In his first four years in office, George W. Bush became the first U.S. President to earn an “F” rating from the League of Conservation Voters. Since April 22 is Earth Day, I thought this would be a good time to try to explain why Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have chosen to lead the most anti-environmental administration since conservation became a primary national interest under Theodore Roosevelt a hundred years ago.
In fact, the Election of 2004 was the first time the League included a President and Vice President among its “Dirty Dozen.” Traditionally, the “Dirty Dozen” has consisted of those senators and representatives who have done the most to actively work against the environment. The League hopes to persuade voters to replace them with candidates who are more likely to be sympathetic to environmental issues. The reactionary policies of the renegade Bush-Cheney co-presidency have been deliberately intended to weaken or remove the rules, regulations, laws, and agencies vital to the preservation of our land, water, air, and wildlife. Consequently, the League thought it appropriate to include them among the “Dirty Dozen.”
Bush-Cheney’s Secretary of the Interior, Gale Norton, was a protégé of James Watt, Reagan’s Interior secretary (1981-1983), and therein explains much of this administration’s anti-environmental mindset. James Watt believed that since Armageddon was coming, we needed to use up our natural resources while there was still time. What he precisely believed was this: “We don’t have to protect the environment; the Second Coming is at hand,” and “God gave us these things to use. After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back.” Fortunately, the House of Representatives remained in the hands of the Democrats while he was in office, but Ms. Norton has had the anti-environmental Republicans in nearly complete control of Congress. Consequently, Mr. Watt recently said, in effect, that Ms. Norton had been able to accomplish pretty much everything he had tried to do but had not been able to get away with.
Two notes of encouragement: (1) Gale Norton resigned and left the Interior Dept. on March 31. Her mentor, James Watt, had to leave that office before the end of Reagan’s first term – not for the deplorable job he had been doing, but for telling a politically incorrect joke. In 1987, he joined the board of Jerry Falwell’s PTL Club, where he was better suited. Ms. Norton may have left because of her alleged connections to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandals. (2) Some evangelical churches have recently discovered God in nature. If very many of them begin to get interested in global warming and the preservation of the environment, it will mean a split in half of the Republican Party’s reactionary base. However, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell haven’t gone green. They still realize that if they want to force their personal religious beliefs onto the rest of us, they will have to stick with the GOP.
Here is another enlightening piece of information that helps us to further understand the mentality of this administration. It involves a peculiar form of “hunting” practiced by our vice president. Amazingly, the recent Texas trip that resulted in Cheney’s accidental shooting of an old friend could have been an attempt on his part to improve his image as a legitimate hunter. In December 2003, the Vice and several supporters, who raised money for Republican candidates, joined for a “canned kill” at the Rolling Rock Club in Pennsylvania. It was there that they slaughtered 417 of 500 pen-reared pheasants that had been removed from their pens, covered with nets, and released as live skeet for the poised shooters! The Humane Society of the United States had a hard time exposing this event to the public, but it finally persuaded the Dallas Morning News and some other major newspapers to cover the story.
Mr. Cheney, himself, was accredited with murdering 70 of the tame, unsuspecting birds. The March 26 Doonesbury mentioned this incident, but I wasn’t sure how many readers understood the reference. I think it is safe to say that no Arkansas hunter would have ever pretended that those particular pheasants qualified as sportsmen’s wildlife. Not long ago, during the early days of a deer season, one of my teenaged GED students came into my class some time after 8:00 AM and asked me, “Do you know what I killed this morning?” I was about to become a victim of an old joke. “About three hours,” he said, grinning. He had been hunting, and he had loved it. He could hardly wait to go again the next morning. There is a difference between hunting and killing, and a true hunter knows the difference. Unlike Cheney and his cronies, he/she doesn’t kill just to kill.
Although the Louisiana governor and the New Orleans mayor seemed equally inept, the administration’s response to Katrina (before, during, and after) very much epitomized the routine incompetence, irresponsibility, and devotion to contributors that we’ve been seeing for five and a half years. Michael Brown, who should never have been put in charge of FEMA, found out that they probably didn’t want someone who could handle the job anyway. When Brownie actually tried to motivate President Bush and Homeland Security Director Chertoff into action, he discovered they didn’t appear to be all that interested. It was as though they saw this as a mini-Armageddon predicted by James Watt, and all they cared about was what it might allow them to do later:
Hand out no-bid re-building contracts to Cheney’s Halliburton corps and let Exxon-Mobil drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to supposedly make up for other oil industries’ losses in Louisiana! And who can ever forget the abandonment of the victims’ pets during the delayed rescue operation? If this bunch is so contemptuous of our pets, is there any chance that any of them will be concerned about preserving our wildlife or endangered species?
The bottom line is that this bunch plainly doesn’t care. Bush-Cheney, their Republican allies who control congressional committees, and the people they have put in charge of our environmental agencies all appear to be just alike. Preserving our environment and wildlife is not something that matters to them. What is important to them is immediate financial profit or selfish gratification for themselves and their supporters. As far as they are concerned, if the land is destroyed or if the wildlife is rendered extinct, it’s just too bad. They want to get whatever they can while they are here and able to do it, regardless of the consequences. What will they say to future generations? Nothing, since they seem convinced there will not be very many future generations anyway. Even if there are, none of them expect to still be around by then to have to explain their diabolical actions. Once we understand this rather deranged way of thinking, then, and only then, do any of their policies begin to make sense.
Those of us who care about our planet’s future need to be willing to vote for candidates for the U.S. Congress and for officials on the state and local levels who will oppose Bush-Cheney’s careless, short-sighted, and destructive environmental policies. This administration is determined to represent only its core constituency: the “Haves and Have-Mores” and the religious political extremists. Tragically, the rest of us are stuck with it for two and a half more agonizing years.
by David Offutt
A version of this essay was published April 5, 2006,
in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.