(First published on Urban Times on 23rd Aug 2011)
Word on the campaign trail is that the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is overstepping its boundaries and should be reined in. The opinion is shared by seven Republican candidates, forming part of the policy to cut government spending and curtail the extend of power of the federal government. Since the Democratic Party have an incumbent in office and have no need for a candidate race, we won’t get to hear much of the other side of the argument, but this may be a good thing after all. The issue is grave enough not to be politicized and serious enough to hold its own on the basis of logic alone.
Of course those familiar with the presidential election campaign know that logic has little to do with anything. Money talks and policy walks hand in hand with emotion, not reason. The candidates with the most appeal to the constituents’ heart make their mark indelibly on them and score political points that may get them elected on the basis of being likable, fighters, loyal, trustworthy. Pay enough money to have a skunk dressed in white and gold and have him dance the honkey tonkey and you may get people voting for their favorite party animal regardless of the smell. Same holds for the flip side. Paint a puppy black with thin red and yellow stripes and you convince them they got a snake in their yards which they have to stamp out.
We could go a long way with this argument and make a case for the power of emotion over reason in election campaigns, not to mention polling and advertising. But this is not the point. The focus of this article is how some GOP candidates are attempting to dress the EPA in bogeyman’s clothing so that they can legitimately slash it down.
In particular, Rick Perry has called for a moratorium on environmental regulations until the economy picks up. Mitt Romney opposes the regulation of carbon dioxide by the EPA. Michelle Bachmann dubbed it the ‘job-killing organization of America’, and Ron Paul deems it, well, unnecessary.
The problem with this is that these candidates are highly intelligent people. So where is all this zealotry coming from? How can they stand there and deliver speeches to their supporters that fly in the face of not just data but also common sense?
The answer is money. With the economy crippled and people out of jobs – and the political environment as volatile and toxic as the physical one – everything is up for grabs. Anger and disillusion mix with righteousness and morality to create a dangerous cocktail that seeks to right some errors by committing new ones. In the typical and classic-by-now two-step of left-right politics, the motion is once again one step forward, one step back, one to the left, one to the right, over and over again, shaking on the spot and going nowhere at all.
The thing is, government has gotten too big for its own shoes and its citizens’ wallets. True. People in the federal branches are increasingly trying to manhandle people’s lives through excessive regulation. True. The nanny state is extending its reach into the economy, trying to legitimize the need to commandeer the markets. Double true. And then there’s Obama, of course. Some people don’t like being told what to do by a black person. So they throw out the green cause with the colored bathwater. And in come the votes from the backwaters of America.
To be fair, it’s not nearly as racially motivated as that. There are people out there who are just skeptical about global warming, whatever their color or creed. They doubt the validity of the data at hand. Which is good, to a certain extent. Skepticism is a great thing. It helps ground runaway causes, keeping arguments close to home. Then again, like all things, skepticism has to be exercised with discretion. Disregarding all data because they supposedly belong to “a vast conspiracy of people trying to bring forth a new green age” is a far-fetched and counterproductive notion.
So there you have it, the reasons why some GOP candidates are coming down tooth and nail against the EPA. Some consider it unnecessary, others pesky, others insulting and burdensome. Some see it as the symbol of a nanny government meddling in people’s affairs, some consider it the obstacle to creating jobs and putting food on one’s table, and some just don’t believe in what it does or has to say. And that is the glory and mayhem of democracy, the freedom to doubt everything and anything one says, the liberty to take a decision that flies in the face of logic in order to serve another logic.
Fortunately the republican constituency doesn’t seem to agree with its politicians. Surveys show that less than half of republicans – and only 50% of the Tea Party – support clamping down on the EPA. The numbers are higher than a few years ago due to the sorry state of the economy, but are still holding strong against the argument and are set to go down as the economy recuperates. People don’t seem to condone an extended or complete deregulation of the environment regardless of how dire their finances are. Common sense seems to have taken hold of people at a deeper level, driving their pursuit for change and progress, for more jobs and a brighter future through the path of a healthy and less toxic, less cancer-inducing, more livable habitat.
And that is a great victory for not just the GOP constituents, but for the entire American people. Let us hope that the numbers hold throughout the campaign so that they may prod their candidates to refine their policies on cutting spending, sparing the EPA from being gutted. Let the call to more job creation and smaller government find its way through other, less useful and more meddlesome branches of the federal administration. For now the EPA seems to be serving a good cause, so let it do its job. And if some of the candidates think it shouldn’t be allowed to go about its business unchecked, which is a reasonable argument, let them consider ways to augment the EPA’s function – or propose alternative policies or alternative bodies to take over – by addressing the environmental issue head on and not by hiding behind political smokescreens to score cheap votes and appease the lobbies.