Concerning climate change, Christopher Lydon believes people have a “hunger for clarity on a street corner, and candor about the pickle we’re in.” That need has recently been satisfied “warmly, humanly,” he says, by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.*
This hunger “had to be there all along,” Lydon suggests. Surely that must be true. Daniel Schrag replies that President Obama’s team was afraid of speaking directly and candidly about climate change. At times I thought the Obama administration’s approach was to say to the American people, roughly, “Leave it to us, we’ve got this,” when in those early months there were millions of us who wanted a way to pitch in.
In his first year in the White House Obama could have asked that a hundred protestors stand round-the-clock watch at the offices of each reform-resistant member of Congress and we would have gladly done it. But he closed his campaign website, containing all the news and come-to-meeting tools that might have shown people day by day how to keep the pressure on in Washington. He and his team decided more or less to go it alone, leaving millions of citizens out of the people’s business. Next, Congress was intentionally hobbled by his opponents, and in terms of legislation Obama was usually defeated.
So Lydon is correct that the hunger for candor is probably always there. People know when they are ignored or condescended to; they know what it feels like to be treated with candor and respect. Recently Kurt Bardella put it this way:
The American people don’t want a string of facts that have been repeatedly proven to be false. They don’t want to be lectured. What they want is for their political figures to respond to the challenges of our time with empathy, authenticity and candor. They want to hear their elected representatives talk about these issues with the same vocabulary that they talk about them around their kitchen table or in their living rooms. That’s what Ocasio-Cortez did so well.
The half of the population that never votes probably intuits what the statistics of Gilens and Page imply: that the general public gets what it wants in Washington occasionally, yes: when what they want happens to align with what the economic elites already want. That’s a pretty good reason for the country’s widespread alienation.
Gilens and Page spot the alienation; Lydon, Schrag, and Bardella identify the hunger. Ocasio-Cortez knows it’s there, too. She has the spine and some of the rhetoric we’ll need going forward. If we’re fortunate, new presidential candidates will also hear the urgency, find language that speaks honorably, respectfully, to the people, and follow in her steps.