Mourning The Loss Of Republicans Like Bill Ruckelshaus

Back when I was a Republican, the party included statesmen like Bill Hudnut, Dick Lugar and Bill Ruckelshaus, all of whom I was privileged to know. With the death of Ruckelshaus last week, all are now gone, along with the intelligent, ethical service they exemplified.

A couple of days ago, a friend sent me a column from Counterpunch,  in which a reporter who had interviewed Ruckelshaus in 2006 reprinted the questions and answers from that interview.

“Ruck” is best known for his principled refusal as a Deputy A.G. to follow Nixon’s orders and dismiss the then-Special Prosecutor (in what has come to be known as the “Saturday Night Massacre”), but he was also the first administrator of Nixon’s EPA. (Yes, the EPA was established by a Republican President…How times have changed…)

For that reason, this particular interview focused upon environmental issues. From his answers, it was obvious that Ruckelshaus was scientifically knowledgable and passionate about the environment. He also displayed enormous insight into the policy process.

The first question asked by the reporter was “What is the greatest obstacle to implementing effective environmental policies?’

Ruckelshaus: Public distrust of the federal government. Unless the people can place some minimal degree of trust in their governmental institutions, free societies don’t work very well. To me, this is the central ugly fact confronting the government of the United States. The more mistrust by the public, the less effective government becomes at delivering what people want and need.

This is an important insight. The lack of public trust in governance is a significant reason for America’s current polarization. I’ve done some research on the trust issue–in 2009, I wrote a book, Distrust, American Style, in which I described some of the negative social consequences attributable to a pervasive lack of trust in government and other social institutions. (I also noted that “Fish rot from the head”…)

Particularly refreshing was Ruckelshaus’ answer to the question “What specifically do you think the U.S. should be doing in the area of environmental protection that it isn’t doing?”

I think we should adopt a Policy #1 that global warming is a real problem, and we are a major contributor to carbon in the atmosphere and we need to take serious steps to reduce it.

We should have some kind of Manhattan-style Project to find out how to a generate energy using less carbon and every form of energy should be open, including nuclear. Nuclear power is not economical right now and it also scares people to death, even though we have generated 20 percent of our electrical energy in this country using nuclear power for a long time and are likely to be generating something like that over the next 15 to 20 years when these plants are scheduled to phase out. But other alternative forms of energy, including really getting serious about conservation, can all be done within economic good sense.

Several other answers were notable both for their directness and Ruckelshaus’ obvious depth of knowledge. He described “politics” as the predictable reaction to regulations that threatened to diminish an existing benefit valued by a lawmaker’s “constituency.” (Constituency, in this case, is “special interest” i.e., clean air versus oil subsidies…)

In his last response, Ruckelshaus returned to the issue of trust. Asked whether he would consider a hypothetical offer to return to the top position at the EPA, he said probably not–that

in order to get constructive change in either our environmental laws or the way they’re administered, you have to have a fairly high degree of public trust. But if the public didn’t believe you and thought your decisions were favoring some constituency that the president had, it’s very hard to make any progress.

That, of course, is a perfectly accurate description of where we find ourselves today.

No one in his right mind believes that Trump gives a rat’s hindquarters about the environment–or, for that matter, that he knows anything at all about science or climate change or the government’s responsibility to safeguard the air and water.  The EPA is currently being run by a former coal lobbyist, and there is plenty of reason to believe that, in this administration, rules are only being made–or more accurately, relaxed and repealed–to “favor some constituency.”

The contrast between Republicans like Ruckelshaus and today’s Trump sycophants is sobering. If you care about America, it’s heartbreaking.


  1. I appreciate your comments about Republicans even i admired. To me, it’s simple; absolute power corrupts, and as we can see those Republicans who are now a part of the Trump cult have left the concept of public service and the oath required way in the distant past. This behavior, partly resulting from their (much too long) reign exemplifies the fact that they presently have no other desire but to preserve their status.

  2. The names Bill Hudnut, Dick Lugar and Bill Ruckleshaus always stir memories of pride in Indianapolis; all were knowledgeable in areas of vital issues locally and nationally. Above all else; they were first and foremost humanitarian in their personal beliefs and their political works. They were men of honor; whose words and their oaths of office was their bond. Were they perfect; of course not, no human is and it was their humanity which drew us to them to place our trust.

    It appears men of their stature in our government are not to be found in these times of strife when their level of knowledge and humanity is most needed in the world. When we speak of today’s environment we are referring to the loss of true leaders as well as Climate Change and Global Warming. They were part and parcel of the “good old days” we miss today; no matter their political party.

  3. How times have changed!
    Back in the days of my youth I attended St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church here in Indianapolis. So did Bill and Jill Ruckelshaus and the Frank McKinney family. Frank Sr. was at one time the head of the National Democrat Party. A decade or so later Karen and Mike Pence attended St. Thomas too with Karen playing the guitar at services. That church was way ahead of its time; tolerance wasn’t just preached, but practiced.
    My father was a strong Democrat and held a church/neighborhood friendship with McKinney. While he did not socialize with Ruckelshaus, he and the entire congregation held high regard for the man who all agreed was a great lawyer.
    I no longer attend any church but do wonder from time to time what goes on there now. In today’s world, would it be possible for the head of the Democrat Party and the leading Republican lawyer in Indianapolis to knell down and pray together? Any place?

  4. “If you care about America, it’s heart breaking.” It is also heart breaking if we care about the earth, the survival of humanity. I miss the conservatives who cared about the conservation of the earth’s resources and ecosystems. I just saw a documentary on the remains of a teenage girl. Her skeleton is 13,000 years old, and she along with others is an ancestor of Native Americans. What we do to the earth and Native Americans is heart breaking. It is a shame that we do not adopt policies that reflect a deep reverence for life in all its diversity.

  5. When Nixon appointed Ruckelshaus to head the EPA, Big Coal and Big soil knew their product meant the destruction of the planet and began programs of obfuscation to deny science and continue raking in the money. The Big 3 of the Indiana GOP had to have been aware of the science and what did they do? Nada.

  6. The “government is the problem” moron is their saint. An ignorant population is their only path to power. The Republicans are now pure evil.

  7. Over it: Exactly correct, but for one other thing. That Republican meme about big government – something they keep repeating without quantifying how big government should be – has been going on since Lincoln was shot. Republicans called FDR’s New Deal, the “Jew Deal”. Now some of these corrupt, evil and easily bribed traitors are labeling the impeachment of Trump the “Jew Coup.”

    The money, the license to bribe rulings like Citizens United v. FEC and Wall Street’s total commitment to profit over people, lobbying over government and simple, abject greed have become the newest Republican mantra to fulfill Marx’s predictions that capitalism, left unchecked, would devour itself.

    The “Big Government” rubbish and Milton Friedman’s “trickle-down” theory of middle class destruction are there to UNCHECK capitalism and thus destroy our great country for the sake of the very few. Or as John D. Rockefeller once said when asked how much wealth was enough, “Just a little more.”

    That’s where all the good Republicans have gone. They died and left us with the scum of their misguided political enterprise.

  8. All of the talk about the environment and the public cutting back on wasting power, not ride sharing and looking to developments like the Indianapolis Red Line public transportation to cut back on fossil fuel and turning to solar power are strong arguments. Then each morning I turn on local news to see a picture of the Indianapolis skyline after dark with thousands and thousands of lights burning in empty buildings for miles. This of course increases power bills paid to IPLCO, et al, which may be a reason it continues; it is always follow the money. We already know Indianapolis Power and Light is a primary source of pollution here; residents cannot be the primary source of the level of fossil fuel pollution of our air so we cannot be the primary source to cut back.

    “The EPA is currently being run by a former coal lobbyist, and there is plenty of reason to believe that, in this administration, rules are only being made–or more accurately, relaxed and repealed–to “favor some constituency.”

    A Republican president created the EPA and our own Bill Ruckelshaus headed the original EPA; we are now watching a Republican fool and is followers destroy the environment to fill the pockets of coal barons and fossil fuel enthusiasts. I have to wonder what Nixon would think of his creation today as well as Bill Ruckelhause?

  9. The purpose of the current GOP is to remove obstacles for the extremely wealthy. However, the same could be said of the DNC with the addition of blocking progressive movements.

    The Koch brothers and Murdoch acquired the GOP with the help of the Tea Party and Fox News. All it took was electing a black man into the White House. As Gladwell would say, “That was the tipping point.”

    Obama’s decision to not break up the banks and clean house in 2009 was another contributing factor. Because he cut his donors a break, the mistrust of government accelerated. By not assessing blame where it belonged, Murdoch and company gladly pointed their fingers at the government.

    The anti-government crowd all have their reasons for distrusting the government and jumping on the Trump train. Fear, in its many forms, is at the core of the GOP and their followers. I saw interviews the other day where GOP officials are now bashing higher education and lawyers because of the testimony of three lawyers against Trump.


    I’m not sure of the figure, but something like 70% of Congress has law degrees. Louie Gohmert was leading the chant against law schools and Ivy League degrees.

    Supposedly, the Koch brothers no longer support Trump and are attempting to rebrand themselves as champions of education and the working class. Yet, the institutions they’ve created live on spewing right-wing fairy tales for Fox News and faithful followers.

  10. Todd,

    Don’t be so hard on Obama, circa 2009. He was trying to stem the world-wide financial collapse brought about by the end result of repealing the Glass-Steagall Act and the deregulations of Wall St. perpetrated by Donald Regan, the Bushes and Dick Cheney. Obama’s plate was very full….plus all the racist bullshit that the Republicans promoted to distract the country from their nefarious acts of greed pandering.

  11. As far as I am concerned , Obama saved us from a depression. For what he didn’t do, the reason is he was opposed irrationally by all the racists in the GOP. He didn’t do all he wanted because of the fact that he was excoriated for wearing a tan suit. The opposition to him was irrational and racist

  12. I meant the comment about the tan suit as an indication of how irrational the opposition to him was. Fact is: the racists and their sheep-like followers couldn’t stand the fact that the black guy was the star player. …and they weren’t good enough to make it off the bench ever.

  13. Sheila, you’ve done it again. A magnificent tribute to the now-deceased fractions of the Republican and Democratic parties. Fractions, because neither party ever embraced progressive causes.

  14. Marsha; a big thank you. They also called him unamerican for order de jon mustard on his hot dog and shamed him for wearing swimming trunks on the Hawaiian beach while on vacation. And now, they are supporting a mentally incompetent sexual abuser, liar, barely literate and thieving business man as he gets paid profits for golf trips with our tax dollars. A class action impeachment is needed for the lot of them but I will settle for keeping Trump in our cross hairs for now.

  15. @Vernon Turner: “That Republican meme about big government – something they keep repeating without quantifying how big government should be ”

    It appears to me that their concept of the correct size is: Big enough to pull up any ladders from the rabble to the upper middle class, big enough to prevent citizens from having any voice in their own government or the circumstances of their lives, but small enough to be run without taxes. Because no matter what level of taxation is currently in effect it’s ALWAYS too high, leading one to think that their idea of the correct level is “zero”.

  16. I never thought much of the old Republican Party. Joe McCarthy and his Red Scare Campaign. The old Republican Party let Nixon embark on his Southern Strategy, gathering up all the Jim Crow States Rights Democrats and Neo-Confederates. They were of course very anti-union. The Republican Party of that so-called Good Republican Era embraced such trolls as Strom Thurmond, and Jesse Helms.

    It was Jesse Helms who said, “Atheism and socialism – or liberalism, which tends in the same direction – are inseparable entities: when you have men who no longer believe that God is in charge of human affairs, you have men attempting to take the place of God by means of the superstate. The all-provident government, which these liberals constantly invoke, is the modern-day version of Baal.”
    — Jesse Helms, When Free Men Shall Stand

    The Republican Party voters are now fully indoctrinated with bible thumping.

    The DNC Corporate Democrats like the three B’s – Biden, Buttigieg, and Bloomberg are doing their best to employ scare tactics about moving too far to the Left. Heaven forbid we should Medicare 4 All.

  17. There are good folks out there, more “Lugar-like”, who will be willing to run for open, gerrymandered very GOP congressional seats. We at CommonGoodGoverning found 4 of them in 2018. Needless to say, they got beaten pretty badly in the GOP primary. In each and every one of those races, there was no DEM primary. Similarly, we backed a solid candidate running against Steve King in Iowa – she came close – guess some Trump supporters draw the line against King?!

    Because of gerrymandering, the only way those folks could go to Congress was to put on a GOP button. It will likely happen again in 2020.

  18. To show how far we have fallen from Republicans Bill Hudnut, Dick Lugar and Bill Ruckelshaus, and especially President Abraham Lincoln; Trump has asked the EPA to look into water usage in bathrooms. He stated, “People are flushing 10 or 15 times instead of once.” The EPA has agreed to “look into it per a USA Today article. Time to send in the flying monkeys. (I just watched “The Wizard of Oz”)

    A Washington Post Op Ed summed up the current situation nicely, “Trump is creating evidence faster than the House can draw up articles of impeachment.”

    Today is the 78th Anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. A few days after a shooting in that historical site and one day after a shooting at the Pensacola, Florida Navy Base. We are marching backward in time with no need for enemies to attack us; we are killing one another off. A sad day for our nation.

  19. It is a shame – there was once a Republican Party that had the likes of Ruckelshaus in contrast to its Nixons – that no longer exists

    Maywin – I must take exception – it sounds nice – absolute power corrupts, but we once had a President, not that long ago, who was powerful and not corrupt. I know a lot of honest, non-corrupt people who do and/or have held office – it didn’t make them corrupt. Corruptible people who get power get corrupted; honest people with power don’t. It just is hard to tell sometimes (the late Coleman Young, whom I voted for, is, sadly, an example of you just can’t tell)

    Unfortunately, Ruckelshaus was right about trust. The Republicans have been trying to destroy the trust in government for decades, at least since Reagan (Reagan “government is corrupt and to prove it I will appoint Pierce to head up HUD”)

    If government is bad and can’t be trusted, it needs to be shrunk. Clinton “the era of big government is over” – Norquist was in ecstasy – soon his dream of drowning government in the bathtub would be realized.

    If you destroy the unions and emaciate government, the rich can follow the “wealth makes right” ethos and do whatever they want – who will stop them.

    Sad that people of principle like Ruckelshaus are gone from one of our parties and in small number in the other.

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