A STORY ABOUT CONSERVATISM. If you've been watching the coverage of the mine disaster in Utah, you may have noticed the nearly complete absence of any discussion of the larger issues involved here. I'm still waiting for reporters to ask the administration and its representatives why they have done so much to undermine mine safety during their term in office. As this 2006 report from the Democrats on the House Education and Workforce Committee makes clear, the administration's record of malfeasance on mine safety is long and ignominious: cuts after cuts in staff and budgets, regulations going unenforced, one mining company executive or lobbyist after another appointed to "oversee" their former employers and clients.

In case you were wondering, the current head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration is one Richard Stickler. You will be shocked to learn that Stickler is not exactly a crusader for the rights of miners. His bio page on the agency's web site says that he is a "third-generation coal miner," but doesn't note that he was also a coal company executive. His appointment was vehemently opposed by the United Mine Workers and the AFL-CIO; after Democrats held up his nomination, President Bush gave him a recess appointment in late 2006.

The latest mining disaster is being reported in the press as a human drama, which of course it is. But it is also a story about an ideology that insists that industry can regulate itself, that government regulations intended to protect workers are nothing more than burdensome "red tape," that the lives of people who come home from work with dirt on their faces are a reasonable sacrifice to offer to the god of healthy shareholder dividends for an industry whose record of labor exploitation and environmental pillage is nearly unmatched. In short, it is a story about conservatism.

--Paul Waldman

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