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James  Governor



Another thing often forgotten about is farm subsidies.

B McCurdy

I am a San Francisco based progressive who grew up in Idaho during the 60's and 70's. While I agree with the general characterization that many western conservatives are in denial about their reliance on the federal government, I think it's a huge misstatement to suggest that this is "a delusion that they nurture in their air-conditioned, hot-tub-equipped country clubs in a land that could barely support human existence if it were not for the federal government."

Not only is that snide remark unproductive as regards intelligent discourse, it is flatly untrue. My own ancestors came to Idaho in a covered wagon more than a century ago and they, like so many others, carved out homes and communities through honest sweat and hard-work and with little or no federal assistance. I am loath to defend western conservatives as a group when I largely find their political and social positions terribly myopic, but your smug and sanctimonious attitude is both inappropriate and inaccurate.


B. McCurdy, Idaho could not support near as many people as it currently does without the federal water projects. When your ancestors came to Idaho, they largely tapped groundwater. But most of that groundwater is gone now, thanks to over-extraction. Now Idaho is dependent upon surface water. And the majority of that dammed surface water comes from behind (tada!) federal dams.

Reminds me of another state I lived in, Arizona. The modern state of Arizona fundamentally would not exist without the Salt River Project and the Colorado River Project, two massively expensive dam-and-aquaduct projects that bring water from where it is (high canyons and rivers in extremely rugged terrain) to where it ain't (the desert floor, where it's easy to farm and build). Yet you hear the same damed "pull yerself up by bootstraps" bullcrap there too...



Mark Schmitt - You ought to print out this post and Fedex it to Gov. Risch just to remind him of his state's history.

B. McCurdy, from whom did your ancestors buy their land? Did they take advantage of the Homestead Act? Did they purchase the land from railroads which had received vast tracts of land in grants from the federal government? Or did they "carve out" their homes with no fear of attacks by native Americans because federal troops were in the area to protect them? I don't begrudge your ancestors making a life for themselves under hard conditions, but there are very few chapters of the pioneer experience that were not made possible, one way or another, by federal intervention.


I think that on the part of many Westerners it is simply an innocence. I have a good friend who is quite intelligent and very proud of having "put himself through" a state college in the southwest as a co-op student. As far as I can tell, the extent to which this opportunity was subsidized by taxpayers just never occurred to him. That's not to say he didn't work extremely hard.

The Goatherder

This is the primary conventional wisdom that supports the right wing today. For a good exposition of how government intervention is essential to a strong economy, go to http://www.thegoatherder.com/id5.html


I have a brother-in-law who thinks he is a completely self made man. His parents were evangelists that could not have survived their retirements without Social Security. Two Brothers are on disability for Schizophrenia and Hepatitis C. He has spent his career in the RV industry, and I wonder how different that would be without the Public Parks and the Freeway systems. He, his wife and 3 children all went to public colleges. He has spent his life living in desert communities that would not exist without the CC dam building of the depression era. I am always astounded at his politics. It has never occured to him that he has been a primary benificiary of government largesse.

Rich C

This story is fascinating, and makes me wonder why the role of the Federal gov't in all of these aspects of life in the West isn't either more apparent to the benficiaries. It occurs to me that we may be seeing a flip side of the "particularistic" nature of US welfare state institutions: just as means tested income transfers stigmatize recipients as well as limiting their number - thereby undermining the legitimacy and sustainability of income transfer policies - so too does the very particularistic nature of infrastructure or educational support render the role of the gov't invisible. People who use the federal highway system, or who benefit from its existence, or who benefit from other forms of public infrastructre are not direct recipients of a check from the Feds, and therfore can have their cake (ideology of rugged individualism) and eat it too (goverment subsidies). What kind of institutional design migh render such public action more visible, and therfore less easy to ignore?

Jim Hansen

Idahoans have historically been suspicious of the federal government AND large out-of-state corporations. Most Idahoans are good stewards of public lands and water but know that there are powerful interest giving money to our federal and state elected officials to make as much of Idaho's natural resources. The combination of the two out-of-state power brokers is very troubling.

Gov. Risch's comments are a stereotypical characteristic reflection of one side of the state's skepticism. Today, however, it is ringing increasingly hollow. We Idahoans know that the Congress has put public lands and other public assets up for sale.

We used to fight amongst ourselves about the best use of public lands in our back yard. Now, we are increasingly realizing that while we have been arguing, the agenda on the federal level in Congress and the administration has shifted (or, rather, has been exposed at long last). That some of the nations greatest assets are on the auction block. The massive deficit has made it easier for them to argue that those lands (and the water rights attached to them) need to be sold to pay for all sorts of other needs that have gone unmet, and to pay down the debt they have sent through the roof.

The campaign contributions from industries and wealthy interests eager to control those lands and shut the public out (the public includes fisherman, miner, dirt biker, hiker and logger alike) to make it the private enclave of private interests. We also know that the top bidders on that land are the probably the same interests that hold the mortgage on our national debt.

The west is poised to take the lead in transforming the national political landscape. Come here and see for yourself so you won't be so surprised on election day.


I have had a ismilar thought for years about how the most assertive proponents of laissez faire capitalism are oblivious to the massive infrastructure that makes thier entrepreneurship possible. What a great example!

Great to see you articulate this massive blind spot.

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