By David Loomis
INDIANA – Joe Pittman’s campaign mailers recall journalist H.L. Mencken covering the Scopes “monkey” trial in 1925. The sensational case, depicted in the film “Inherit the Wind” (1960), centered on Tennessee’s “anti-evolution law and the simian imbecility under it,” Mencken wrote in characteristically caustic style.
Similarly, Mr. Pittman, Republican candidate for state Senate in the 41st District (including Indiana County) in the May 21 special election, invokes the literal word of Genesis when he states in his campaign mailers, “Our God given natural resources are the driving force behind our economy.” Thus, Mr. Pittman says, he “will support the responsible production of coal and natural gas, which are so vital to a prosperous future for our region.”
Such campaign slogans are reminiscent of the judge in the Scopes trial, judging by Mencken’s description.
“The rustic judge, a candidate for re-election, has postured the yokels like a clown in a ten-cent side show, and almost every word he has uttered has been an undisguised appeal to their prejudices and superstitions,” the newsman wrote.
IN MR. PITTMAN’S CASE, his reference to creation is incomplete, and his economic analysis has little basis in data.
He cherry-picks Genesis, which reads, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Geology says otherwise.) A couple of Genesis verses later, light and sun are also divinely introduced. Ditto the wind, implicitly.
But those God-given resources are not included in Mr. Pittman’s delimited inventory. It’s a curious omission.
It is the renewable energy sources that represent the vitality and the prosperity of this region’s future, not the fossil sources that have profited industries of extraction, that have fueled pollution of the environment, that have altered the climate (including locally) and that now are helping to extinguish species by the millions.
No serious reading of scripture would conclude that a divine plan for humans to “have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth” would countenance such catastrophic irresponsibility.
ECONOMIC NEWS also argues against Mr. Pittman’s blinkered view of the region’s future prosperity. Electricity generation from coal is down. Causes include cheaper natural gas, rapid climate change and stricter environmental regulation. (Note: Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has committed the commonwealth to the Paris climate accords, the 24th such state to do so.)
And this month, a tipping point is upon us — renewable energy sources are set to surpass coal in electric-power generation for the first time, according to U.S. Department of Energy data.
MR. PITTMAN SEEMS UNAWARE of the trends. Indeed, his campaign mailers feature photos of seniors, some of whom may consider the dire state of the planet and pray that, well, they won’t be around to deal with the mess.
It’s true that 41st District voters skew older than the averages, as the region’s population ages and declines. But seniors also have grandchildren, who will have to deal with the existential problems.
One such grandparent is Mr. Pittman’s May 21 special-election opponent, Democrat Susan Boser. She spoke in detail at their May 2 televised debate in Butler County about her willingness to hold the extraction industry to account for real regional problems to which it has contributed for decades.
PITTMAN, ON THE other hand, embraced the industry. He could have balanced that position, without criticizing his favored constituency, by acknowledging the steps taken by a group of homeowners in Indiana who have taken initiative to install solar-powered roof panels at a discount. Or he could have acknowledged county commissioners’ bipartisan endorsement of sustainable and renewable energy development. Or he could have acknowledged Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s new sustainable-energy curriculum.
He offered no such context, no such detail.
“I’m optimistic for our future,” Mr. Pittman asserted at the end of his May 2 televised debate with Ms. Boser. “I really am.”
Ms. Boser is unconvinced and countered in her own campaign mailer, worthy of Mencken: “Joe Pittman will be more of the same. He has been part of the political machine for decades that has ruined our way of life.”
David Loomis, Ph.D., emeritus professor of journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is editor of The HawkEye.
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