On this day in 1973, Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act. It has been of limited success. But it has been successful nonetheless. The biggest problem is that plants and animals are not going extinct primarily because of our direct abuse of them. They are mostly going extinct because of loss of habitat. And that is something we aren’t willing to do much about, even though the law says that we should stop species extinction “whatever the cost.”
There are two things that I find fascinating about the Endangered Species Act. The first is that there is just no way that it would ever pass today. I can’t find the roll call on the vote, but it had 8 sponsors, 3 of whom were Republicans. I know that today the Republicans would vote against it just because it was an environmental law. I don’t exactly understand it. It’s part of this image that conservatives have about themselves as being “hard” and “tough.” And so caring about the natural world is just something they are against. Indeed, Juliet Eilperin at The Washington Post reported, Since ’01, Guarding Species Is Harder. Throughout the 2000s, the Bush administration put up bureaucratic obstacles to limit the reach of the law. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the modern Republican Party is made up of a bunch of bastards.
The other interesting thing about the law has to do with Nixon. The normal way people describe him is to note that he was fairly liberal, but only because he didn’t really care about it. And it is true that Nixon’s focus was on international policy. But I think the man has to be given his due. Yes, what he did in Vietnam and thereabouts was terrible. But he did open up relations with China. And he really eased up on the Cold War.
But he didn’t just let domestic issues slide. In particular, he pushed for the Endangered Species Act. Other than being paranoid, I find it hard to think that he was a particularly bad president. And he was clearly head and shoulders above any of the Republicans who are now running for the office.