On this day in 1977, President Jimmy Carter signed the legislation that created the United States Department of Energy. It’s primary focus is on nuclear power — both for energy and military uses. But it also does a little environmental work. In general, conservatives don’t like it. I think it is as simple as this: as an organization, it is focused on safety. And conservatives like to think of themselves as the romantic heroes of westerns who never have to plan and can figure out a solution at the last minute.
In 2012, Rick Perry was responsible for the best moment of the presidential campaign. He said, “Let me tell you, it’s three agencies that are gone when I get there. Commerce, Education, and the um, what’s the third one there?” After some proctoring from his fellow debaters, he admitted that he couldn’t remember it. Then he said, “Oops!” That was actually pretty charming, if you ask me. But his advisers — who must have been going crazy while watching the debate — explained that the third thing was the Department of Energy.
I suspect that the real reason that Perry couldn’t remember Energy is because he’s not clear on why he wants to get rid of it. People have a vague idea that it is focused on the environment. I’ve even heard people wonder why we need the Department of Energy when we have the EPA. The truth is that Energy is much more a department that conservatives ought to support. It is, after all, the department that monitors all our existing nuclear weapons and makes sure that they are in proper working order. We don’t want to get in World War III with Russia without the Department of Energy doing its job!
What the whole thing shows is that the modern Republican Party is all about rhetoric. They want to get rid of this or that — not because they don’t like what it does, but rather because it sounds good. The Republican Party isn’t just post-policy — it is post governing. And I really fear that sometime soon — perhaps in a year and a half — we will have some idiot in the White House who does things because it makes him look tough. But then, I guess we’ve already been through that — one, twice, three times.
But happy anniversary Department of Energy!