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Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress

Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress

5.0 1
by Carl Pope, Paul Rauber

Published in cloth in 2004, Strategic Ignorance revealed to countless readers the true scope of the Bush administration's assault on the environment. Midway through the second Bush term, with a Supreme Court far less likely to rein in the "wrecking crew"—as the authors describe those working to dismantle environmental protections—this book will be


Published in cloth in 2004, Strategic Ignorance revealed to countless readers the true scope of the Bush administration's assault on the environment. Midway through the second Bush term, with a Supreme Court far less likely to rein in the "wrecking crew"—as the authors describe those working to dismantle environmental protections—this book will be even more important and useful.
Strategic Ignorance sets forth not only the shocking Bush record but the stories and strategies behind it. Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope and coauthor Paul Rauber brief us on the key administration figures, as well as legislators and lobbyists on the reactionary right, who strive to gut landmark laws; facilitate payback to polluters; distort, suppress, or ignore science; and invent soothing flimflam like "Clear Skies." The authors were prescient in predicting Bush's repeal of the Roadless Rule, the censoring of evidence on global warming, and the stonewalling on mercury emissions. They also foresaw the backlash now building: Congress rebelling against the EPA's "sewage blending" ploy, local opposition to coal-bed methane mining in the West, and resurgent environmental support at the polls.
Strategic Ignorance remains the indispensable guide to the Bush team's motives and tactics—and to how we can best oppose them to safeguard America's citizens, landscapes, and resources.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Americans ought to be madder than they are about the Bush administration's environmental deceit: that's the not-surprising core message of this detailed book, coauthored by Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, and Sierra magazine editor Rauber. That citizens aren't appalled and outraged in greater measure, they write, is thanks to what they cast as the slick rhetoric, obfuscated facts, deliberate disinformation and Orwellian way with words of Bush and his pro-growth cohorts (a Clean Air Act that adds to pollution, a Healthy Forest Initiative that encourages both more logging and more forest fires). In impassioned broad strokes, Pope and Rauber report that Bush and his environment-unfriendly cabinet (Interior, Energy, Agriculture and EPA, in particular but not exclusively) have stripped 235 million wilderness acres of protection from logging and mining interests; funneled billions of dollars in subsidies to giant agribusinesses; rewritten scientific reports to excise unwelcome findings on global warming; defunded Superfund cleanup of hundreds of toxic waste dumps; given near carte blanche to polluting industries to self-regulate; and even lied about the quality of Manhattan's air in the days after September 11. But the real energy of the book comes from its accumulation of small facts to paint the picture-of obsessive secrecy, crony capitalism and (or so the authors claim) the administration's conscious, unabashed commitment to the economic exploitation of the air America breathes, the water it drinks and the earth it walks on. (May) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Pope, current executive director of the Sierra Club, and Rauber, a senior editor at Sierra magazine, argue that the Bush administration's deconstruction of environmental progress is not unintentional. They suggest that a philosophy espousing the economic exploitation of natural resources is at work and that industries and corporations interested in such exploitation sustain the Bush administration. Documented examples show how and why laws have been rolled back, pollution suits dropped, and key agency positions awarded to like-minded thinkers. Perhaps more frightening is the argument that this administration endorses economic growth at all environmental costs and assumes that the public does not know or even need to know what is best for the country. More than a litany of environmental abuses, this is an able demonstration of the robber-baron philosophy at work. One might suspect that a Sierra Club book would be biased, but its arguments are well supported and logically presented, with few editorial asides or coaching. Highly recommended. [See also Robert Devine's scathing Bush vs. the Environment, LJ 6/1/04.-Ed.]-Nancy Moeckel, Miami Univ. Libs., Oxford, OH Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Sierra Club Books
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6.25(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Strategic Ignorance

Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress
By Carl Pope Paul Rauber

The University of California Press

Copyright © 2004 Carl Pope and Paul Rauber
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-57805-125-8

Chapter One

Red in Tooth and Claw

A Compassionate Conservative Joins the Ruthless Right

Most Americans know that George W. Bush is not an environmentalist. Unlike more than 70 percent of the American public, he cannot bring himself to use the "e" word to describe himself. (Even Vice President Dick Cheney thinks of himself as "a pretty good environmentalist, though the Sierra Club may not agree with that.") In truth most Americans do not trust Republican politicians on the environment, and they certainly do not trust oilmen. Bush is both. His polling numbers on protecting clean air, water and wild places have remained consistently poor.

But few Americans realize that there is more to it than bad instincts on endangered species or a desire to help out his oil buddies. In fact, Bush has done his best, in only three years, to break our national compact on environmental progress and turn the clock back-not years or decades but a full century. That people have not been paying close attention is not suprising, given the shock of September 11, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and declining mass media coverage of domesticissues like the environment. People may be aware that Bush is easing air pollution rules for industry, that he is allowing excessive logging, and that he is too cozy with the oil and coal industries. But how many Americans are aware that the Bush adminstration has, just for a start:

Approved a plan that would greatly increase the amount of toxic mercury in America's air, allowing more than four times as much as allowed by current law;

Freed the nation's 51 dirtiest power plants from having to install readily available pollution controls, which could prevent 80,000 to 120,000 asthma attacks a year;

Filled regulatory agencies with lobbyists and executives from the very industries they are now regulating, and suppressed scientific findings by those agencies that ran counter to the administration's aims;

Shifted the economic burden of cleaning up toxic waste dumps from polluters to their victims;

Cut by more than a third, for regulatory purposes, the value of a human life-the dollar value used to calculate how much it is worth to protect people from the impact of industrial processes; and

Stripped environmental protections from one-tenth of our nation's surface area.

It is easy, in this cynical age, to chalk it all up to greed. Bush wants campaign contributions, and polluters write the checks. Americans easily connect these dots-campaign money from the oil industry means a government that sides with oil companies. When timber companies give the Bush campaign an unprecendented $1 million, our national forests are more likely to end up as two-by-fours than refuges for endangered species. When the vice president, the deputy interior secretary, and scores of other government officials have made bundles working and lobbying for oil, mining and timber interests prior to their government service-and sometimes during it-few are shocked when official actions happen to profit the friends of political appointees and grease the officials' own future careers.

Yet greed alone cannot explain the depth and breadth of the current assault on the environment. Something of this magnitude can only be accomplished by people in the grip of an ideological fervor. This is what the American people do not know: the Bush administration is full of influential officials who believe-from the bottom of their hearts, not just their wallets-that weaker laws on clean air, less funding to clean toxic waste dumps, and national parks and forests run for private profit are actually good for the country.

Americans, the Bush team believes, have become soft. They expect too much safety, and a free lunch besides. If people want to hike in the wilderness, they should be willing to pay for it. If people object to the pollution where they live, they can buy an air purifier, or move. And if some kids get cancer from old toxic waste dumps, that is the price of living in a rich, brawny, big-shouldered, free country.

Most Americans thought we had banished this robber-baron philosophy a long time ago. But Bush and his inner circle have broken with a century of American tradition and public faith about how we fit into the world. In their view, America went wrong when turn-of-the-century Republican President Theodore Roosevelt-whom some of them call "the patron saint of land grabs"-first committed the country to a national ethic of conserving and protecting our natural heritage. "The conservation of our natural resources and their proper use," TR once declared, "constitute the fundamental problem which underlies almost every other problem of our national life." Presidents as diverse as Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush have embraced TR's legacy; the current president seeks to dismantle it.

If we want to rescue our nation's environmental legacy from an administration determined to squander it, just knowing that a threat exists is not enough. We hear that nearly every Friday afternoon, when (usually too late to make the evening news) a bland White House announcement informs us that another piece of the environmental safety net has been shredded. More than this, we need to understand why Bush wants to undermine a history of progress most Americans are proud of-and why he believes he can get away with putting our health and heritage at risk. In order to put up an effective defense, we need a clear view of the attackers' strategy, which is what this book endeavors to give.

A Conneticut Texan in the White House

The Bush presidency did not start out looking like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre meets Bambi. As governor, Bush had developed a reputation as a conventional, likable, not-too-energetic Texas Republican. He was conservative because Texas was. As an oilman he was predictably hostile toward environmental standards, but he had gotten along pretty well with Democrats in the Texas legislature. He proved adept at developing good relationships with the Hispanic community, something his fellow Republicans envied. His father, George H.W. Bush, had not lived up to his promise to be "the environmental president" but had moderated some of Ronald Reagan's more egregious anti-environmental stands-and most people surmised that the apple had not fallen far from the tree.

There were differences, however, mostly having to do with George W.'s adopted home state. Texas has always been distrustful of government, and Governor Bush's approach to most problems was a vaguely compassionate attitude coupled with governmental passivity, reliance on private solutions, and total faith in the power of the market. Voluntary air pollution controls, privatized and pauperized state parks, and a hands-off approach to enforcement of clean water standards were how this attitude played out in the real world.

Texas's environmental policies are far from the current American mainstream. While other states are actively setting aside open space-often backed by voter-authorized financing-Texas under Bush did not add a single acre of new state parks, even though it ranked almost last in the nation in parkland per capita and was enjoying some of the largest budget surpluses in its history. Instead, Bush proposed to balance the state park system's budget by leasing some of its crown jewels to private developers for exclusive, high-priced resorts. During Bush's term, Texas also had one of the worst enforcement records for clean air and clean water of any state. Even the good old boys who fished for bass on Lake Sam Rayburn had to turn to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to stop Bush from allowing a paper mill to dump its untreated effluent into the lake.

But for a Texan Republican, Bush could have been scarier. He was a far cry, at least, from House whip Tom DeLay, the former pest exterminator known, for intimidation skills, as "the Hammer." Nor did Bush have the harsh, cutthroat quality of Senator Phil Gramm. So when he ran as a "compassionate conservative," most observers nodded approvingly. At worst, they assumed, the compassion was a shallow facade concealing a conventional, probusiness Republican.

Some, like Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, saw in Bush a new fusion between corporate conservatism and the traditionalist Republican strand of conservatism that emphasized community and virtue over profit and riches. Bush, Dionne initially rhapsodized, "like the traditionalists, understands that most people do not draw meaning from the marketplace alone, and that the marketplace is not the sole or most important virtue.... [T]he market's cool calculations should be tempered not so much by the state as by those havens in a heartless world-family, church and neighborhood."

Compassionate conservatism, however, quickly faded from view. As president, Bush continued to invoke family, church, and neighborhood at every opportunity, but his administration poisoned the family's air, trashed the Creation, and sold out neighborhoods to corporate contributors. America had fallen for the old bait-and-switch-and is still learning the nature of the switch.

"Morning in America" Turns Dark

While George Bush was practicing his genial laissez-faire in Texas government, the Republican Party was changing in fundamental ways. A harsh, bitter virus had infected the American right and spread to the GOP.

When Reagan took office in 1980, American conservatism was a blend of three strands. Libertarians worshipped Ayn Rands's altar of fierce individualism, scorning government as an infringement on their personal freedom. Traditionalists emphasized values and respect for established cultural patterns, faiths, and communities. (George H.W. Bush was an archetypal example.) These two strands came together in the 1950s and 1960s in "fusionism," the conservatism that took over the Republican Party, propelling first Barry Goldwater and then Reagan into national politics.

The third strand of conservatism paid the bills. The corporatist right believed that the purpose of government was to support business and those who controlled business. Like libertarians, its adherents were essentially anti-government, but, like traditionalists, they were enamored of hierarchy and order.

For years both traditionalists and libertarians tried to separate themselves from the corporatist moneymen, claiming to reject the mindless worship of material success and corporate power. "Conservatism is something more than mere solicitude for tidy incomes," thundered Russell Kirk, one of Goldwater's traditionalist mentors, way back in 1954. "Economic self-interest is ridiculously inadequate to hold an economic system together, and even less adequate to preserve order." From the libertarian side, the Cato Institute's Jerry Taylor warned against conservatives shilling for "a society that chooses tangible wealth creation over preservation of ecosystems," and libertarian politicians like the former representative John Kasich of Ohio labored to eliminate government subsidies that amounted to corporate welfare.

By the 1990s, this proud claim of independence had become a joke. The right-wing corporations whose bank accounts had long funded the right called in their chits, and corporatism simply took over conservatism. Behind the new think tanks that gave the radical right its intellectual veneer were huge contributions from right-wing corporate titans like ExxonMobil, Gerneral Motors, and foundations associated with the Scaife and Koch families. The campaign contributions that fueled Republican victories in the Newt Gingrich-led 1994 takeover of Congress were richly endowed by reactionary corporations like Chevron, RJR Nabisco, and Peabody Coal. (A proud few conservatives decried the trend; Edward Luttwak of the Center for Strategic and International Studies warned his fellows, "Any conservative who wishes to conserve will not be funded."

Even with corporatism taking control, Goldwater and Reagan held fast to an optimistic, sunny vision of the world and the future, as in Reagan's 1984 promise of "morning in America." But following Bill Clinton's election in 1992, the sunshine turned to bile. President George H.W. Bush's defeat was as bitter a draught for the right as Al Gore's was for Democrats eight years later, with Ross Perot playing the spoiler role that Ralph Nader took on in the later election. The radical right felt itself cheated; its members did not believe that Clinton deserved to be president and never accepted his presidency. Out of power, fueled by revanchist rage, the darker strains of the conservative coalition gathered their forces. As cognitive linguist George Lakoff points out, the hard right came to embrace the morality of a strict father-one very, very disappointed with his children:

The world is a dangerous and difficult place.... The government becomes the strict father.... The citizens are children of two kinds: the mature disciplined, self-reliant ones who should not be meddled with and the whining, undisciplined, dependant ones who should never be coddled.... Without competition, people would not have to develop discipline and so would not become moral beings.

Different elements of the radical right coalition came to this worldview by different routes. For the Christian Coalition, it reflected the harsh, Old Testament fundamentalism heard from many of their pulpits. For foreign policy neoconservatives like Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, it stemmed from a belief that the world was a dark and dangerous place where institituions like NATO and the United Nations could never substitute for American military hegemony. For the Sagebrush Rebels of the Mountain West, paranoia was part of their sense of history as a struggle-whether against hostile Indians, threatening wilderness, or the Sierra Club lady down the road. For the corporatists, it was simply second nature.

The radicals' harshness was strategic as well. Gingrich demonstrated in 1994 how to use "wedge politics" to propel Republicans into a congressional majority. That election went down as "the year of the angry white male," and holding congressional power with Clinton still in the White House only made them angrier. Finally, blowing on the embers of low-level scandals, Clinton's enemies used the spark of Monica Lewinsky to ignite the conflagration that ended in an impeachment vote.

Clinton's disgrace was only half the battle, however; next came taking power. The angry men hardened by the impeachment battle coalesced around the governor of Texas, recognizing in Bush a figure who was unthreatening to most Americans but who quietly signaled to the radical right that he was a True Believer. Moreover, he had demonstrated the talent that all successful Republican presidential candidates since 1900 had relied on: the ability to raise corporate money, lots of it.

History and opportunity thus combined to strip American conservatism of the sunny optimism of Goldwater and Reagan, and led it to abandon even George H.W. Bush's promise of a "kinder, gentler America." The harsh new ethos that came to dominate the Bush administration was a modern variant of social Darwinism, the ideology of the nineteenth-century robber barons. Back then, Darwin's concept of "survival of the fittest" was misapplied to social and economic spheres, used to legitimize greed and make a virtue of cutthroat competition. Like anthrax spores, social Darwinism had lain dormant in the soil of American conservatism since Theodore Roosevelt routed it with his assaults on turn-of-the-century trusts and corporate robber barons. Now it burst into life again.

For social Darwinists, society as well as nature was divided into winners and losers, and the winners' triumph was accorded the inevitability of natural law. (A contemporary variant of "survival of the fittest" appeared on the bumpers of luxury cars in the 1990s: "He who dies with the most toys wins.") Lakoff sums up the notion: "Wordly success is an indicator of sufficient moral strength; lack of success suggests lack of sufficient discipline. Those who are not successfull should not be coddled; they should be forced to acquire self-discipline."

Channeling their (largely mythic) frontier heritage, the neo-social Darwinists drew careless analogies of their opponents as wild animals. Representative John Mice from Florida compared welfare recipients to alligators who get "unnatural feeding" from well-meaning humans; his Wyoming colleague Barbara Cubin compared them to the wolves reintroduced into Yellowstone, who would not leave their pens until they were hungry. In his frustration with the Endangered Species Act, California Representative Sonny Bono even proposed an Armageddon solution: "Give them [endangered species] all a designated area and then blow it up."


Excerpted from Strategic Ignorance by Carl Pope Paul Rauber Copyright © 2004 by Carl Pope and Paul Rauber . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

A veteran leader in the environmental movement, Carl Pope has been Executive Director of the Sierra Club since 1992. He has also served on the boards of the California League of Conservation Voters, Public Voice, the National Clean Air Coalition, California Common Cause, Public Interest Economics, Inc., and Zero Population Growth. Pope is the author of two previous books, Sahib: An American Misadventure in India (1971) and Hazardous Waste in America (1981). Paul Rauber is a senior editor at Sierra magazine. Pope and Rauber both live in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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