The season to be stupid

America’s extended political primary process has been dubbed the “silly season,” but given the pronouncements of this year’s Republican candidates, “stupid season” is a more appropriate moniker. The various GOP candidates talk trash about everything from the TARP bailout to the recent budget fiasco, but they’ve reached new heights of stupidity in their attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA, just in case you don’t recall or are too young to know it, was formed on July 9, 1970 through executive order by President Richard Nixon, the conservative anti-communist Republican who by today’s standards would be considered one of the 20th century’s leading liberals. That fact has not stopped nearly every Republican presidential aspirant from calling for an end to the EPA and a halt to all new environmental regulations, simply some of the stupidest recommendations we’re bound to hear in the year ahead.

Complaining that the EPA is a “job-killer,” candidates such as Perry and Bachmann ignore that poisoned water is a “people-killer.” Over 80,000 man-made chemicals have been released into the environment since 1800, most never studied or in any way regulated, including their aggregate effects on health as they combine into new compounds. Current testing reveals high levels of fire-retardant chemicals (applied on furniture during manufacture) in the bodies of pregnant women, prompting concerns about its effects on babies. PCBs, dangerous long-lasting compounds that were commonly used in electrical transformers, were banned by the EPA years ago but are still found when blood and tissues are tested. Despite the dangers posed by industry’s wide-spread use of untested chemicals, it’s evident that the GOP has decided that attacking the EPA makes political sense.

The strange irony in all this, of course, is that these GOP candidates have families and children, surely love them and want to protect them from harm. If it was discovered that one of Rick Perry’s or Michele Bachmann’s daughters had been chemically-poisoned and had developed cancer, I have no doubt that candidates Perry and Bachmann would be heart-broken, and the same is true for every other candidate who’s bashing the EPA, which is what makes this particular silly-season so stupid. Such pandering tactics, foolish and insincere, may resonate with those who enjoy bashing government as evil, but in the end damage serious debate and defy common sense. Only the insane would advocate that it’s fine to poison babies.

The GOP says its argument is economic, but that’s nonsense. Nobody is against creating jobs, but workers need to be safe and the public protected from the unscrupulous. When industry and environmental regulation is weak, the greedy exploit opportunities; China’s job market is booming and it’s GNP is setting records, but at what cost? Most of the counterfeit pharmaceuticals reaching American consumers, and there are a lot of them, come from poorly regulated China.

When Rachel Carson wrote her ground-breaking 1962 book “Silent Spring” revealing that the pesticide DDT was killing bird populations and persists in the environment for many years, it was a wake up call. I remember my mother “fogging” our screened-in porch with DDT while we kids, shrouded in mist, hooted and hollered with excitement. My mother did not know about the danger, nobody did. Thank goodness that some years later Nixon created the EPA and shame on the GOP for making it their whipping boy.

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