Friday, December 21, 2007

Pap for the stump

One durable Republican staple is the alleged commitment to "small government." I've heard this repeatedly during the GOP presidential debates. The candidates declare that the feds should butt out, that "one size fits all" policies enacted by Washington would burden the states. On everything from guns to abortion, the GOP politicians say that states should be allowed to come up with solutions that reflect the will of their own people. This is supposed to be a cornerstone of the conservative ethos.

But it's really just pap for the stump. In reality, and for a fresh insight into contemporary Republican hypocrisy, let us behold (yet again) the Bush administration in action.

A couple days ago, the Bush team - acting through the Environmental Protection Agency, in violation of the law that created the EPA, and in defiance of federal court rulings - decreed that the state of California, and 16 other states, would not be permitted to act on their own to reduce global warming emissions from automobiles. The EPA explained that it favors a "national solution" (i.e. one size fits all), over what it calls "a confusing patchwork of state rules."

The catch, of course, is that the EPA - once considered a protector of the environment, before the Bush team go ahold of it - has no interest in a "national solution" to cut the carbon-dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming. The Bush EPA fought the idea for years, claiming that the 1970 Clean Air Act failed to specify carbon dioxide as a pollutant. They haven't budged in that belief, even though, back on April 2 of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the '70 law gave the Bush EPA plenty of authority to regulate those emissions.

There's another key feature of that '70 law (which created the EPA, and which was signed by Republican President Richard Nixon): It allows states to set their own clean air standards in the absence of federal action, as long as the feds give their permission in the form of waivers. Over the past four decades, California has sought 50 waivers from the feds, and it has received 50 waivers. Until now. The EPA administrator’s Wednesday ruling overrode the advice of his own legal staff.

President Bush said yesterday that EPA chief Stephen Johnson made his decision entirely on his own. There are two ways we can react to that assertion. We can either believe that this president is telling the whole truth...or we can simply note the fact that auto industry executives, who were adamantly opposed to California’s initiative (and all California initiatives over the years), aired their complaints during October and November in a series of meetings with Vice President Cheney and high-ranking White House officials.

The White House and Johnson insist that the states' actions are unnecessary anyway, given the congressional passage this week of a new law that would set tougher fuel-mileage standards (while not tackling the global warming problem nearly as vigorously as the states have intended). Somehow the "one size fits all" federal argument has not been deemed persuasive by the states, because they are now determined to sue the Bush EPA.

The bottom line: The traditional conservative rhetoric about "small government" and "state's rights" bears no relation to how power is actually exercised by conservatives in Washington. Bush's 2000 stump rhetoric about "compassionate conservatism" is closer to the mark, as long as we recognize that it's the special interests - in this case, the auto industry - who are the beneficiaries of his compassion.


This week's Bill Clinton Award is hereby given to Mitt Romney.

For many months, Romney has been repeating a lie that he apparently has come to accept as the truth. Actually, it's a two-part lie. The first part is that his father, the late Michigan Gov. George Romney, marched in a civil rights demonstration with Martin Luther King. The '08 hopeful has said this a number of times, most recently last Sunday, on Meet the Press. The second part, which dates back to a 1978 interview, is that he, Mitt, marched along with his dad and King (in his own words, "My father and I marched with Martin Luther King Jr. through the streets of Detroit").

These fantasies are probably attempts to compensate for the Mormon church's history of racism, which persisted until 1978, when it finally lifted its ban on black members. What's most telling, however, is Romney's current attempts to defend his claim - now thoroughly refuted by documented reporting - that he "saw" his father march with King.

Remember, his father never did actually march with King, so he couldn't have seen it anyway. But here's how Romney explained it yesterday: "If you look at the literature, if you look at the dictionary, the term 'saw' includes being aware of in the sense I've described. It's a figure of speech and very familiar, and it's very common. And I saw my dad march with Martin Luther King. I did not see it with my own eyes, but I saw him in the sense of being aware of his participation in that great effort."

It's a figure of speech...or maybe it all depends on what the meaning of the word saw is.

No wonder this guy is having problems getting traction in the Republican race. GOP voters are looking for authenticity, not somebody who speaks in Clintonese.