The Truth About the Republican War on Caterpillars

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From an exterminator in the House leadership to trying to bring back DDT, the GOP has been no friend to America's larvae.

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RNC Chairman Reince Priebus (left) and a caterpillar (right). Reuters

In a statement widely taken as a metaphor, the chairman of the Republican National Committee on Thursday said his party is no more trying to hurt the nation's females than it is larval butterflies and moths.

"If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we'd have problems with caterpillars," Reince Priebus told Bloomberg Television, in response to a question about the party's supposed "war on women." "It's a fiction."

But the war on caterpillars and other innocent insects, it turns out, is not a fiction at all.

Under the guise of aiding the agriculture industry, Republicans and their allies in Washington have been waging a long-running campaign to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from limiting bug-killing pesticides. Last year, GOP Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas authored a letter, signed by several others in his party, calling on Democrats to "address the continued regulatory overreach by the Environmental Protection Agency that is a growing concern of farmers, ranchers, foresters and agribusinesses throughout the nation" by bringing up their bill to ease pesticide regulations. This obvious attempt to run roughshod over the rights of many-legged herbivores everywhere was laughably justified as a matter of "public health as we enter mosquito season."

In a similar gesture of outrageous insensitivity to the feelings of Creepy-Crawly-Americans, some conservatives also want to get the controversial insecticide DDT unbanned by the EPA. The free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute runs a website, RachelWasWrong.org, devoted to beating the drum for bringing back DDT, whose banning it terms the "dangerous legacy" of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. But for the liberals and their "tree-hugging political correctness," one NewsMax commentator wrote, bedbugs -- largely voiceless in this whole debate -- might be eradicated.

Republicans may claim that they have no anti-caterpillar agenda -- that they're just trying to protect people and plants from being bitten, that they're merely the victims of a liberal media that sympathizes with the radical bugs'-rights lobby. But the truth is clear, and it's nothing new: Republicans just don't care about caterpillars.

Need any more proof? How about this: Tom DeLay, the onetime leader of the GOP House majority, began his career as an exterminator.

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Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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