The poisoning of Flint, Michigan, is a national disgrace — and some of the people reacting to it have been disgraceful. Here’s an abbreviated list, going from bad to worse:
5. Heather Nauert, a host on Fox News
The other day, she said that desperate Flint officials were trying to get help from the White House; in her mind, this was “an example of how political this is now getting.”
Gee. I never realized that it’s pejoratively “political” to take extraordinary steps to protect public health.
Anyway, the Foxette wasn’t done yet. After a reporter told her that the White House was starting to get involved, she sagely weighed in: “Well, this is a way they could potentially get more black votes in the coming election.”
Right. Because we all know that Democrats care more about ballots than the imperiled brains of little kids.
4. Bill Ballenger, a veteran Michigan Republican commentator
On the radio the other day, Ballenger, a former state legislator, said: “This has been a vastly overblown crisis …. It’s just a crock.” Because, in his estimation, the lead-laced water has only hurt “like, two to three percent of the population.”
The population of Flint is 100,000. So even if Ballenger’s math is correct (the guy is not a scientist), it means that he’s writing off 2,000 or 3,000 people as no big deal.
Anyway, he wasn’t done yet: “I live [in Flint] half the week. I’ve been drinking the water consistently without a filter all during this past two years … and I have no effect from drinking the water. I had my blood tested just yesterday, and I have no elevated blood-lead level.”
Good for him. Hey, if one adult Republican pundit feels fine, how can there be a crisis?
Thing is, the Flint fiasco is really about the kids — and the science of kids. According to the medical stats, the share of kids with dangerous lead levels in their blood has nearly doubled since ’14, when the city — in a state-ordered effort to save money — switched from Detroit water to the Flint River.
The World Health Organization says that lead is “particularly harmful to young children …. [It] affects children’s brain development, resulting in reduced intelligence quotient (IQ), behavioral changes such as shortening of attention span and increased antisocial behavior, and reduced educational attainment. Lead exposure also causes anemia, hypertension, renal impairment, immunotoxicity and toxicity to the reproductive organs. The neurological and behavioral effects of lead are believed to be irreversible.”
Hence the problem with Ballenger’s remarks: An anti-science mentality is hazardous to public health.
3. L. Brooks Patterson
It’s bad enough when a commentator spouts nonsense; it’s even worse when a prominent public official tries to give it credence.
Patterson is the elected leader in predominantly white Oakland County, a short car ride from predominantly minority Flint. At a luncheon the other day, Patterson cited Ballenger’s anecdotes (“he drinks the water, he showers in that water”) as evidence that the Flint crisis might be “a hoax,” and that it’s always important to consider “the other side” of the story. “Let’s wait and see what the facts show.”
Um, the scientific facts are already in. There is no “other side,” unless one believes that anti-science denial warrants equal status. Unless one believes in the doctrine of false equivalence.
And if he seems a tad dismissive about the plight of Flint, it should not be a surprise. Here’s what he said in ’14 about the people of Detroit: “What we’re gonna do is turn Detroit into an Indian reservation, where we herd all the Indians into the city, build a fence around it, and then throw in the blankets and corn.”
2. Dennis Muchmore, chief of staff to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder
In an email to his boss last September, when the crisis was at full boil, Muchmore crafted a phrase that will live long in the annals of government fecklessness:
“I can’t figure out why the state is responsible ….”
I dunno, maybe because the state — under a Snyder-appointed emergency manager — made the decision to use the Flint River as a cost-saving measure? Maybe because, even after the Flint City Council voted to go back to Detroit water, the Snyder-appointed manager said no dice?
By the way, the full quote from that email is even worse: “I can’t figure out why the state is responsible except that (state treasurer Andy) Dillon did make the ultimate decision so we’re not able to avoid the subject.”
Oh well, “we’re not able to avoid the subject.” Or, as Homer Simpson would say, “D’oh!”
1. Marco Rubio
Of all the candidates on the Republican trail this week, he had the most fully articulated remarks about Flint. But don’t expect too much: “That’s not an issue that right now we’ve been focused on….It’s just not an issue we’ve been quite frankly fully briefed or apprised of.”
There’s the party mentality in a nutshell. Since the woes of impoverished cities are rarely on Republican radar, why would briefers bother to “apprise” the candidates of a burgeoning health crisis?
Which basically explains the virtual silence in the GOP camp. Ben Carson made a passing remark the other day, Ted Cruz has assailed the Flint “travesty” and sent bottled water to expectant mothers at anti-abortion health centers, but that’s about it. Are you surprised? Matt Latimer, a lifelong conservative Republican and former George W. Bush speechwriter is not surprised:
“The truth is that Flint, where 40 percent of residents live below the poverty level, was never on the Republican agenda. Even now, when thousands of children subsist in a city that is toxic, this remains true …. Why haven’t they been here over the decades, running serious candidates, supporting federal aid for the city, championing pilot projects that might show what a conservative approach to urban areas might do? …. I think it’s because they are used to staying away …. I don’t believe it’s impossible for conservatives to help a place like Flint. But first you have to show up.”
By the way, here’s a bonus fun fact: In the spirit of fiscal austerity, the Republican governor’s emergency manager switched Flint’s water because, over two years, it would save $5 million.
Care to guess the salary of Jim Harbaugh, the University of Michigan football coach? What he pulls down, over two years, in public money? $14 million.
Our society is defined by the choices we make. Just saying.