This weekend, I’m fortunate to be at the Phi Theta Kappa international convention in Grapevine, Texas. As the lead advisor for the chapter at my college, I headed down to the Lone Star State with 5 students on Thursday. Last night, environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. addressed the convention. The speech wasn’t particularly well-organized, but it was quite passionate and provocative. I want to start with my critical reactions to parts of it, and then move on to my positive responses in my next post.
RFK Jr. was mostly nonpartisan while being a tenacious advocate for his cause. Given that, you would expect that the Bush administration’s very pro-business environmental policies would get some flak. (RFK would say pro-exploitation and pro-polluter, and I’d agree in general.) But there were a couple times where he veered into broader indictments of the Bush Administration that went beyond the scope of the topic and seemed like they were based on simplistic logic. For example, he argued that the opening of natural resources to exploitation was part of the same moral breakdown that allowed for torture, wiretapping, and secret prisons. Also, in his mind, our wars in the Middle East are purely about oil. I was unhappy with Bush for all of those things, but I think that RFK painted with too broad a brush here (especially in the first case, where I really don’t see the underlying connection at all).
Secondly, if I may paint with a broad brush myself, it’s interesting how the Bush years seem to have become for liberals what the 1960s are for conservatives: the era where America lost its bearings. RFK told a story of when he went abroad as a boy and people were very pro-America, wanting American leadership. He also used the examples of Eisenhower’s trips to the Muslim world and the world’s sympathy after 9/11, and implied that the Bush Administration “bullied” rather than led. There’s certainly some truth to this narrative, in my opinion. But just as the idea of virtuous pre-1960s America falters on the reality of widespread de jure and de facto segregation, so the liberal mythology of Bush’s fall from grace whitewashes the follies of the past (think of the CIA-sponsored coups in Iran and Guatemala in the 1950s, for example).
Third, RFK made a foray into the spiritual side of his environmentalism. He attacked the idea that environmentalists worship nature, which is sometimes used to scare people into thinking that environmentalism means paganism. Instead, he argued that God speaks to us through his creation, echoing Paul in Romans 1. That was about as far as I could go with him, though. He argued that creation was the best way to know God, while traditionally-minded Christians would have to say that Christ and the Scriptures offer us clearer knowledge of God (to those better versed in theology than I: am I right on this one?). He also argued that great spiritual awakenings tended to happen in the wilderness, taking a liberal view of God’s revelation by citing the examples of Buddha, Muhammad, Moses, the Jews (in what I thought was a misreading of their punishment in the desert as cleansing after slavery), and Jesus. Although he did not show the grasp of world religions that he did on environmental matters, I actually enjoyed this part of it quite a bit. For me, there is something inherently compelling about hearing people talk about their sense of spirituality, even if it’s based on premises that I believe are false or faulty.
But whatever those faults, I would be extremely unfair to RFK if I didn’t emphasize that the great majority of his presentation focused on his area of expertise in environmental protection. I’ll discuss this in my next post.
Filed under: Environmental Issues | Tagged: American history, American liberalism, environment, liberal theology, politics, RFK Jr. | 2 Comments »