"They hate us." A friend called to rant about the Bush administration. "I mean it," he said, sounding a tone of someone who means it. "They hate us. Not just our ideas. But us."
His subject: environmentalists. And I'm afraid he's right.
Anti-conservation has become a gangland vendetta by George W. Bush and those he entrusts to govern. I cannot see another way to explain the endless string of one-sided decisions and the dripping condescension with which they are delivered. Not much of anything - not reason, not science, not public opinion, not the future, not process and certainly not fellowship - stands in the way.
I will concede, as I have before, that environmentalists have done plenty to bring on their woes.
Yet that's no excuse for this. Not for the inflammatory, rub-their-noses-in-it statement offered recently in a court case brought by the Center for Biological Diversity. In a feather-brained brief, the administration argued that conservationists should consider the upside of bird deaths at a remote Navy live-fire range. "Bird-watchers get more enjoyment spotting a rare bird than they do spotting a common one." Besides, the government added, Navy bombardment keeps away people who might otherwise disturb the birds.
The fact is, conservation should be a consensus issue. It belongs in the center of our politics, high on our priorities list and very close to our hearts. The reason is self-evident. It is a test of values where the ideologies of liberals and conservatives converge, or ought to. The root word of "conservative" is "conserve," after all.
Instead? Conservation has become an extreme example of the polarizing, uncompromising, knee-jerk politics of Washington.
The administration has dismissed science on public-lands forestry, on wildlife and petroleum development and on water flows in salmon rivers. It has disregarded public outcries in defense of roadless areas and park protections and mining policy and, in California (though not Florida, for obvious brotherly reasons), on offshore oil drilling. It has ignored its own resource managers on snowmobiles in national parks and illegal hunting practices in the Rockies.
It has turned its back on global warming, shortchanged research and trivialized energy conservation. It has slammed and locked the door on those who represent an honorable and bipartisan movement in American society. Virtually every important conservation law that has guided 30 years of economic and environmental progress is now under attack.
Sadly, these are people who know better. The president and plenty of those surrounding him are firmly rooted in the land; it's no pose. They understand the human-nature connection. They draw strength and shelter and diversion and renewal from the outdoors.
So there is no logic to their policies except the logic of cultural warfare. To say that this administration is simply pro-business overlooks the fact that a large segment of American industry has invested heavily and for years in going green. No, this is wedge politics at its most destructive, dividing and weakening the nation. It bubbles up from the well of grudge, payback - the same shameful impulse that has been exploited to separate us by race, by gender, by heritage, by class.
That's it. Conservationists got too uppity. Slap 'em down. It's the old bugaboo that every social gain means someone's loss. "Environmentalist" has become a sneering epithet that encompasses urban effetes, hand-to-mouth back-country activists and ordinary workaday folks who object to 8-mile-a-gallon SUVs.
In short, they aren't another voice in our noisy democracy but an actual enemy. Who attacked the U.S. on 9-11? "Strong possibility" that it was the greens. So speculated Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, a Bush ally and vice chairman of the House Resources Committee.
Administration supporters will counter that ill will is not a one-way path. And that is true. Rancor begets the same. So environmentalists burn with fury. But no one elected the Sierra Club to govern. That is Bush's job. The Wilderness Society doesn't purport to bring us together. That was the president's promise.
Hate is a strong word. And we should hate that, in this case, it's the correct one.