News & Politics

Jim Hightower: What Really Poisoned the Water in Flint, Michigan

Flint reveals that there is a much deeper contamination poisoning our country's political morals.

FLINT MICHIGAN January 23, 2016: Water Tower At Flint Water Plant In Flint, January 23, 2016, Flint, Michigan
Photo Credit: Linda Parton / Shutterstock.com

The mantra of every Koch-headed, right-wing politico is that government should be run like a business, always focused on cutting costs.

Welcome to Flint, Michigan. This impoverished, mostly African-American city has indeed been run like a private corporation since Republican Gov. Rick Snyder appointed his "emergency manager" to seize control of Flint's heavily indebted local government. Snyder's coup d'etat usurped the people's democratic voice and effectively imposed a corporate-style autocracy over them, run by his unelected CEO-like manager who answers only to Snyder.

Flint's emergency manager holds authoritarian budgetary power and is focused not on serving the people but on the bottom line. His mandate from the governor was to slash costs ruthlessly, so bankers and other holders of the city's debt could be paid off. Snyder was delighted that his appointed czar proved to be an enthusiastic slasher, including a cleaver move in 2014 to cut a couple million dollars from the budget by shifting the source of the city's drinking water from Lake Huron to the Flint River.

Sure, some scaredy-cats worried about contaminants in that river, but Snyder's health officials pooh-poohed them -- and, besides, the beauty of one-man rule is that you can ignore the people and take bold, decisive action. That's what corporate CEOs do, and even if there is some collateral damage, it's the bottom line that matters.

But -- oops -- the bottom line of thinking you can simply apply corporate methods and ethics to public responsibilities is that very bad things can happen. In this case, Flint's water supply is contaminated with lead, its entire infrastructure of water pipes needs to be replaced, thousands of the city's children may be permanently impaired by lead poisoning ... and Snyder's name is mud.

Not that Gov. Snyder personally dumped lead and other toxins into Flint's water, but by dumping his small-minded, budget-whacking policies on the people of this largely poor, largely minority community, he did, in fact, poison them. Worse, when Flint's families immediately and loudly complained that their tap water was oddly colored, nasty tasting, stinky and causing rashes on their children, Snyder and his top officials did nothing. Nothing!

For a year and a half, the governor's team denied there was a problem, even when residents showed jugs of the brownish liquid to the media and to officials. It's a myth, claimed the authorities, accusing locals of "trying to turn (the issue) into a political football" and asserting that the complainers were just being finicky about the aesthetics of their water.

Aesthetics? A General Motors factory in Flint had to quit using the water because it was corroding metal engine parts, and a hospital stopped using the water because it was damaging its medical instruments!

Finally, after out-of-state toxicity experts confirmed that Flint's water constitutes a major public health emergency, Snyder and crew were forced to switch from denial to damage control. He has since apologized to Flint residents and is trying to save face (and his job) by promising to "fix" the mess he made.

The mess is not just in the water, however. Flint reveals that there is a much deeper contamination poisoning our country's political morals: namely, an insidious right-wing belief that poor people (particularly people of color who are poor) are underserving moochers whose misfortunes can be ignored -- even when their misfortunes stem directly from the discriminatory practices of slippery elites like Snyder. This example in Flint proves once again that government can't be run like a corporation, as a corporation exists to profit only a few, not serve the many. Despite the shallow sloganeering of ideologues, government has to be run ... well, like a government.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker and author of the book Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow (Wiley, March 2008). He publishes the monthly Hightower Lowdown, co-edited by Phillip Frazer.

Sign Up!
Get AlterNet's Daily Newsletter in Your Inbox
+ sign up for additional lists
[x]
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Activism
Drugs
Economy
Education
Environment
Food
Media
World