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Members of the Sunrise Movement and allies stand outside Sen. Dianne Feinstein's office in San Francisco on Feb. 22, 2019 demanding the California Democrat back the Green New Deal legislation. Members of the Sunrise Movement and allies stand outside Sen. Dianne Feinstein's office in San Francisco on Feb. 22, 2019 demanding the California Democrat back the Green New Deal legislation.

Members of the Sunrise Movement and allies stand outside Sen. Dianne Feinstein's office in San Francisco on Feb. 22, 2019 demanding the California Democrat back the Green New Deal legislation. (Photo: Peg Hunter/flickr/cc)

"Realists" Are Courting Global Devastation

Who are the true realists? Those backing the Green New deal, or those backing "ineffective half measures"?

John Atcheson

In a recent confrontation with representatives of the Sunrise Movement, Senator Diane Feinstein referred to herself as a “realist” when challenged to support the Green New Deal.

She’s not alone.  Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi referred to the GND as a dream, and nearly every article about it alludes to it being unrealistic, while the pundits pile on with charges of political doom for the Dems if they support it.

Ponder this for a moment.  We are faced with a planet wrecking problem – something that, if left unchecked, could literally lead to the deaths of billions of people, the extinction of nearly half of all species, and the destruction of the ecological systems which allowed for the development of civilization – and the people who want to do something about it are labelled unrealistic, and those who advocate ineffective half-measures are considered “realists.”

This tells us a great deal about the state of our politics, and none of it is good.

For starters, it tells us that our entire political process has been overtaken by monied interests.  The Constitution and its principles have been discarded in exchange for campaign funds and a revolving door that allows politicians to cash in on public service.

It also tells us that leadership is a scarce commodity. The so-called “realists” read polls and try to regurgitate back in simple soundbites what the polls are telling them. This amounts to government by tautology, and it means politicians hone their positions to appeal to the least common denominator.  In normal times this can work, but these are not normal times.  We are actively sabotaging our ecological life support systems.

Not only is leadership a rare phenomenon, but when leaders do appear, they are assaulted by a collective, reactionary ignorance.  Exhibit A has to be Bernie Sanders’ 2016 run, in which the DNC, the press, big money and the punditry gathered against him in a confederacy of dunces.  It’s happening again, with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives, who the folks in the know are dismissing.  It’s happening with the GND, with proposals to tax the ultra-wealthy, with no-brainer issues like Medicare for All.

Now, it’s worth noting that the ideas Sanders’ introduced in 2016, which were dismissed as happy dreams, are now embraced by the majority of Americans.  But the realists continue to talk about them as if they were pipe dreams, and offer up useless Pablum like paygo, instead.  If you wanted to conjure up a way of depressing voter turnout, you couldn’t do much better than what the “realists” are doing, and the only way Trump wins is if you depress turnout.

Admiral William Halsey Jr said, “There are no great men [or women] there are only great challenges that ordinary men [or women] are forced by circumstances to meet.”  Yet our history seems punctuated by people of great foresight and moral courage appearing on history’s horizon when needed. Washington, Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton, Lincoln, both Roosevelts, Mother Jones, Rosa Parks, Rachel Carson, Martin Luther King, Jr – each emerged at a critical juncture in our history, and each became a leader in the long march toward a just, fair, prosperous and sustainable society.

But today, the “realists” have a firm grip on our social, political and economic system, and they are doing a tremendous job at keeping us from seeing reality. The stakes of their failures have never been higher, the consequences never more dire.  It is time for another hero to appear, and it must be us.  We the people must rise up and demand more from our leaders than a faux realism rooted in greed, fear and myopia.


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John Atcheson

John Atcheson

John Atcheson, 1948-2020, was a long-time Common Dreams contributor, climate activist and author of, "A Being Darkly Wise, and a book on our fractured political landscape entitled, "WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track". Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson. John was tragically killed in a CA car accident in January 2020.

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