Our Opinion: Green New Deal needs a tighter focus

Plastic and glass recyclables are transported by Republic Services throughout the week to Covanta in Pittsfield before they are transported to the recycling plant in Springfield.

The Democratic Party, reflecting the fractious coalition of special interest groups that comprises it, has often managed to make an art form out of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The most recent debacle occurred when party insiders, so eager to crown Hillary Clinton their presidential candidate in 2016, ran a clearly biased primary operation that alienated enormous swaths of progressive Bernie Sanders supporters to the point where many stayed home out of pique on Election Day. The nation is still suffering the consequences of that blunder.

In the wake of a political victory in the 2018 midterm elections, when Democrats took control of the House of Representatives, the party's progressive wing has begun to see itself as the natural heir to its ideological future. Capitalizing on a newfound (and long overdue) national concern about the ravages of climate change, rising stars like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. as well as old hands like Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., have championed a "Green New Deal," which could be likened to a solidly-built coat tree upon which any number of progressive initiatives, like guaranteed jobs, reduction of income inequality, fair minimum wages and universal health care can hang.

Such enthusiasm, which can be forgiven of those who have been forced for so long to cool their heels on the political sidelines, runs the danger of being viewed as too much, too soon by the American people, whose ideological majority tends to reside in the comfortable center-left to center-right of the nation's political spectrum. Many may agree with the goals of the Green New Deal's ambitious vision that seeks to right many of the systemic wrongs under which Americans chafe, but even some Democrats wary of appearing too radical, like U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar, are careful to voice support while calling the plan "aspirational." This is another way of saying, "Here are some ideas, but we don't intend to ram them down your throat."

Holding back those who want it all right away may be the Democratic Party's toughest challenge as it develops a 2020 presidential primary field of unprecedented size representing a broad swath of Democratic thought. This is a time for experienced hands, such as 30-year congressional veteran Rep. Richard Neal, who represents the Berkshires, to extend a calming hand over the turbulent waters. Mr. Neal, notably, is the only one of the nine-member Massachusetts federal delegation who has not signed on in support of the Green New Deal — which, at the moment, is only a vague blueprint lacking fleshed-out details or a means of financial implementation.

Progressives are putting enormous pressure on Rep. Neal to fall in line with his colleagues in the congressional delegation to support the Deal, particularly since his powerful position as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee would give him a hand in its shaping. This is a time, however, when patience and prudence ought to be at a premium, and we urge Rep. Neal to advocate both, as has House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

There are certainly things to like about the Green New Deal. It urges an emphasis on renewable energy, which Massachusetts has been emphasizing in recent years while Washington continues to focus exclusively on environmentally destructive fossil fuels. It wants to help the states address the ravages of climate change, which is already upon us in the form of superstorms and extraordinarily dangerous and deadly wildfires. These and other provisions can be supported by Americans from across the political spectrum, and it would be tragic if they were buried underneath the rubble of an overly ambitious and unrealistic Green New Deal that will never get past the Republican Senate.

Rather than go to the barricades for a doomed proposal that will only provide ammunition for Republicans to fire at red and purple state Democrats in the 2020 campaign, we urge Democrats to temper their demands for ideological purity and instead move thoughtfully and deliberately to craft a comprehensive environmental package acceptable to a majority of the American people. Other progressive goals included in the plan that are not germane to environmental issues can and should be dealt with separately.