Actions of MIT’s 15th president have ‘grown to inspire generations,’ Reif says.
Vice President Al Gore, in a speech at MIT Saturday night to the Society of Environmental journalists, excoriated the Republican Congress as "the most anti-environment Congress in the entire history of the United States of America."
The vice president, who has led the administration's counter-attack on Congressional proposals to cut back on environmental funding as part of its overall budget reductions, repeatedly used the word "extremist" to describe the Republican agenda.
Where once Americans were faced with taxation without representation, he said, "today what we're seeing in the Republican Congress is devastation with misrepresentation."
He said the budget "being put forward by the leadership would reverse 25 years of bipartisan progress. It would dismantle virtually everything we do to protect public health and the environment.
"And its agenda on the environment is an extremist agenda," he continued. "It is a radical and reckless agenda. It is a harmful agenda and it is an agenda that is completely out of tune with the desires and wishes and opinions of the American people."
Stating that the American people "support environmental protection overwhelmingly," Vice President Gore said "we are anxious to work in a bipartisan way where it is possible" because "protection of the environment historically has been a bipartisan action.
"But unfortunately that is now the exception," he added. "We Americans-Democrats, Republicans and Independents, liberals, moderates and conservatives-we Americans support protecting the environment. But when that message is delivered, it falls on deaf ears, and on closed doors, in this Congress."
As soon as the Republican party seized control of Congress, the vice president said, "they launched an all-out attack on America's ability to protect the environment" which includes deep cuts in the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency.
He said they did this for two reasons: "First, because many of their most powerful backers want to dump a lot more pollution in the environment and don't want to comply with the laws that protect the environment. And second, they talked themselves into an extremist ideological position that has convinced them that they don't need to protect the environment because somehow it can protect itself, healing itself from any insult."
However, he said, "their pollsters began flashing red lights and sounding alarm bells telling them they were about to fall off the edge of an environmental cliff on environmental issues," and urging them to use "craven election-year gimmicks" to convince the public they care about the environment.
A recent Republican memo, the vice president said, "makes not a single substantive" suggestion, but urges party members, "in order to build their credibility, [to] plant a tree, clean a park, start a task force, release a statement and, my personal favorite, establish a Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Award."
Their counterparts in the Senate then passed "another part of their extremist budget [which] will eliminate our ability, in Roosevelt's words, "to behave well and treat natural resources as assets," he said.
The Republican memo "and the approach it represents," Vice President Gore said, "is breeding ground for cynicism. It describes in some detail how elected officials can hoodwink their constituents to pretend they're in sync with public concerns for clean water, fresh air and sustainable land."They will not fool President Clinton, they will not fool environmental journalists, they will not fool the American people, and they will not fool their own moderates, including the few among them who have demonstrated the courage to stand up to this extremist agenda."
Mr. Gore, in what he termed an "incredible" development, also accused the Republican leadership of allowing lobbyists "for the biggest polluters in America" to "walk right into the halls of Congress." He claimed they were "given their own rooms just off the floors of Congress" and invited "to rewrite the environmental laws.
Aren't the laws supposed to written by elected officials and those directly accountable to them and through them to the American people?" he asked.
"Isn't it a disgrace in this land of the free and the home of the brave to have the polluters be given the authority to change the laws that affect them? Have we become so numb to the basic standards of decency and ethics and public service? .It is a disgrace. It is the auctioning off of self-government. It is the selling of democracy to the highest bidder, covered by public relations and gimmicks that they hope will be rolled out soon enough so that you won't see them as gimmicks.
"The tide is beginning to turn a little bit as these efforts are unmasked," the vice president said, claiming that the Republicans have begun to delay votes on some environmental issues because they are afraid they will lose.
In this regard, he challenged the Republicans to vote on these matters now.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 1, 1995.