The onset of presidential primary campaign season is rarely accompanied by entirely joyful experiences. That is not to say that there are none. As a spectator sport, primary politics does have a few redeeming qualities. For example, when it comes to entertainment, you cannot beat the passionate vehemence with which individual candidates and their supporters argue over things that are never going to happen.
This is a bipartisan pastime, and all candidates are guilty of sacrificing the practicable in favor of the possible, potentially, if you want it bad enough. But few have so recklessly abandoned discretion as the progressive wing of the Democratic Party has ahead of 2020. Sen. Elizabeth Warren exemplifies the progressive disposition better than most. To peruse many of her stated policy preferences is to hop aboard a glass elevator on a journey to a world of pure imagination.
Do you want hospitals and doctors to make do with up to 40 percent less than private insurers pay, all without having any adverse effects on care availability or quality? Need to radically inflate the revenue that could be generated from the stricter enforcement of the tax code and separating multimillionaires from their property? Want to get the pesky Constitution out of the way of a “wealth tax” or the elimination of the Electoral College? All these and more can be yours if you don’t dwell on the particulars.
Given the example her campaign has set, it’s no wonder her supporters have followed Warren’s lead into the realm of the fantastical.
Among the Massachusetts senator’s panoply of plans is her intention to virtually eliminate the U.S. military’s carbon footprint by ensuring that all non-combat bases and infrastructure achieve net zero emissions by 2030. That’s quite a project for the world’s largest institutional consumer of petroleum products, which pumps out more CO2 than some small Western European nations. So how would she do it? By mandating the Pentagon engineer a technological breakthrough in the field of “microgrids and advanced energy storage,” and by fining defense contractors that are not themselves net zero. Simple as that!
By limiting the government’s deliverables to either confiscating or dolling out funds—the two things the government does best—Warren’s plan is more realistic than many of her campaign’s other offerings. Paradoxically, though, this proposal’s practicality is exactly what progressives to the left of Warren hate about it.
Warren’s plan looks to her Bernie-backing opponents like a failure of imagination, as the New Republic’s Emily Tamkin illustrates. The Bay State senator’s proposal to remake the U.S. military into a green fighting force capitulates to the premise that the military should be a fighting force at all. As one Detroit area Democratic Socialists of America spokeswoman told Tamkin, Warren’s refusal to envision a world in which the Pentagon’s budget is “slashed in half” exposes how she “still harbors some good-old fashioned conservatism in her cornfed soul.”
Where does the dispassionate observer begin to break this down? Do we start with the notion that Warren’s “green military agenda” is an “imperialist prescription” for U.S. foreign affairs? The last allegedly imperialist project in which the American military engaged culminated in the total and poorly conditioned withdrawal of U.S. forces, sacrificing to Iranian agents and operatives the institutions and infrastructure Americans left behind. The expansionism of America’s illiberal adversaries may be just the kind of colonialism the DSA can get behind, but it’s a poor indication of the U.S. military’s unique capacity for adventurism.
Perhaps we are better served by focusing on the irrationality of Warren’s critics. One 23-year-old activist who is inexplicably quoted in this piece insists that the development of weapons platforms is a flawed vision for the future of the military. A DSA national political committee member told Tamkin that the problem facing lawmakers is the use of the potentially traumatic term “national security threat” to describe climate change, which he contends alienates black Americans, Muslims, and, most importantly, “leftists and political radicals.” Even the shameless conspiracy theorist Naomi Klein makes an appearance, which serves no purpose other than to bait me into writing this piece in the first place.
Ultimately, though, Warren’s progressive critics have settled on a reasonable and compelling case against what they deem an all-too-timid approach to the existential crisis of climate change. If the best case for her plan is that it is pragmatic enough to become law, that’s no case at all. Warren seems to care little for prudence, constitutional propriety, or elementary political realities when haste is her priority, so why should they?