Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr/CC BY
Out of all the GOP presidential contenders, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann have been snagging the limelight in green circles lately -- the former for saying he wants a "moratorium" on all regulations, the latter for calling to dismantle the EPA. And both for publicly stating that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by data-manipulating scientists. These are some crazy scary ideas -- but neither of them have anything on Ron Paul. Wait a minute, now. Ron Paul is supposed to be the cool one, right? The perennial underdog who bloggers and young folks respect even if they disagree with his policy ideas: He's a libertarian, man, and he holds true to his ideals -- even when that doesn't fit with the GOP party line. Well, that would be cool, if it were actually the case.
See, it turns out that he's not much of an ideological libertarian after all. Matt Yglesias recently combed his website to parse his policy positions, and he found some weird stuff -- like, Ron Paul is advocating for policies that would make it a criminal offense for women to get abortions. That's about the most un-libertarian thing imaginable (libertarians being obsessed with getting the state out of our private lives and all). He also wants to abolish birthright citizenship -- I guess the 'freedom' he's fighting for is available only to those privileged enough to have been born to families that emigrated here many generations ago, not just one generation ago.
But where he does actually feel like embracing libertarian principles, he's liable to go all in. Take, for example, his policy agenda for the environment:
- Remove restrictions on drilling, so companies can tap into the vast amount of oil we have here at home.
- Repeal the federal tax on gasoline. Eliminating the federal gas tax would result in an 18 cents savings per gallon for American consumers.
- Lift government roadblocks to the use of coal and nuclear power.
- Eliminate the ineffective EPA. Polluters should answer directly to property owners in court for the damages they create - not to Washington.
This is some pretty insane stuff -- and remember, he's also on the record joining the far-right chorus in saying that climate change is nothing but a hoax. Then there's the standard dumb line about abolishing the gas tax: where does he think our roads and infrastructure will come from if we eliminate the only reliable source of funding for them? It's a classic problem that no libertarian has really answered adequately in modern times: Who builds the roads if not the government? Our prospering auto industry? Toll-road entrepreneurs?
Crazier still: Paul truly believes that there should be no environmental protections at all. He's totally vague about how his system would work, but he's implying that anyone who suffers personal or property damage from pollution should just sue the company responsible. This kind of maybe makes sense if Corporation X dumps toxic sludge on your lawn -- you sue them to recoup the expenses of cleaning it up.
But for 95% of the everyday problems the average American faces due to pollution, it's a ridiculous idea. We get sick from breathing air laden with emissions from coal plants, from particulate pollution from car exhaust, or drinking water that was contaminated by the discharge from a factory upstream -- and determining who specifically was at fault for a given case of respiratory illness wouldn't just be a logistical nightmare but a near-impossibility. Air pollution especially has been shown to be harmful to our health over great distances. Factor in the inherent advantages major corporations have -- namely, money and political influence -- and you're ripe for a situation where the public loses out big time.
So, for a frame of reference, observably crazy Rick Perry just wants to put a moratorium on new regulations, not abolish all of the altogether. Michele Bachmann has said she wants to topple the EPA, but if you read the fine print, the full quote is as follows: "I guarantee you the E.P.A. will have doors locked and lights turned off, and they will only be about conservation."
This is clearly in contention in our environmental crazy-off, but it loses out for being less of a view and more of a talking point. She clearly doesn't really understand what the EPA does (just that its regulations 'kill jobs') -- conservation is more influenced by the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management or the Fish & Wildlife Service. If Bachmann were elected, the EPA would probably still regulate air and water pollution -- it'd just be neutered in newer pursuits like greenhouse gas or mercury emissions regulation. Which is why I'd argue that while Bachmann is the nuttier candidate, Paul's idea is actually scarier -- eliminating environmental protections is actually something he'd work to advocate for in accordance to his free market principals. It's, like, a real idea, not just a bogeyman to conjure in stump speeches.
So yes, it's cool that Ron Paul opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghantisan -- that did take some real guts, and it's the main reason that he continues to be awarded this weird sort of quasi-countercultural cache. But the fact remains -- his policy positions, especially on the environmental front, kind of scare the crap out of me.
More on the GOP & the Environment
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GOP has Voted 110 Times to Block Efforts to Protect the Environment
The GOP's " Environmental Wish List" is Horrifying