Greensboro's African American Community Newspaper since 1967

Some politicians confuse freedom with irresponsibility


As extreme weather caused floods in Kentucky, collapse of the water system in Jackson Mississippi, and the savage destruction of central Florida – to say nothing of fires and drought and a growing water shortage in the West – we ought to agree on two simple realities: America faces a growing challenge from both catastrophic climate change and a growing infrastructure deficit that is putting lives and communities at risk.

All should agree that we must act aggressively and at scale to address the climate challenge and rebuild our decrepit and aged infrastructure. We can invest now – or we will pay far more on the backside of calamity.

Yet that’s not how it works. Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis and his state’s two senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, all Republicans, now call fervently for federal aid and resources to help clean up the extensive damage caused by Hurricane Ian. With millions still without electricity or safe water, and many still endangered by floods, fallen bridges, downed electric lines and collapsed bridges, recovery will take years and cost tens of billions of dollars. The politicians are all in for getting federal dollars and resources to help in the wake of catastrophe. DeSantis regularly scorns federal spending in general and Joe Biden in particular, but when asked after Ian hit if he’d meet with Biden, he said, sensibly, “We need all the help we can get.”

Yet, Gov. DeSantis, who has presidential ambitions, goes out of his way to dismiss warnings about extreme weather from catastrophic climate change. He said during his gubernatorial campaign that he doesn’t want to be labeled “a global warming person.”

When asked last December how he plans to address climate change, DeSantis replied that “people when they start talking about things like global warming, they typically use that as a pretext to do a bunch of left-wing things. … We’re not doing any left-wing stuff.” Last year, he signed a bill that blocked Florida cities and towns from transitioning to 100 percent clean energy. He also championed a resolution prohibiting Florida’s pension fund from considering the impact of climate change in its investment decisions.

The Lever, a reader-supported investigative news outlet, reports that about three months before Florida was clobbered by Ian, eight of the state’s Republican lawmakers pressured federal regulators to halt a proposal requiring businesses to more thoroughly disclose the risks they face from climate change. Those lawmakers have raked in more than $1 million of campaign cash from oil and gas industry donors.

Similarly, all of Florida’s Republican politicians voted against the bipartisan infrastructure bill that Biden managed to pass through the Congress. DeSantis scorned the $19 billion that would go to Florida. Now, in the wake of Ian, of course, he wants a lot of “left-wing stuff,” like massive funds from the federal government to rebuild Florida.

Politicians like DeSantis, Rubio and Scott confuse freedom with irresponsibility. They tout the freedoms of Florida, where public health officials won’t tell you to wear a mask, planners won’t tell you where to build your house, politicians won’t tax your incomes. And if that leaves the state with vulnerable bridges and water systems, with homes exposed on flood plains, with impoverished communities, so be it.

Pundits regularly expose the hypocrisy of politicians like DeSantis, Rubio and Scott seeking billions in aid to help Florida rebuild in the wake of Ian, while voting against aid for other disasters in other states. One of the first votes DeSantis took when he was sworn in as a congressman in 2013 was to oppose aid to the victims of Superstorm Sandy. But hypocrisy is a relatively minor sin among politicians. A far bigger failing is to sacrifice the lives and the security of the people they claim to represent to embrace the corruption of fossil fuel campaign money and the blinders of ideological posturing.

A catastrophe like Ian or a shameful horror like the collapse of the water system in Mississippi’s state capital should concentrate our minds. Accelerating the transition to renewable energy isn’t “left-wing stuff,” it is a moral and existential imperative. Rebuilding the resilience and efficiency of our dangerously decrepit infrastructure isn’t a socialist plot, it is the foundation for safe communities and a robust economy.

In the wake of a natural disaster, people come together to help their neighbors. Smart politicians put aside their partisan posturing to join in doing what can be done to save the endangered and rebuild from the destruction. Now, we need to demand that the same common sense and responsibility be exercised to protect ourselves from the calamities to come, not just to rebuild after them.

Jesse L. Jackson Sr. is founder and president of the Chicago-based Rainbow PUSH Coalition.