It’s as if we are living in 2009 all over again. Just as the Republican Party defined the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in ways that misled and scared Americans, the right is doing the same with the recently rolled-out Green New Deal being championed by numerous Democratic members of Congress and many of the leading 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. And if the Democrats allow the GOP to shape the narrative again, it could cost them greatly in the next election.
In 2009, the right did and said everything it could to obstruct President Barack Obama’s plan. Who can forget Sarah Palin’s claim that the ACA would lead to “death panels”? That was such a tall tale that it was named “Lie of the Year” in 2009 by the non-partisan Politifact.com.
There was also Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa hysterically declaring that the ACA would let the government “decide when to pull the plug on grandma.” Meanwhile, Republican elected officials and right-wing pundits warned the ACA was “a government takeover of health care,” a claim so outrageous it was declared “Lie of the Year” in 2010 by Politifact.
Though the ACA has since become popular with Americans, at the time – in 2010 – Democrats lost 63 seats in the House and control of the chamber. And studies after the election found a direct connection to Democrats who voted for the ACA and those who lost their seats in Congress.
Now we are seeing a similar situation play out over the Green New Deal, where the GOP and its media allies are working to define this proposal as a threat to everything you hold near and dear. As the media watchdog group Media Matters quantified, last week Fox News covered the Green New Deal initiative three times more than CNN and MSNBC combined, and as you might guess, Fox’s coverage was primarily negative. That could spell trouble for the leading 2020 Democratic presidential candidates who have signed on to the Green New Deal – from Senators Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, to potential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Before we look at the right’s campaign of mass disinformation, let’s touch on what the Green New Deal is. At this point, it’s simply an aspirational set of ideas – not even a piece of legislation – that sets out an ambitious initiative to address the dangers of climate change.
The Green New Deal, cosponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez of New York and Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, proposes: “Historic ten-year mobilization that will mitigate climate emissions and build climate resiliency,” while at the same time “creating millions of good, high-wage jobs in the United States.” It would do that by increasing our nation’s commitment to renewable energy – and overhauling our transportation and power grids to be more energy efficient.
Now, Democrats may already have a natural base of support. After all, 64% of Americans in a November CNN poll agree climate change needs to be addressed. But the fact the resolution is only a framework, not a detailed piece of legislation, is giving the right fodder to misconstrue it.
Plus, Ocasio-Cortez may have unintentionally muddied the waters by releasing documents in support of the Green New Deal that included provisions not actually in the congressional resolution, such as promising “economic security for all who are unable or unwilling to work.” As Ocasio-Cortez’s staff has made clear, the formal resolution – not the earlier documents – are an accurate representation of what the Green New Deal entails. Still, given the confusion, we are now seeing the right in full misinformation mode.
For example, last week President Donald Trump slammed the initiative at his rally in Texas – first declaring it would be “a massive government takeover” that would” destroy our incredible economic gains.” Sound familiar? Trump then ratcheted up the fear mongering: “I really don’t like their policies of taking away your car, taking away your airplane flights, of ‘let’s hop a train to California,’ or ‘you’re not allowed to own cows anymore!’ ”
To the surprise of no one, Trump is again not telling the truth. The resolution does not include any language suggesting an end to air travel. Nor does it mandate the elimination of cows. Rather, the resolution simply calls for addressing greenhouse gases emitted from the commercial agriculture sector.
But the facts didn’t stop Fox News from repeating the same lies. For example, Trump’s advocate Sean Hannity breathlessly claimed that the Green New Deal would end steak dinners in America. Why? As Hannity put it, “no more cows, too much flatulence. They emit CO2 emissions.” Fox News’s contributor Dan Bongino added to the hysteria – asking, “Are there going to be cow assassination squads now?”
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And then there was Tucker Carlson taking the fever-pitched cries to new levels as he told his viewers, “The Green New Deal is a religious document,” adding, “It punishes America for the sins of its prosperity. The only atonement it offers is turning over control of the entire US economy to the Democratic Party.”
If the Democrats championing the Green New Deal – especially the 2020 presidential candidates – are serious about making this a campaign issue, they better take a lesson from what happened in 2009 and not allow the GOP to define it.
Instead they should be explaining the initiative – and doing that on every form of media, from cable news to Instagram. If not, they can expect to see the right define the Green New Deal as far worse than the ACA. And if history is a guide, that could hurt the Democrats come the 2020 election.