Bob Ehrlich: The Democratic Party's Aspirations Don't Match Those of the American People


“Aspire”: to be ambitious (to get or do something); seek (after).

The above is offered as a public service reminder in light of the frequency with which the term is thrown around these days. The overuse is a direct byproduct of the intensive scrutiny given the progressives’ new manifesto: “The Green New Deal.” Specifically, the verb derives from the need to retreat from Republican and conservative attempts to paint the entire Democratic party as lock-stock-and-barrel owners of the manifesto/albatross.

To recap, it was only a few weeks ago that the Green New Deal was introduced as the next generation platform for a dysfunctional country and culture. The program arrived with much fanfare, led by progressivism’s new charismatic star, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Immediately, a number of the first-tier Democrats running for president in 2020 (Sanders, Harris, Booker) signed on. No surprise here. The proposed program contains a number of the progressive left’s favorite initiatives — all intended to transform an America suffering all sorts of Trump era maladies.

But a second and markedly more pragmatic reaction has registered among other Democratic party leaders, including some (Biden, Brown, Klobuchar) also running for president. These are the candidates who took the time to not only read but actually give some thought to how much the Green New Deal would cost and its impact on the average citizen. And so it is here where the aspirational aspect of the Green New Deal (as well an even more recently unveiled “scaled back” Green New Deal) was born.

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You see, these folks have no intention of being tarred with the more bizarre planks of the Green New Deal (see e.g. ending air travel and the war on cows). Rather, they choose to stress the generic goals of a cleaner environment, “free” health care and quality education.

Still, thoughtful detractors can easily distinguish between high-sounding goals and the quixotic means required to meet them. Nuanced fallback positions will not stop the Republicans from an aggressive response that will only intensify as 2020 draws near. Indeed, Mitch McConnell’s plan to force Democrats to walk the plank with an up or down vote on the Green New Deal is only one of many power plays to come from a GOP intent on making as many Democrats as possible own and own up to the Green New Deal.

But procedural steps used to place Democratic senators on the defensive is only one of the aspirational crowd’s problems. These same thoughtful detractors may further inquire as to whether America truly aspires to “free this, universal that, guaranteed whatever.” Here, the very foundation of the Green New Deal will be illuminated for a country that by and large still believes in capitalism, markets, competition, American exceptionalism, pluralism, free speech … and a good ole steak dinner. Phrased another way, the majority of Americans continue to aspire to goals that are antithetical to those contained in the Green New Deal.

There is another (troubling) aspect to how the Green New Deal and other progressive priorities are being marketed. I refer to the accompanying rhetoric that seeks to delegitimize so much of our 243-year-old grand experiment in republican democracy. Seems not a day goes by without a leading progressive denigrating the ideas, principles and people that were (are) the building blocks of this country.

Whether it is a crushing indictment of wealth/profit, calls for government directed and financed health care, or demands for reparations, the indictment is wholly focused on what the framers got wrong. The reader is by now familiar with this revisionist narrative: the pilgrims began the environmental and cultural wreckage — slaveholders founded the country — capitalism is unfair — free speech is offensive — great wealth is evil — post-birth abortion is still … abortion — the melting pot is nothing more than a cover for cultural appropriation. Per this thesis, a fundamental transformation is long overdue. Detractors are depicted as practitioners of (choose all that apply): misogyny, racism, sexism, nativism, ethnocentrism and whatever new “-ics” and “-isms” that constitute the flavor of the day.

It will be interesting to see if the “disparaging of America” will prove to be an effective message with the majority of middle of the road voters in a general election. I have my doubts.

Not so long ago, it was a concrete lock in politics that presidential wannabes project a sunny, optimistic outlook about a “can-do” America — even its far less than perfect founders. Such was the not-so-secret formula for two of our most beloved leaders: JFK and Ronald Reagan. The former told the world that America would “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty.” The latter told us that America was a “shining city on a hill…the last best hope of man on earth.” Man, times have changed.

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Robert Ehrlich is a former governor of Maryland as well as a former U.S. congressman and state legislator. He is the author of “Bet You Didn’t See That One Coming: Obama, Trump, and the End of Washington’s Regular Order,” in addition to “Turn This Car Around,” “America: Hope for Change" and “Turning Point.” Ehrlich is currently a counsel at the firm of King & Spalding in Washington, D.C.