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Tea’d Off! Why the Baggers’ Grassroots Aren’t Green

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It’s not known if the Tea Party will ever be identified by one color, the way our two dominant political parties are. With red and blue already taken, it’s tempting to guess that the Tea Party would embrace – well, white. In any case, it won’t be green. Consider a February 4 New York Times piece, which spells out the tireless campaign waged by the movement against any legislation tilting toward a sustainable environment. Some of the laws vehemently contested include:

  • A Virginia “county’s paying $1,200 in dues to a nonprofit that consults on sustainability issues.”
  • A Maine public works project designed to ease highway congestion.
  • A high-speed train network for Florida.

The reason for Tea Party opposition to these seemingly uncontroversial undertakings is a deep suspicion of an obscure and nonbinding United Nations resolution passed in 1992. “Agenda 21” encouraged energy and land conservation but is now pointed to as the secret template by which the Obama administration seeks to enslave every American. Even such seemingly innocuous local initiatives as proposed bike lanes or smart meters for utilities set off alarms about European-style government intervention – or worse. Because of this, Tea Party members only smell Camembert and Shari’a law whenever a green ordinance is placed on a town council’s agenda.

The GOP has lustily embraced the tea baggers’ war against U.N. perfidy – going so far as to announce that “[T]he United Nations Agenda 21 plan of radical so-called ‘sustainable development’ views the American way of life of private property ownership, single family homes, private car ownership and individual travel choices, and privately owned farms; all as destructive to the environment.” Donald Cohen, of the Cry Wolf Project and Frying Pan News, has recently written about the united front formed by the Tea and Republican parties to battle one of the most sinister threats to privacy and liberty – the energy-efficient light bulb.

There has always been a segment of the citizenry that scares itself silly while telling political ghost stories around the campfire. To them, current events are the spawn of hidden histories or secret conspiracies. Half a century ago the fluoridation of drinking water was held to be a Communist plot, along with gun registration and, of course, the U.N. These fears sometimes found their way into mainstream political discourse, creating a white-water current of paranoia that runs through some policy debates.

That craziness has never died down – in fact, it became the foundation on which more craziness has been poured in succeeding decades. Tax deniers, for example, have tried to base legal defenses on the so-called “missing” Thirteenth Amendment, appeals to admiralty law or assertions of personal sovereignty. Historical revisionism, black helicopter sightings and talk-radio chatter about conspiracies have irrigated the political fringes for years until they have reached the taproot of mainstream conservatism. This might help explain today’s atmosphere in which many people believe that President Obama was born in Africa, evolution is a lie and climate change is a monstrous fraud.

This would all be macabrely funny if it didn’t affect those of us who simply believe in clean air and water. According to the Times piece, written by Leslie Kaufman and Kate Zernike, “more than a dozen cities, towns and counties, under new pressure, have cut off financing for a program that offers expertise on how to measure and cut carbon emissions.”

By treating environmental protections as existential threats to American liberty, Tea Partyers are helping to degrade everyone’s water and air. Not only that, but Kaufman and Zernike report that Tea Partyers in California and elsewhere are opposing urban density plans designed around public transportation stations – meaning badly needed jobs vanish from consideration every time a public works project is shouted down.

In some ways the new Tea Party war against environmental improvements mirrors the party’s war against the White House’s health care reform law. And this irrational fight also confirms journalist Thomas Frank’s observation that powerful interests have manipulated Americans into fearing and hating the very same government initiatives that could benefit them the most. At the rate the political conversation is being pulled toward the padded walls of extremism, today’s fantasies might soon be accepted as conventional wisdom by many. It wouldn’t be surprising if, when Obama leaves office, a sizable number of people will claim he was never even born – or that the proposed pocket park they helped kill was just the One World Order’s playground.

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