You could have knocked us over with a feather from an organically-fed free range chicken when we learned that Portland, Oregon, does not have fluoridated water. This surprising tidbit came to us courtesy of the Slate.com internet newsmagazine, which reported about an upcoming referendum on a proposal to begin adding fluoride to the city’s water supply, and it caught our eye because our very different town of Wichita, Kansas, had voted last November to reject a similar plan.
The local pro-fluoride forces made much of the fact that only four other large American cities don’t use the stuff, an obvious attempt at peer pressure, but we can’t recall them ever mentioning Portland is one of them, perhaps because Portland is widely considered such an impeccably hip civic peer that it was assumed no one would be embarrassed by the association. Slate, a news outlet also widely considered impeccably hip, is clearly confounded that such a paragon of progressive politics as Portland hasn’t embraced the practice and seems slightly flustered by the realization that the city’s progressivism is the reason why.
Among the groups the joining the cleverly-named Clean Water Portland coalition to lead the resistance to fluoridation are the Pacific Green Party, Nutritional Therapy Association, Organic Consumers Association, the Oregon Association of Acupuncture, and the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, although Slate takes pains to claim that the lattermost group is the “only local organization representing people of color that has come out against fluoride” and tries for the first time in the history of liberal journalism to dismiss the group’s political significance. Judging by the boisterous behavior described at town hall meetings and other political events it seems that the grassroots opposition to the initiative is similarly counter-cultural in its leanings. Slate reports with apparent alarm that the anti-fluoride forces are also joined by The Cascade Club, “a local libertarian think tank,” as well as the Kansas Taxpayers Network, described as “a far-right group that recently merged with the Americans for Prosperity,” but it concedes that the anti-fluoridation campaign in Portland carefully eschews conservative rhetoric and that “Such tactics would never work in this liberal city.”
The leftward opposition to fluoridation does not come as such a surprise to us, as all of the relatively small band of Occupy Wall Street sorts in the otherwise proudly un-hip town of Wichita were also adamant in their objections. Groups such as the aforementioned and Kansas Taxpayers Network were more prominent in the local debate, and naturally had no reluctance to couch their arguments in unabashadly conservative terms, but the far-lefties around here were an influental part of the alliance. We couldn’t help teasing the ones we’re friendliest with, regaling them with our imitation of Sterling Hayden’s “fluoride is a commie plot” speech from “Dr. Strangelove,” but they took it in good humor and for the most part seemed to get along with their unlikely allies.
Another unlikely alliance sprang up on the other side of the debate, with the more upscale liberals joining with the more moderate conservatives in citing the consensus of the academic establishment and insisting that Wichita get in step with the rest of the country. Upscale liberals and moderate conservatives are always very much impressed with the consensus of the academic establishment, and around here they’re both very sensitive to perceptions that we’re out of step with the rest of the country, so perhaps it wasn’t such an unlikely alliance. Fluoride advocates such as the Slate reporters tend to overstate the unanimity of scientific on the subject, and fail to mention such dissenting research as a study from oh-so-respectable Harvard University that links fluoride to a decline in human intelligence, but there does seem to be enough of a consensus for the people who are cowed by that sort of thing.
The far left, though, for all its faults, retains an admirable skepticism of establishment opinion. Slate explains that the anti-fluoride campaign in Portland relies on “attachment to the environment and natural health care, as well as the current mistrust of pretty much all institutions.” That last cause is the one that allowed the far- left to work so peacefully with its far-right counterparts on the anti-fluoride campaign here, and it could point the way to alliances on other issues. Wichita also had a referendum a while back on the city government’s sweetheart deal with some out-of-town hotel developers who had taken a strange interest in local politics during the preceding fund-raising efforts by some local politicians, and the crony capitalism deal was soundly defeated with votes from conservatives appalled by the cronyism and liberals offended by the capitalism. The same coalition on a national scale could help eliminate all the public-private boondoggles buried in the stimulus bill and various other Obama initiatives, although it will be hard to pry even the most far-left activists away from their party loyalties. If they can ever be made to understand that the essence of the liberal project is to further empower the institutions they distrust, however, anything is possible.
– Bud Norman