Thoughts on Last Week’s Republican Debate

Well, really just one thing, concerning Rep. Michele Bachmann from Minnesota, who formally announced her presidential campaign last week and joined in on the debate. Bachmann has been termed by pundits as the “winner” of the debate, as she came off as strong, clear, and fearless on issues.

Not all that rare for a primary campaigner. After all, she just has to pander to a slightly wider base than her Tea Party core to gain a plurality, as she should be able to galvanize support for a large portion of the Republican Party as the more moderate wing may splinter between other candidates.

But while primary voting is still some 7 months away, I’m already a little bit scared. Bachmann expressed extreme disdain for one agency in particular, the EPA:

The “job-killing organization of America,” huh? And there we have the rest of the Republican candidates nodding like idiots, apparently not even processing what she’s saying. I have two problems with this:

1) Why did the EPA stop being cool? After DDT and Silent Spring, environmentalism was all the rage. In the ’60’s and ’70’s, everyone wanted to be green, or at the very least, seem green. The EPA was legislated into existence by the REPUBLICAN president Richard Nixon in 1970 because environmentalism was a popular, non-partisan issue. Nixon also signed an extension to the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act. Lots more was enacted in the 70’s. And for a long time, environmentalism was a pretty good thing, overall. Disasters such as Love Canal at the end of the ’70’s showed us that we could, with modern technology, be not only a danger to peregrine falcons but also to ourselves. The EPA was much expanded under environmentally friendly president Clinton, who also signed the Kyoto Protocol. So sometime between Clinton’s presidency and now, the withdrawal from the Kyoto Treaty and inflammatory rhetoric from the right, as well as negligence and anti-environmental legislation from one president in particular, turned a significant minority of Americans anti-environmentalist, or rather, pro-business. I don’t think that president’s name needs mentioning.

As I’m writing this I realize that I sound extremely partisan. I wish it weren’t that way, though. Nixon and Ford both signed a lot of bills into action that protected the environment, and only recently has “EPA” become synonymous with far-left politics. As it stands now, the environmental movement in general now sounds like a “leftist,” “liberal,” or, my least favorite word, “progressive” conspiracy – take away peoples’ and businesses’ rights so that the government can extend further and further into peoples’ private lives and nationalize and engulf one industry after another to create some kind of totalitarian socialist state.

But what if we look at the EPA another way? How about renaming it the LPA – “Life-Protecting Agency?” Maybe not, because now it sounds like some kind of pro-life organization. But my point is, the EPA isn’t all about the environment, it’s about humans too, and life in general. I don’t want river water to be free of mercury to save some obscure fish species, I want my river free of mercury so that I don’t get brain damage. I don’t want air pollution legislation just so that I can hurt people who make more money than me, I want air pollution legislation so I don’t get asthma or lung cancer. I don’t want recycling programs so that some far-off place in the Pacific doesn’t keep filling with trash, I want recycling programs so that we don’t run out of oil for plastics so quickly and so that my surroundings will be pristine and healthy (although I am also a bit worried about all that trash in the northern Pacific). The thing is, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and the ground we walk on have not been magically removed from the environment, and it is necessary to protect our place within the rest of the natural world by protecting the rest of the natural world. And although it may seem excessively Hobbesian to say so, the view that private citizens cannot be trusted to act as stewards of the environment has been well confirmed by over 200 years of ecological rape a la revolution industrielle. So please, let’s keep the EPA, not just for some endangered stick insect, but because we can’t protect ourselves from, well, ourselves. For the sake of our citizens, let’s not have Swiss and Italian commodities trading companies dumping their toxic waste on our shores for lack of regulations, as, for example, in Ivory Coast.

2) Message to the Public: THERE ARE NO MAGIC SOLUTIONS TO THE CRIPPLING DEBT CRISIS! No, Michele, abolishing the EPA will not fix the deficit or unemployment. It is currently a tiny government agency with a budget slightly over 10 billion dollars a year, or, if that sounds like a lot, a half of a cent of your federal tax dollar. Not the right place to start, especially considering that the EPA does in fact employ people and is beneficial to industry. If you disagree, have a look at the current state of the fishing industry in Prince William Sound, Alaska (site of Exxon Valdez oil spill 22 years ago), or perhaps at the clean-up bill for the Deepwater Horizon spill (how much would have regulations cost…?). Negative externalities don’t seem like a big deal to companies but they are to the public, so there are indeed staggering hidden costs of abolishing the EPA (long-term especially). So no, the EPA is NOT “job-killing.” Note: Bachmann has also used this label for Obamacare, apparently ignoring the fact that many small businesses are now able to offer health insurance to employees for the first time. But that doesn’t match her rhetoric that Democrats kill small businesses, so she found it convenient to leave out of consideration).

While on the topic of Obamacare, I would like to point out that the plan is not job-killing. Expensive, sure, but not job-killing. The wrong dialogue is taking place in Congress and in public. Obamacare is a good, albeit expensive, thing. So the question should not be, “Does it or does it not kill jobs?” (it does not), the question should be, “Is it worth the cost?”, which constitutes actual dialogue between the philosophies of fiscal conservatism and liberalism. In a similar vein, Paul Ryan’s Medicare overhaul kind of sucks for the public – instead of full coverage, you now get to pay for it with your own money, although the government’s nice enough to chip in a bit. But hey, you get lower taxes and less big, bad federal government. So the trade-off is fairly clear. Bigger government, better coverage. Smaller government and lower taxes, worse coverage. Nobody WANTS higher taxes, not “even liberals.” But their priorities are different. That’s the real issue. So just to make my position on the issue clear, let me say this: I’ll bet even Ayn Rand loved her Medicare (which she did, by the way, receive).


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