Posted by: David Offutt | April 23, 2009

Environmental Issues: Family Values and the Republican Party (Peck’s Law)

“If you have to tell someone who you are, you aren’t.” I call it Peck’s Law. It was reportedly said at a restaurant by Gregory Peck to one of his guests when their waiter didn’t recognize the Oscar-winning actor. You shouldn’t have to tell someone what you do IF he or she should already know it by your performances; otherwise, it either doesn’t matter to that person or it’s not true. For example, the Republicans always tell us that they are the party of family values. Since environmental protection and our response to global warming will determine the kind of world we live in and leave to our families and future generations, they are among the most important family values. However, Republican actions on those issues are not commendable.

I recently received my copy of the 2007 National Environmental Scorecard compiled by the League of Conservation Voters (LCV). Every year, this organization ranks members of the House and Senate on how they voted on key issues. I immediately opened this year’s publication to see how our presidential candidates voted on important conservationist and environmental issues.

Hillary Clinton led the pack with 73%: she supported LCV positions 11 times out of 15 issues – she was absent on the other 4. However, Hillary’s lifetime voting record on pro-environmental matters is 87%, or an average of 87 times out of 100 votes. Absent on the same 4 votes, Barack Obama received a 67 rating because he voted against one LCV position but supported its positions on the other 10. His lifetime LCV record is a respectable 86. Hence, the two Democratic contenders are very similar, so the planet should be in safe hands with either of them as President.

The presumptive Republican nominee, Senator John McCain, earned a shocking 0% rating! Still, he does have a lifetime pro-environment record of 24%. Even though 24 of 100 is a lousy record, it is so much better than most other Republicans that it helps explain why he is not trusted by his own party. The Republican leadership’s record in the Senate is more typical. Former Minority Whip Trent Lott’s lifetime ranking is 9 while Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s is only 7. To get his party’s nomination, Mr. McCain has probably been willing to drop his maverick image to show that he could still be a traditional Republican.

Still, it should be pointed out that Mr. McCain didn’t vote against any of the 15 positions endorsed by the LCV in 2007. It’s worse than that. He never bothered to even show up to take a stand on any of them! The senator is loved by the national news media and is curiously touted as a man of principle. Since Mr. McCain claims to support action against global warming, it may have been his “principles” that caused him to miss those 15 crucial votes. Rather than voting against his conscience to make his party happy, he chose not to vote at all. Several weeks ago, he continued his 2007 absenteeism by missing a vote to promote clean energy and to remove tax-giveaways to Big Oil. The bill failed to pass by one vote! Sadly, he was in Washington, DC – he just didn’t care enough to come to the Senate!

Earth Day, April 22, is a tradition that began in 1970 during the Nixon Era to promote environmental awareness. Back then the Democratic Party’s large majorities in the House and Senate allowed the passage of conservation acts such as the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Clean Water Act of 1972 (incredibly, Republican Richard Nixon vetoed the water bill, but he was overridden by 2/3 of the Congress).

In late 1970, to pacify the public’s demand, Nixon also created the Environmental Protection Agency. According to its first director, William Ruckelshaus, Nixon wasn’t personally interested, so he worked with Nixon’s domestic advisor John Ehrlichman – who surprisingly was interested. Ehrlichman knew that Nixon didn’t approve of federal regulation of Big Business, so if Nixon didn’t ask what the EPA was doing, – and he rarely did – he wouldn’t tell him.

Factory FarmThe other Nixonian-Republicans, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, undermined these acts and agencies by appointing opponents of them to “enforce” them! In 1971 Nixon appointed an anti-environmentalist, Earl Butz, as his Sec. of Agriculture. Mr. Butz began the current Republican policy of driving family farms out of business and replacing them with huge agribusiness corporations. His policy was “get big or get out.” It was escalated during the 1980s by Pres. Reagan, giving rise to factory farms and to an economic depression among family farms.

In 1984, while Reagan was running a very clever re-election commercial telling us “It’s morning in America,” the sun was setting on thousands of family farms. The Arkansas Chapter of the Sierra Club used to give an annual Earl Butz Award to the individual who had done the most harm to the environment. A few years ago, I attended the chapter’s annual banquet, which was being held at the Clinton Library. (The Clinton Library itself was given an award that night for its environmental design and friendliness.) I inquired as to why the Earl Butz Award had been discontinued. I was told that Arkansas’ senior senator Blanche Lincoln had taken serious offense to being awarded that prize. She didn’t think she was that bad and didn’t appreciate the humor that was partially intended in the prize. Nevertheless, Sen. Lincoln has been improving and received a 67 ranking for 2007. That raised her lifetime LCV rating to a sad 46 – not good for a Democrat.

One of the first things George W. Bush did when he seized the White House was overturn a Clinton initiative to regulate those awful factory farms. Thousands of hogs, chickens, and cows are unnaturally confined with minimal room for movement. Without fresh air and sunlight, they are subject to many diseases, so they are preemptively injected with antibiotics. They are also fed antibiotics and hormones to speed their growth. Remember, they are what they eat, and we are what we eat. This is one reason why antibiotics are often not as effective to treat our illnesses as they once were. (Cage-free eggs from free-roaming hens are available in stores like Brookshire’s and Wal-Mart – ask for them.) The issue of animal cruelty is obvious, but there is also the issue of water and air pollution. Millions of tons of animal waste from these factories end up in our rivers, lakes, and drinking water. Also the stench from these factories can be smelled for miles around.

The Republicans must keep telling us that they support family values because, when it comes to taking care of our home – this planet we live on, their actions don’t show it. That’s a perfect illustration of Peck’s Law.

by David Offutt
A version of this essay was published April 4, 2008,
in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.

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