Sen. Ed Markey (D., Mass.) is expected to do something remarkable Tuesday afternoon. After warning of the world-ending emergency that is climate change, and introducing a bill alongside leftist upstart Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) to introduce a Green New Deal, Markey will abstain from voting in favor of his own bill when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) brings it to the floor.
Markey explained his abstention on Twitter, writing that McConnell, by calling for a vote without hearings, expert testimony, or "true discussion about the costs of climate inaction," was trying to "make a mockery of the national debate that we have started with the #GreenNewDeal." He will instead—along with several far-left colleagues including 2020-hopeful Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.)—hold a press conference to call for "bold climate action" instead of a "sham" vote.
Markey relies on the now standard argument from the left that they are the serious ones when it comes to addressing climate change, while the right fails to offer an "alternative." As Ocasio-Cortez put it just last month, "I'm at least trying, and they're not."
"Like I just introduced Green New Deal two weeks ago, and it's creating all of this conversation. Why? Because no one else has even tried," she said. "So, people are like ‘Oh it's unrealistic, oh it's vague, oh it doesn't address this little, minute thing.' And I'm like, you try, you do it! Because you're not! Because you're not. So, until you do it, I'm the boss! How about that?"
This moral posturing might be compelling if the Green New Deal were a serious policy proposal, a comprehensive plan deserving of the $94 trillion it is expected to cost. The problem is, it is not.
Read it for yourself: the 14-page proposal which Markey and Ocasio-Cortez introduced, and which they have touted as the plan-to-beat on global warming, is almost entirely devoid of environmental-policy specifics. Instead, it is a mélange of alarmist language about global temperature combined with massive government welfare programs—a UBI, a jobs guarantee—whose relevance to the former is completely incomprehensible. There are a few high-flying climate-related goals—net-zero emissions within twenty years, for example—but exactly zero specifics on how to get there.
Ocasio-Cortez has called climate change "our World War II," and claimed that the world is going to end in twelve years if we do not back a Green New Deal. She and her allies have hinted at a massive industrial mobilization, on a scale essentially unprecedented in American history, the consequences of which might be enormously destructive to free enterprise and the American way of life. Perhaps, before claiming that we all have to get in line behind their plan they could … actually come up with one?
The reality is that Markey will not vote for his own bill because he knows what Mitch McConnell knows: The Green New Deal does not actually exist. It's a very successful slogan, which is why Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) was harassed by a group of astroturfed teens over it. But it has no content, no explanation of how America will manage to fund a $94 trillion takeover of society by government.
It is not like concrete suggestions in this vein do not exist. Out in the world of think tanks, there are blueprints for a Green New Deal or similar policies. These ideas are almost certainly bad on their merits, but at least they have merits to be discussed—there is something in them to be disagreed over, as opposed to the vacuity which Markey and Ocasio-Cortez introduced.
This insubstantiality does not stop with the Green New Deal; it is actually at the heart of the new, young left's policy strategy. Take, for comparison, the push in the middle of last year to abolish ICE: There were protests; prominent Democrats backed the idea; Ocasio-Cortez rode to national prominence on it all.
What happened? A group of progressive House Democrats introduced an ICE abolition bill totally devoid of any actual policy details. They instead proposed to kick the can to a "select committee" composed of pro-immigration groups who would, presumably, do the actual work of making policy. Now, after the tepid roll-out, "abolish ICE" has quietly vanished from the Democratic lexicon.
Why have Ocasio-Cortez and her cohort pushed so hard on basically empty policies? Maybe it's that they are stalking horses for far-left goals. ICE abolition was boosted by open-borders supporters. The biggest winner of the Green New Deal debate has been a leftist idea called "Modern Monetary Theory," which rejects concerns about deficit spending so as to advance progressive goals, and which Ocasio-Cortez has explicitly said should be "part of the conversation." Both of these proposals are serious, if radical, policy, and both are shifted further into to the Overton window by the left's current tack.
But the answer is probably simpler: The Green New Deal and "abolish ICE" are slogans, instead of serious policy, because they are the product of a left that would rather do the easy work of protesting than the hard work of governing. This explains why Markey would rather hold a press conference than vote in favor of his own bill: because empty slogans, rather than actual policymaking, are the hallmark of the Green New Deal.