Saturday, September 12, 2009

They Want Big Brother Out of Their Drinking Water

I don't know whether the editors of the NY Times were acting out of a sense of irony, but I found arresting the juxtaposition of the following two stories on the front page (of the web version; in the print version there's a front-page photo for the first story):

1) A report on the rally of anti-government protesters concerned about the size of government;

and

2) A report on the widespread under-enforcement or non-enforcement of the Clean Water Act, to the clear detriment of public health.

I suppose it's possible that the protesters want cuts in government programs other than clean water enforcement, but I doubt it. Economic libertarians have long taken aim at environmental protection laws generally, and the EPA in particular, as examples of what they regard as government overreaching.

It's tempting to dismiss this latest protest as more of the same from a vocal but mostly marginal group. Yet the anti-government sentiment is pretty clearly the only opposition on offer from the right these days, and it is no longer a fringe phenomenon. Consider that during Wednesday's oral argument in the Hillary the Movie case, Chief Justice Roberts characterized the contention that government can limit campaign speech by corporations for the benefit of shareholders who don't support the messages promoted by the corporations as resting on the claim that "big brother has to protect shareholders from themselves."

Barney Frank rightly refused to engage with an anti-health care reform protester who carried a poster of President Obama with a Hitler mustache. But when the Chief Justice of the United States compares campaign finance regulation co-sponsored by John McCain to Orwellian totalitarianism, there is reason to think that the hyperbole has gone mainstream.

Posted by Mike Dorf