My Introduction to Politics

After retiring from the Civil Service, where my political activity was restricted, I continued for some years to have only a limited interest in politics. Most of the professionals in that field seemed unimpressive, and some downright lacking in integrity.  So I chose to give little attention while they went on doing their thing.

That changed during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. For the first time it became clear to me just how much damage the politicians were doing to people’s lives and welfare.  I didn’t use such a sharp term as class warfare, but I saw a growing suppression of the middle class under the policies of Reagan and his Republican successors.

The labor unions were weakened. Sharp limitations were put on governmental benefits – through lids placed on the existing benefits, proposals for privatization, and sharp opposition against new benefits.  A combination of technological advances and forced gains in productivity managed to reduce available jobs and to cap the growth of wages beneath the growth of inflation. The previously strong influence of Corporate America in politics has been expanded enormously.

To me, these developments were directly related to our lingering economic problems involving unemployment, declining tax revenues, and growing national debt. The reduced purchasing power of the middle class reduced demand for domestic products and services, from which the other problems were spawned.

Since the 1970s, I have never voted Republican, because I realize that their policies are against my interests as a member of the middle class. Unfortunately, many of my class continued voting Republican because they supported that party’s “cultural warfare” on such issues as abortion, gay rights, tax reform, climate change, and immigration.  This was warfare in name only, but it was an effective bait for voters.  The groups under Republican attack have consistently gained ground.  Middle-class Republican supporters were not only deceived about the warfare, but they have also seen their own economic situation shrink under Republican policies.

Business interests have repeatedly claimed that the solution to our economic problems is to get government out of the way and to minimize labor costs. They say that only capital can create wealth. This gave rise to my first published political utterance, a letter to the editor titled Capital, Labor, and Government Create Wealth.  Writings such as this became easier once the feet were first wetted.  And so, over the following years, I wrote more letters as more issues came into view.  Only those letters that met the test of publication have been featured in this blog.

I believe these political issues are so serious that I cannot simply rest after voting. I feel a further need to apply my skills as best I can, and to date this has been through writing and publication.

Environment Work by Nixon later undone by Reagan

Columnist Carl Tate has on several occasions (including News Virginian, Apr 28, 2013) referred to President Nixon’s important contributions to the environmental cause – pushing for and signing into law the National Environmental Policy Act, creating the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and further landmark legislation including the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974.  These credits to Mr. Nixon are correct and welcome.

Tate has also commented that the environmental cause has advanced very little since Nixon.  Are we then to conclude that results of the environmental movement to date are solely a gift from the Republican Party?  Hardly.

The missing link is this: What Richard Nixon gave to the environmental cause, Ronald Reagan did much to take away. Some of his appointees have been widely recognized as major influences reversing Nixon’s environmental accomplishments.

I served under one of these appointees, Secretary of the Interior James G. Watt, as chief of the office of environmental affairs in the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and here I observed reversals of Nixon’s environmental accomplishments.

The USGS program to analyze environmental impacts of open-pit coal mining on the public lands was stopped in 1982 when Mr. Watt decided that, henceforth, such mining would be considered as having no significant environmental impact.

Earlier, the USGS furnished scientific information that narrowly averted completion of a nuclear reactor being built at Bodega Head, California, within a few hundred yards of the notorious San Andreas Fault, creator of major earthquakes. We began mapping a variety of geologic hazards (earthquakes, landslides, etc.) that deserved consideration in land-use planning. This stopped in 1982, when Deputy Assistant Secretary William Perry Pendley informed us that the Department did not want Washington bureaucrats to be involved in land-use decisions; the decisions should be based solely on free-market forces.

Within Mr. Reagan’s still-popular policies, we should be aware that this negative environmental stance continues to deter recovery and progress in the cause that Mr. Nixon aided.

(The above was published March 1, 2014, in the Waynesboro VA News Virginian, as a Letter to the Editor.)