May 18, 2011

Bobby Schilling forum sounded like tea party rally

I only caught the tail end of a public forum hosted by freshman Congressman Bobby Schilling. A screening of The Billionaires' Tea Party was the same night, so after the movie, I rushed over for the last 10 minutes of Schilling's forum.

It felt like the movie never stopped. Hearing Schilling was no different than clips of speakers at tea party rallies. Except that Schilling had a calm crowd of about 20 people, half of which were suit-and-tie clad staffers for various Republican politicians.

One audience member asked Schilling why he supports high speed-rail. Schilling responded that he doesn't favor it at this time because there's not enough money. He argued that Amtrak isn't profitable and that we should instead be spending money on bridge and highway projects.

That got a lively response from another audience member who asked if he opposed funding for a new Amtrak line from Chicago to Rock Island/Moline. Schilling became a little defensive and tried to engage the audience member in debate. "So, you're an Amtrak supporter? Why do you think we need it?"

The guy in the audience said it's a good economic development opportunity for the Quad Cities and asked if Schilling really favored walking away from the investment that has already been made on the rail line. Just when things started to get interesting a staffer said they were out of time (7 minutes early) and cut off discussion. In any case, it's clear that Schilling opposes any new spending on passenger rail, despite the jobs and economic development benefits it would bring to the two largest communities in his district.

Since I didn't get the chance to ask a question I decided to introduce myself afterward. I let him know that I had recently moved into his district from John Shimkus' territory, and that I hope he won't join Shimkus on the lunatic fringe of anti-environmentalists.

He started to talk about climate change he told me that "for every scientist who says it's a problem, you'll find another who..." I think he trailed off because he could see I wasn't buying it. I responded that it was something more like 1 scientist who claims it isn't a man-made problem for every 1,000 who do. Although it may be more like 10,000 to 1. Even the few prominent skeptics have been backtracking lately.

He next claimed that he was probably more green than me. We didn't get into the specifics of what makes his house green but he did brag about driving a car that uses E-85 ethanol. I didn't bother to tell him that no one other than ADM still claims that corn-based ethanol is green. When I mentioned pollution from coal power plants he deflected by bringing up methane from cow farts.

I was hoping to have a new Congressman who could at least carry on a reasonable discussion about environmental issues. It's not looking good.

Maybe he'll come around. For now, he sounds like he'll join Shimkus on the climate-denier fringe. A recent USA Today editorial put those who still deny the scientific evidence of the climate crisis, "in the same position as the "birthers," who continue to challenge President Obama's American citizenship — a vocal minority that refuses to accept overwhelming evidence."

I guess that's what makes the tea party so fascinating and frightening. Whether it's Obama's birth certificate, climate change science, or the imagined government takeover of health care, we have a very vocal group who holds onto irrational beliefs which cannot be swayed by any amount of evidence. How on earth do you deal with that, especially when news organizations give them nearly unlimited, uncritical coverage?