Too much, too soon

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE - CONOR SEN

Ama­zon’s an­nounce­ment that it will not put one of its new North Amer­ica head­quar­ters in New York City is the lat­est in a bad run of events rais­ing the pos­si­bil­ity that pro­gres­sives have over­played their hand.

While pro­gres­sives may be newly en­er­gized af­ter elec­toral suc­cess in Novem­ber’s elec­tions, they don’t have the elec­toral man­date they be­lieve they do, and still have to an­swer how they in­tend to im­ple­ment their am­bi­tious agenda with lit­tle to show for them­selves to date.

This neg­a­tive news cy­cle be­gan last week when Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) un­veiled her Green New Deal pro­posal, with con­fu­sion about what was ac­tu­ally in­tro­duced. Wildly am­bi­tious in scope, seek­ing to shift en­tirely to zero-emis­sion en­ergy within a decade and pro­vide good-pay­ing jobs to all, it was con­fus­ing in part be­cause of the pub­li­ca­tion of an early draft of an FAQ that didn’t rep­re­sent what was in the pro­posal. This fu­eled op­po­nents’ at­tacks on the pro­gram and left law­mak­ers and the me­dia try­ing to fig­ure out what had ac­tu­ally been pro­posed.

In the wake of the botched Green New Deal pro­posal was Cal­i­for­nia’s new gov­er­nor, Gavin New­som, an­nounc­ing that the state no longer in­tends to com­plete high-speed rail be­tween Los An­ge­les and San Fran­cisco. The project had be­come too costly to jus­tify.

Op­po­nents of New York’s deal with Ama­zon are surely cheer­ing Thurs­day’s news, but they’re on shaky ground po­lit­i­cally, given that the ar­rival of Ama­zon has con­sis­tently polled well with vot­ers.

All these news sto­ries cast a shadow over the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial pri­mary, where most ma­jor de­clared can­di­dates to date have raced to em­brace pol­icy pro­pos­als like Medi­care for all and the Green New Deal. It’s de­bat­able whether this will end up be­ing a win­ning strat­egy.

For­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den, con­sid­ered a mod­er­ate rather than a pro­gres­sive in to­day’s Demo­cratic Party, con­tin­ues to lead all early polling. While skep­tics think that’s based on name recog­ni­tion more than any­thing else, at a sim­i­lar early stage of the 2016 Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial pri­maries Jeb Bush never polled higher than the teens. While it re­mains to be seen whether Bi­den’s strong polling will hold up if he en­ters the race, Demo­cratic vot­ers are say­ing for now that they’re open to the can­di­dacy of an older mod­er­ate white man and aren’t nec­es­sar­ily look­ing for a strong pro­gres­sive.

It’s pos­si­ble that one day the Demo­cratic Party will be the party of peo­ple like Oca­sio-Cortez. But a lit­tle his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive may be in or­der. Newt Gin­grich was first elected to Congress in 1978 and didn’t be­come Speaker of the House un­til 16 years later. It was a sim­i­lar story for Paul Ryan, who was first elected to Congress in 1998. Po­lit­i­cal revo­lu­tions take time, and even if pro­gres­sives are con­vinced they’ll win in the end, in 2019 they’re over­play­ing their hand.

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