7/19/11

The Dim Bulbs of Congress

A new GOP trademark?

There are ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and against global terrorism. The budget runs out on August 2, and unemployment stands at nearly 10 percent. If you believe rightwing pundits, presidential hopeful Michele Bachman, and dim Republicans in Congress, though, the most pressing issue of our times is the right to buy energy-inefficient light bulbs.

In case you’re one of those Americans (God bless you!) who doesn’t fall pretty to what journalist Susan Jacoby astutely calls the “culture of distraction,” the GOP is trying to generate resource-depleting heat over the end-of-the-year ban of the sale of incandescent light bulbs; a 2007 law mandates that these will be withdrawn from the market and replaced by halogen or compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) that use less energy--generally about one-third less. To red-meat Republicans this isn’t an environmental bill; it’s just another needless government intrusion in our lives. Even worse, they argue, it’s a liberal-led plot to create the Big Brother State and destroy American liberty. Every Republican in the House voted to repeal the 2007 law. (It passed 233-193, far short of the two-thirds needed to override a veto.)

We have often railed against the culture of stupidity on this blog, but the light bulb kerfuffle takes us into deeper realms of darkness. As it so happens, we had an energy audit done on our home just before Bad Bulb Bachman went on her rant. We replaced all the incandescents left in our home, and the energy savings are real, not liberal fantasies. Every four bulbs you replace saves an average of $25 per year, even when one factors in the higher costs of CFCs. The payoff time for a CFC is just nine months and they last, on average, six to eight times longer than incandescent bulbs. Yes, they contain mercury, which is why you have to recycle them, not dump them in the trash. But I suppose recycling is another government intrusion.

GOP antigovernment rants have long crossed the border between cautionary and paranoiac. They’re also philosophically and politically unsound. Antigovernment activists (be they libertarians or anarchists) constantly confuse liberty, the freedom to move between socially sanctioned constraints, with libertinism, the right to do as one wishes without external controls. Rightwing libertines would--except in cases involving their own agenda--set individuals adrift in a Social Darwinian society in which the only rule is the right to do whatever the hell they want. Civil society doesn’t work that way. One of government’s roles is to “promote the public welfare.” (Look it up; it’s in theConstitution the Right references but never reads.) This is why, in recent history, we have passed things such as the Clean Air and the Clean Water Acts, both of which many Republicans wish to overturn. Promoting the general welfare is why we have criminal laws and civil statutes such as speed limits, food inspection, and building codes. Yes, sometimes the general welfare makes us do things we don’t wish to do, like stick a catalytic converter on our car or not smoke in public, but you might have noticed that none of the Doomsday scenarios predicted by ranters ever seem to materialize. (In our town, restaurant profits went up when smoking disappeared.)

I’d like to know what sort of logic says that government can’t mandate a consumer preference--which it does all the time through dozens of federal laws--but that it should take away a woman’s right to control her own body, forbid gay marriage, or impose school prayer. I’d also like to know why it’s all right for consumer choice to be abridged by private industry, but not government fiat. Did you vote on the decision of cable companies to dump analog in favor of digital, thereby rendering your faithful old Zenith incapable of receiving TV signals and necessitating the purchase of an expensive flat screen set? Were you in on the plan to replace self-maintained windup watches with those using batteries that only a jeweler can replace? Have you cast a ballot over the price of heating oil? Interest rates? And don’t give us that free-market dollar-vote nonsense, or we’ll invite you to cast that dollar vote and sit in the dark if you don’t like CFCs.

The discussion over light bulbs is so stupid that it’s a shame to waste 760 words on it. The only serious question it raises is whether there are any adults left in Republican Party leadership ranks. From where we sit, it looks like the party is controlled by burnt-out ten-watt incandescents.

1 comment:

Peter T said...

I would say the opposite:

It is precisely because light bulb use should not be a matter for Government concern,
that people should be able to use what bulbs they want ;-)

The ban arguments don't hold up for reasons referenced
The deception of ban supporting arguments

No one wants energy waste,
but light bulb regulations are irrelevant in dealing with it, as seen...