Centrists Desperately Need a New Attack Line For Bernie Sanders' Climate Plan

Photo: Rich Pedroncelli (AP)

Climate change is one of—if not the most—pressing issues facing the next president of the United States. Donald Trump has made it clear where he is on the issue—he completely blew off a meeting about it at the G7 this morning. Jay Inslee, before he dropped out, set the bar for Democratic commitments to climate change, which Bernie Sanders’s campaign was apparently happy to meet.

Sanders’s plan to fight climate change, as our sister site Earther noted when his campaign released it last week, calls for an outright revolution on energy policy, fueled by $16 trillion in investments that would change the country as we know it. This seems, to me, like an adequate response to the greatest threat the country and our entire species has ever faced. The Washington Post opinion pages, however, are having none of it:

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Let’s check in with their recent headlines, some of which were flagged last night by The Nation’s Jeet Heer.

From the WaPo Editorial Board: Bernie Sanders’s climate change plan will take us nowhere

And from columnist David Von Drehle: Trump’s wall is child’s play compared to Bernie Sanders’s Climate Plan

Both of these pieces make essentially the same point: Bernie’s plan is too ambitious and he can’t actually accomplish it. From the Editorial Board’s piece:

As with practically every grandiose program Mr. Sanders proposes, we are left wondering what the democratic socialist would actually do as president. Nothing resembling his climate plan could pass Congress, even with a strong Democratic majority. Mr. Sanders typically retorts that he will lead a political revolution. But he will not change the fact that the nation is ideologically pluralistic.

On climate policy, the key is to get the most bang for the nation’s buck. The task is so large that direct government spending on projects such as power plants is a recipe for unconscionable waste. Mr. Sanders’s promise to divert national wealth into proven boondoggles such as high-speed rail is another red flag.

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As the Post writes, you can take out “climate policy” and substitute in pretty much any ambitious plan Bernie has and get the same criticisms. With some, this argument is bunk on its own rights—we absolutely have the ability to pay for a comprehensive Medicare for All plan—but with others, sure. Sanders isn’t going to be able to get $16.3 trillion in federal investments in four or even eight years with this Congress. But what this 2015-ass argument misses is the entire point of the plan: to establish a goal that every forward-thinking person in this country should be working toward as if their life depended on it (it does). Bernie’s plan on climate is the only one so far that addresses the scope of the problem, rather than the scope of what could pass Congress.

The alternative, both Post op-eds say, is that we should really be focusing on something that has broad bipartisan support, like a carbon tax. What all of these chucklefucks don’t mention is that we can’t even pass a carbon tax with Mitch McConnell in charge of a Senate majority. All plans are equally unfeasible in the current system! You see this outlook all over the place—like with guns, in the push for bare-minimum background checks in particular. So why are we settling for the careful plodding and penny-saving plans other candidates have proposed instead of supporting a vision that could actually hope to address the problem?

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There are valid issues with Bernie’s plan, which the Post notes: the decision to scrap most of the country’s nuclear power infrastructure seems pretty stupid, which is a valid line of criticism that we can (and should!) take up with his campaign. But it’s far more forward thinking that anything else on offer at the moment, and it serves absolutely no one to keep hitting it with the same dusty old complaints.

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About the author

Jack Crosbie

Contributing Writer, Splinter