The one-year anniversary of the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is washing ashore. I guess it’s the Transocean spill now. I’m still partial to blaming Halliburton but maybe I’m just being vindictive. The coming milestone has me wondering when, if ever, environmentalism could have been made a bi-partisan cause thereby making it as easy to support as puppies or apple pie or something. It was Republican Richard Nixon who began the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. Sadly, after Watergate, the GOP was reluctant to kneel before Nixon as the colossus he might have been. Gerald Ford pretty much followed Nixon’s lead on environmental issues but he wasn’t liked by the far right. Ford was a moderate half-termer and a former park ranger; which brings us to Ronald Reagan.
When the Gipper got to Washington he famously removed Jimmy Carter’s solar panels from the White House. But Reagan did more than just increase the Oval Office’s power bill. He created a brand new strawman for conservatives to beat senseless like NPR, the ACLU or Planned Parenthood. “Trees cause more air pollution than automobiles,” Reagan stated in 1981. I’m sure it wasn’t meant to be a factual statement. The Gipper was way ahead of his time and he wasn’t green.
But just for jokes, let’s pretend it didn’t happen that way. Instead, let’s imagine Reagan was a conservationist. I hear you. It’s a stretch. However, maybe in some alternate time-line he was a treehugger and Vice President George Bush had a goatee and a smart son (I know… Jeb, is supposed to be bright). Keep everything else about Reagan’s legacy the same: the exploding budget deficit, the Iran-Contra fiasco, and even his jellybean fixation. All that great stuff can stay intact. The one difference in this funhouse mirror is Reagan takes a bullish environmental stand like Teddy Roosevelt. In this universe Reagan came to office saying “I disagree with Jimmy Carter about everything else, but there’s no daylight between us on conservation.” Protecting the environment would have been taken away as a political chew toy. Reagan would have made it okay for the GOP to be pro-regulation in the name of clean air and water. You know, because we need that stuff.
Republicans and the Tea People (I’m not comfortable with their other name) never hesitate to blanket themselves in the Reagan-mythos like he’s a Donald Trump Snuggie. If the Gipper had been environmentally conscious, then certainly John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and maybe even Michele Bachmann would be less hostile to regulating mining, deforestation, or… wait for it… offshore drilling.
One year after oil began washing up on the Gulf Coast it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon* to imagine how the political landscape might be different if Reagan had been green. In the mirror universe, safer, cleaner use of natural resources would be bipartisan and diligent regulation might have prevented the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history… and George Bush would have a goatee.
*credit to David Lee Roth
Jack Straw is a writer living in Wichita, Kansas.Share