Chan Lowe: The root of all evil

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PITTSFIELD — There's been a lot of talk lately about the danger to the processes of democratic government; the increasing tribalism inside and outside the Beltway, and a rampaging brat in the White House smashing his way through the fragile china collection of political norms that have been built up over centuries. Yes, it's lamentable, but at least it's visible. If you want to know everything there is to know about politics in America, you don't need a degree in political science. All you have to do is heed the immortal words of Deep Throat uttered almost five decades ago in the shadows of a Washington parking garage: "Follow the money."

My favorite recent story is about former House Speaker John Boehner, who condemned marijuana legalization throughout his political career. Presumably, voters in his home district in Ohio preferred booze to weed as their intoxicant of choice (Boehner grew up working for his father in a saloon). Suddenly, after retiring, he did a 180 and began talking up legalization. Why? He'd joined the board of a medical marijuana production company. Lo, the scales had fallen from his eyes, and the medical benefits of reefer now far outweighed its dangers.

Boehner had come to the final act of the great American political cycle: He'd run for office and risen in the ranks to the speaker's position — not just for the power, but for the lobbying value of being ex-speaker. The big K Street firms don't hire ex-members of Congress for their scintillating personalities; they hire them because their buddies are still back in the chamber awaiting their turn for a piece of the pie, and besides, ex-congressmen retain floor privileges.

Personal gain trumps principle

Why should you care about how John Boehner makes his living now? Because it's emblematic of the way principle can be so easily trumped by the promise of personal gain (pun intended).

I lived in a small town in Oklahoma in the 1970s. Every once in a while, a God-awful stench would envelop the place for a day or two, a toxic vapor that made you think you were stuck on a highway behind an asphalt truck. An acquaintance of mine, an oil wildcatter with a brass belt buckle half the size of Wyoming that conveniently doubled as a bottle opener, used to joyfully suck the aroma into flared nostrils on such days. "That's the smell of money," he crowed.

We now have an EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, who used to be the attorney general of Oklahoma, and whose state campaigns were heavily supported by cronies in the "awl bidness," as the petroleum industry is colloquially known. At the time, he even sued the agency he now heads multiple times for its supposed over-regulation. Setting aside other evidence of Pruitt's alleged corruption and that of his colleagues in Mr. Trump's swamp of a cabinet, Mr. Pruitt is capable of doing a lot of damage for generations to come by dismantling the painstakingly assembled web of regulations designed to save us from ourselves, but that also happen to cost his friends money.

The fallacy of equal time

Climate change is accepted as settled fact just about everywhere in the world except this country. If there is controversy on the topic, it's partly due to the gullibility of an non-engaged public, but blame also rests with the media, whose rules have traditionally dictated that all views on a topic should be given equal time. In other words, if 99 scientists worry that Miami or Manhattan will cease to exist in a hundred years, then the petroleum industry will trot out a pet climatology expert, armed with his own sheaf of figures, who will deny it. When pressed, he will default to a position contending that human activity has nothing to do with it. The viewer's overall takeaway is that there is about a 50-50 ideological split on the issue. This, of course, makes foot-dragging on developing sustainable and alternative energy sources much more politically palatable, particularly when there are jobs at stake and campaign contributions to collect.

Job availability and campaign contributions will mean little to our great-grandchildren when those who are able to escape pandemics released by rising ambient temperatures cluster in Greenland, personal oxygen tanks in tow. They'll be too busy cursing us for not doing something about climate change when there was still a sliver of a chance its progression could have been halted (forget reversing it).

There's a passage attributed to Paul the Apostle with which most of us are familiar, but the more obscure second part bears repeating: "For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." What Paul didn't know was that those destined to be pierced with sorrows thanks to our love of money haven't even been born yet.

Chan Lowe is the deputy editorial page editor of The Eagle and a syndicated editorial cartoonist.


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