With Tea Party extremists being egged on by Wisconsin Republicans at the highest levels, no one should be surprised our political debate is increasingly dominated by issues most intelligent people thought we’d settled decades or even centuries ago.
We had plenty of warning. Not long ago, actual state legislators were discussing whether Wisconsin should scrap pasteurization of milk discovered by Louis Pasteur back in 1862 to prevent unpleasant little diseases such as tuberculosis, diphtheria, scarlet fever and brucellosis.
So perhaps it was inevitable that a member of the Milwaukee Common Council would reopen the public debate over whether municipal water supplies should be fluoridated, which has only been done in Milwaukee since 1953.
Why should the public put its trust in such a newfangled process just because it has been heralded as one of the great public health advances of the 20th century by the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration, the American Dental Association and just about every health professional on the face of the planet?
For the far right, the unanimous support of so many government and professional organizations simply raises alarms about big government socialists attempting to destroy our dental freedoms.
Worse, all those national and international health organizations rely on research by, you guessed it, scientists supporting the safety and effectiveness of fluoridation in preventing our teeth from rotting out of our heads.
The Tea Party condemns godless scientists as an international conspiracy trumping up evidence that some of our most profitable, polluting industries contribute to global warming that could destroy the Earth after we’re not even alive anymore and won’t even care.
One of the early heroes of the anti-fluoridation movement was portrayed in Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film classic, Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
Sterling Hayden played Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper, who recognized the significance of the widespread benefits of fluoridation being spread shortly after World War II.
“How does that coincide with your postwar Commie conspiracy, huh?” Ripper asks a fellow officer. “It’s incredibly obvious, isn’t it? A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual—certainly without any choice. That’s the way your hard-core Commie works.”
As Ripper astutely observed: “Have you ever seen a Commie drink a glass of water?”
Until Milwaukee Alderman Jim Bohl introduced a resolution to immediately end fluoridation of Milwaukee’s water supply, most of us had no idea there was still any controversy.
The last real opponent of water fluoridation in the Milwaukee area was the appropriately named James Quirk, who in the 1960s identified himself as the Greater Milwaukee Committee Against Fluoridation.
A half-century or so ago, Quirk regularly showed up in the media and in court fighting fluoridation of area water systems. In 1969 the Wisconsin Supreme Court reversed a $1,000 verdict against Quirk that the court described as an attempt to use the justice system to collect on a dumb bet.
During a campaign over a referendum on fluoridating Cudahy’s water in 1966, Quirk was outraged the Cudahy Jaycees, who supported fluoridation, quoted a health authority saying someone would have to drink 50 bathtubs full of water in one day to get a toxic dose of fluoride.
In an anti-fluoridation brochure, Quirk offered to pay $1,000 to the Jaycees for fluoride promotion if they could prove he was wrong in claiming four glasses of fluoridated water a day could cause “dermatologic, gastrointestinal and neurological disorders.”
When the Jaycees presented credible, expert testimony to a Milwaukee County jury that Quirk was wrong, the jury ordered Quirk to pay up. Quirk appealed to create even more publicity for his claims, but the Supreme Court ultimately ordered the case dismissed as legal nonsense.
In the latest instance, apparently Bohl had read a book about the dangers of fluoride. And the author, who runs the modernday equivalent of Quirk’s committee, something called the Fluoride Action Network, was only too happy to come to Milwaukee to bask in the publicity.
We probably should encourage a lot more politicians to become readers. But there’s a big difference between reading propaganda and becoming educated.
The Tea Party doctrine that every government program is some kind of evil plot against us is simply absurd. A whole lot of them make us healthier, protect us from death and injury and provide all of us with more equal access to a better life.
If right-wing extremists succeed in destroying education and repealing decades of sensible government programs, pretty soon we’ll be reliving the ’50s and ’60s of the TV series “Mad Men.”
We’ll be drinking hard liquor and smoking cigarettes all day in even more sexist workplaces and letting our kids run around playing with plastic dry-cleaner bags over their heads.
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