Nothing but a load of carp from the GOP

Posted: December 29, 2009

The fish must have a lot of money and really good lobbyists. As a result, they've convinced a number of politicians that healthy fish are more important than healthy people.

That's the only conclusion I can reach to explain the current response by the Great Lakes congressional delegation to the impending invasion of Asian carp.

They are coming, no doubt about it, and bringing their insatiable hunger with them. They have moved up the waterways of the Mississippi Valley and are now poised to enter Lake Michigan. Once they do that, they will pretty much eat everything in it. The indigenous fish - and the fishing industry that depends on them - don't stand a chance. Once in the Great Lakes, if current estimates are correct, the fish will eat Cleveland by 2015.

In the face of this threat, roughly 50 members of Congress who have a stake in the Great Lakes have demanded that the federal government spend tens of millions of dollars to keep the carp out of Lake Michigan.

Something should be done to stop these bottom feeders with bottomless appetites from taking over the Great Lakes, no question. And I applaud efforts to protect the ecosystem of our Great Lakes. But here's where I'm confused:

A number of these elected officials are Republicans - some have even cosponsored the Anti-Asian Carp legislation - and yet not a single one of them voted to support reforming our health-insurance system. Too expensive, some of them said; it isn't the job of the federal government to help people get health care, others said.

Yet here they are now, demanding, begging the federal government to do something to protect fish in the Great Lakes. Indeed, the inconsistency goes deeper.

As far as anyone can tell, Asian carp were brought into this country in the early 1970s by a private fish farmer in Arkansas. Thank goodness we didn't have any onerous regulation to prevent some guy in Arkansas from importing the most ravenous fish on the planet into the United States! The fish then did what fish do - they escaped the farm, headed for open water, and began eating their way all the way to Chicago.

So this is a problem created by the private sector, and yet these Great Lakes Republicans think the federal government ought to solve it. Shouldn't they be offering a market-based solution to this invasion? Like offering the carp a hefty tax break if they don't swim into Lake Michigan?

Further, the dire predictions about the havoc these Asian carp are going to cause are based on the same sort of environmental modeling and projection that Republicans dismiss when talking about climate change. So isn't the more effective response to the Asian carp to deny that they exist and then denounce anyone who claims they pose a threat? Better yet, shouldn't they convince their constituents that Asian carp were invented by Al Gore?

Give the Great Lakes fish credit. They have convinced these Republicans that they deserve federal protection and federal money, even while 50 million uninsured bipedal Americans have been unable to persuade those same Republicans that they need health insurance.

I don't begrudge the fish their success. Like I said, I think they deserve our help. The invasion of Asian carp wasn't their fault, after all. Of course, neither was the cancer that your uninsured neighbor got. Yet for these Republicans, however, the fish apparently matter more than your neighbor does.

Steven Conn is professor and director of public history at Ohio State University. He can be contacted at conn.23@osu.edu.

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