The torrent of astonishing talk from Democratic presidential aspirants has included two especially startling ideas. One is that we are going to die — the climate change crisis is “existential” — unless America does a slew of things that the aspirants know are not going to be done. And the leading progressive aspirant has endorsed an idea that would confirm hostile caricatures of progressives if any caricaturist could have imagined the idea before Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren voiced it.
About Democrats’ plans for nullifying the “existential” crisis: America is really not going to achieve Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “complete decarbonization” by 2050. America will not eliminate net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, as Joe Biden promises. Fossil fuels accounted for 81.8% of energy consumption in 2018, and the Energy Information Administration projects that in 2050 the figure will be 78.9%. Perhaps higher, if Democrats succeed in abolishing carbon-free nuclear power, which in 2018 was 8.4% of energy consumption. The Democrats’ threat to nuclear power’s existence tells you how seriously they take their own rhetoric about the “existential” climate threat. As does their vague, tepid and perfunctory endorsement of the most efficient way to reduce carbon — a carbon tax, which might pose an existential threat to their aspirations.
Also, America is not going to retrofit every building. Or wean people off air travel and get them onto high-speed electric trains like the forever-hypothetical one between Los Angeles and San Francisco that California is failing to build at a projected cost — so far — of up to $100 billion.
The late Sen. Eugene McCarthy, whose mordant wit is much missed, quipped that anything said three times in Washington becomes a fact. With the Democrats having migrated to the Trumpian universe of “alternative facts” about an achievable future, the second and third times are unnecessary. Theirs is the “believing is seeing” mentality of people who, seeing the world through ideology-tinted spectacles, think the world should be, and therefore will be, infinitely malleable under the hammer of government power wielded by them.
The almost 330 million Americans who would live between the hammer and the anvil should pay particular attention to Warren. Her gargantuan plans for comprehensively rearranging society should be considered in light of her penchant for micro-pandering, such as promising taxpayer funding of sex-reassignment surgery for transgender felons in federal prisons. Poor Bernie Sanders probably thought he had achieved peak progressivism by endorsing voting rights for the surviving Boston Marathon terrorist bomber and all other incarcerated felons.
Warren’s proposal is perfect political zaniness: It will attract no one who is not already attracted but will repel the kind of voters — those who sometimes go for days on end without pondering gender fluidity — she will need in order to win a general election.
An interestingly different Massachusetts politician, John Quincy Adams, the last president connected to the Founding generation, had a flinty patrician’s belief that leaders should not be “palsied by the will of our constituents.” Warren, caught up in the Democrats’ woker-than-thou competition, will say anything to demonstrate that there is nothing she will not promise in order to placate any sliver of the progressive constituency.
One reason U.S. carbon emissions have fallen faster than Europe’s is that fracking has made natural gas sufficiently cheap and abundant to supplant coal and oil for many purposes. Evidently Warren considers the “existential” climate threat less important than catering to progressives’ hostility toward fracking, which they must consider more of a threat than the “existential” one. The Economist says that in terms of energy supplies, banning fracking “would be a bit like shutting down Saudi Arabia.” It would, of course, be a boon to that nation, and Russia and Iran.
The regulatory fidgets and worse that Warren promises would not be as trivial as her sex-reassignment-surgery-for-transgender-felons gesture. As The Economist notes, such is her faith in government as “benign and effective,” she ignores how government inefficiency and regulatory capture made airlines expensive and inconvenient until deregulation democratized air travel. She would abolish, break up or submit to government’s 10-thumbed control “roughly half the stock market and private-equity owned firms.” She is an abolitionist regarding the $530 billion private health insurance industry, which has 370,000 employees, almost twice as many as the steel and coal mining industries combined.
Many Democratic aspirants are patently insincere about what they call an existential threat, and many are disconcertingly sincere about weird minutia. It is dismayingly meaningful when they do, and when they do not, mean what they say.
(George Will is a columnist of The Washington Post Writers Group.)