Tom Brokaw's Nostalgia for '70s Liberalism in Earth Day Lecture

On Tuesday’s Today, NBC brought out old anchorman Tom Brokaw to fondly remember the first Earth Day in 1970, when ultraliberals first declared the need for dramatic government intervention into the planet-despoiling capitalist system. He hailed how green protests saved rivers, eagles, and America itself from ruin: "The air turned brown, rivers died. Eagles almost disappeared. America the beautiful was America the endangered." Then the first Earth Day was a "massive success." He talked like a bumpersticker: "Mother Earth – love your mother. She’s the only one we have." He sounded a lot like the environmental lobbyist that the Clinton administration unsuccessfully invited to run the National Park Service back in 1993.

At 8:51 a.m Eastern time, the lecture began (as transcribed by MRC’s Geoff Dickens):

MEREDITH VIEIRA: We are celebrating "Green Week," here on "Today." And on this Earth Day we asked Tom Brokaw to give us his take on this nation's environmental history.

BROKAW: There was so much of America and it was so beautiful, so wild. And it was settled so late. It seemed we would never run out of open space, clean water, clear skies, wild game and birds on the wing. But in the 20th century, America became a different place, a great machine at full throttle, creating a colossus of factories, freeways and dams. Sprawling cities, farming by chemistry. The air turned brown, rivers died. Eagles almost disappeared. America the beautiful was America the endangered. But something else was going on. A new generation was taking its place in American life. A generation with lots to say and the power of protest.

Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, a child of the North Woods, recognized the possibilities. He called for an Earth Day in the spring of 1970. It was a massive success. An estimated 20 million people participated, young and old, Democrat and Republican. The Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act quickly followed. President Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency.

RICHARD NIXON: I have sent to the Congress today a sweeping set of proposals to clean up our nation's air and water.

BROKAW: By the tens of thousands, Americans left the city streets to be restored in the wild. The journey is not yet complete. But the air is better. Water is cleaner. The eagle is back. And always there is this reminder. "Mother Earth, love your mother, she's the only one we have."

Brokaw obscured the real anti-capitalist, anti-technology bent of the Earth Day organizers of 1970. Back then, organizer Denis Hayes explained the whole agenda: "I suspect the politicians and businessmen who are jumping on the environment bandwagon don't have the slightest idea what they are getting into. They are talking about emission control devices on automobiles, while we are talking about bans on automobiles." 

In 1993, Bill Clinton’s Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt offered NBC anchor Tom Brokaw a government job as director of the National Park Service. At the time, Brokaw told The Washington Post he considered the offer "very seriously," but decided to reject it because of turmoil at NBC (and the pay cut would have been dramatic). He professed "We need more park land" and "I have a lot of friends in the environmental movement." But he might have told the Clinton folks "I can do more for you here at the studio."

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