that “wishing and hoping won’t get you into his heart,” dreaming and fantasizing won’t pay the bills. Former New York Mayor, billionaire, and media mogul Michael Bloomberg cautions that full implementation of Ocasio-Cortez’ dream would bankrupt the country, and I believe Bloomberg is right.

We can’t forget the third voice, quintessential New York huckster Donald Trump, who reacted to the progressive initiative by swearing that he would never allow the United States to become a socialist nation. Thank you, Donald, for adding your bigoted hyperbole to the debate. To be fair, it’s not all his fault. By foolishly and unnecessarily labeling themselves Democratic Socialists, Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren gave Trump and the right-wing media red meat for their fear-mongering divisiveness. Among prominent Progressives, only Kamala Harris seems to get that.

If Democrats allow themselves to be splintered by competing egos and ideologies as the Republicans did in 2016, 2020 will end in disaster. Democrats can never lose sight of their first and only priority – Donald Trump must be defeated for their progressive agenda to have any hope of success.

Can Ruth Bader Ginsburg survive six more years on the Court? Imagine a future in which Trump gets to replace her with another Brett Kavanaugh, or six more years of xenophobic isolationism, enabling of racist ideas and policies, and continued unrelenting attacks on women’s rights. The damage could be irreparable.

It’s imperative that Ocasio-Cortez and her followers continue to allow themselves to be educated and guided by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to learn the difference between rabble rousing and effective politics. Pelosi understands that voices of reason like Bloomberg’s are the most effective weapons against the combined forces of darkness that elected Trump. She knows the United States is a massive organism with virtually incalculable inertia. Our economy, our beliefs and traditions, and our understanding of how the world works are all in transition, but with an entity as huge and complex as our nation, positive change can only occur incrementally.

The kind of soft revolution Ocasio-Cortez foresees is pure fantasy. The alternative to gradual change for the better is a violent revolution no one wants. If we allow the divisiveness Donald Trump exposed and built on to explode into open conflict, or if we push our economy to the breaking point, the United States as we know it will cease to exist.

I don’t know what Pelosi’s guidance will be, but we can’t balance military ambitions, the health and welfare of all Americans, and protecting the environment by screaming at each other and making unreasonable demands. I absolutely believe in health care for all Americans, but that’s something that has to be baked into our economy over time or we’ll crash and burn. On the other hand, a sensible proposal like gradually reducing the eligibility age for Medicare over time should satisfy Progressives without scaring off independent voters and wrecking the middle class.

And if you believe as I and most reputable scientists do, that a Green New Deal is essential to our long-term survival, you still have to ask yourself if Ocasio-Cortez’ goal of meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources in ten years is realistic. It’s a wonderful goal, but any proposal that has a chance of becoming law must approach it incrementally without fixed time limits. Healing the environment has much in common with treating desperately ill patients with new, untested drugs. We don’t know how much to administer or how often. We just have to feel our way while we work out solutions to other problems, like whether we still need to police the rest of the world.

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