11/16/2010 10:00 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

How Many Tea Partiers Does It Take to Screw Up a Light Bulb?

Now that the election is over and the new Republican majority is set to take over the House of Representatives come January, members of Congress are vying for committee leadership positions. One position in particular is for the chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. Established in 1795, it is one of the oldest standing committees in Congress, and has been in continual service for more than 200 years. Its responsibilities include oversight of consumer protection, public health, food and drug safety, telecommunications, air quality and environmental health, interstate and foreign commerce, and the supply and delivery of energy. Whoever wins the position of chair will certainly wield a tremendous amount of influence over these issues.

The competition for the position is between Reps. Fred Upton (R-Michigan) and Joe Barton (R-Texas). Barton is most widely known as the guy who apologized to BP Chairman Tony Hayward for the way the White House treated his company during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster this year. Upton appears to have committed what some conservative thinkers consider the egregious crime of co-sponsoring legislation in 2007 with Rep. Jane Harman (D-California) to phase out the incandescent light bulb in favor of energy-efficient fluorescent light bulbs -- a bill that eventually became law as part of a larger energy bill.

Leading conservatives are campaigning against Upton's possible appointment as chair. Rush Limbaugh commented on the light bulb law in this way: "This is exactly the kind of nannyism, statism, what have you, that was voted against and was defeated last week. No Republican complicit in nannyism, statism, can be rewarded this way."

It's hard to believe that legislating energy-efficient light bulbs could bring up so much raw emotion. The actual idea behind the light bulb law was to bring about a standard of energy efficiency which, in turn, would lessen our dependence on foreign sources of energy. It's also meant to bring down the level of greenhouse emissions, which will clean up our air quality and hopefully result in fewer respiratory illnesses.

For the record, Upton is hardly the darling of the liberals. He has a solid 93 percent Chamber of Commerce voting record when it comes to business-related legislation.

When the Founding Fathers were building this country from the ground up, they debated issues that are hardly imaginable today. Some of these issues eventually brought forth the catastrophic Civil War, while some other of these issues created the foundation that still holds us together. It's hard to believe that the enlightened minds of people like Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and perhaps especially Benjamin Franklin -- who first harnessed electricity -- could conceive that one day far into the future, something as insignificant as a type of light bulb could become a divisive political issue.

Ridiculousness like the controversy over the light bulb law makes you wonder if some of these conservative "thinkers" really want to return to the Dark Ages. After all, it's only a light bulb away.

Jonathan A. Schein is CEO/ScheinMedia, publisher of