What strikes me most in JFK’s remarks during his visit to the city in September 1960 is this:
I think the President of the United States and the administration and the government and the state government and the city should join together in cleaning our polluted rivers. They are a great national asset. But if you are going to bring industry in here which is going to use fresh, clean water, they can’t use the river as it is today. The administration vetoed the distressed area bill; they have vetoed the polluted river bill last year.
It’s without question that if solely left to the Eisenhower administration, our river and many other polluted rivers, would likely be inhospitable to recreation or repurposing as we currently enjoy. Indeed, extending the Eisenhower platform that environmental issues are “uniquely local’, hard hit areas such as ours would face limited options to remediate the rivers given the magnitude of the issue and the limitations for localities to ably deal with them.
The point here is that when you hear the Rands and the Cruzes and their ilk who proudly proclaim and advocate for dismantling the EPA and other environmental policies in the name of “free markets” and against “socialism”, you see that we would fare much worse locally, and nationally.
I am quite sure that if today, we found ourselves on the banks of our polluted rivers, a vocal faction would rail against any initiative to address the issue and contemptuously sneer at those who would advocate for a vision that it need not be so.
I can hear it now: “Nobody wants to fish or canoe on a river. And don’t tell me people actually like to live or recreate by a river. We can’t afford it.” I think we all know the routine. I’m still not sure how keeping the river polluted would protect our seniors but I’m sure a case would be made: “What about our seniors who enjoy the colored hues of the dyes as they head downstream? We don’t want to take that from them”.
And undoubtedly, our local pundit class would come up with eight thousand and one more reasons why it would never work and why it is foolish to try all in the name of “protecting the taxpayers” and whatever demagoguery they can muster . No matter that time proves them wrong again and again as the economy and technology and society move on, while they stubbornly do not.
While the local river might be less polluted, the mindset against progress remains just as polluted 50 years later.
JFK would find it all hauntingly familiar.