The Other House for Sale

Commentary by Liza Field
It is surely a bad thing that the greatest offices should be bought. The law which permits this abuse makes wealth of more account than ability, and the whole state becomes avaricious.Aristotle, Politics
Where was America-the-Free, during Election 2010?

I don't mean merely the free market that formed our nation's sole campaign platform.

I mean the actual land of the free—the mountains and farmland, waters and wildlife that undergird any political platform, any market, any human freedom on earth.

It may seem a trivial—and tardy—question by now, as the year dwindles, but Americans will be cleaning up from Election 2010 for a while.

Around my conservative Appalachian town, campaign signs still proliferate among the real estate signs—hard to distinguish if you don't look twice.

“FLIP THIS HOUSE 2010” suggests one, perched between an actual For-Sale sign and one promoting the Tea Party.

“Which house?” You pause by the clapboard home to see a straw man sitting festively in a folding-chair, among some Thanksgiving gourds. The “FLIP-it” sign depicts a vague rendering of the Capital Building.

For Sale

Private, “non-party” investments in Campaign 2010 surpassed $273 million—a record-breaker for America. Conservative funders far outspent liberals, whose smaller boost came mainly from labor unions.

But neither side expressed much interest in the actual landscape of America—our looming water shortages, coastal dead zones, deforestation and loss of farmland that directly impact “American prosperity.” Absent was any concept of oikos—that Greek word for “house” or “world”—the root of both “ecology” and “economy.”

Only a few Tea Party backed candidates alluded to ecology, promising to set America “free” from environmental protections.

This action would purportedly help the U.S. compete with China, which doesn't hobble short-term economic growth by protecting its environment. Nobody mentioned China's looming ecological deficits—deforestation, flooding, erosion, toxic air and waters.

Rand Paul of Kentucky praised the economic “explosion” of mountaintop-removal, here in the Appalachians, which he preferred to call mountain “enhancement.”

How would blowing up mountains enhance them—or the economy? After all, this mechanized strip-mining has steeply reduced the need for actual miners, denuded millions of hardwood acres, caused needless flooding and permanently buried thousands of Appalachian creeks under rubble.

Paul explained that the fate of these mountains, like all of “free” America, should be decided by whichever private interest can afford the land, the mining rights or timber.

Koch Machine Change

Paul succinctly expressed the ideology long promoted by two of his supporters—probably the biggest individual donors in this year's campaign investments.

David and Charles Koch, heirs of Koch Industries (a $100-billion-per-year conglomerate of timber, mining, pipeline and oil-refining companies), have promoted their private agenda of deregulation as public policy for 30 years.

Annoyed by the environmental regulations that reduce their profit margins, the Kochs have repeatedly expressed and funded one long term goal: elimination of the federal government—EPA, FDA, public lands, financial oversight, in fact every federal activity but the military.

Toward this end, David Koch ran for Vice President on the Libertarian ticket in 1980, against “leftward” opponent Ronald Reagan. After sound defeat, the Koch brothers decided to infiltrate politics through a more likely route: money.

Over the years, they've set up and/or endowed Libertarian think-tanks (Cato Institute, The Federalist Society, The Heritage Foundation), several media outlets, anti-tax groups, university programs and, more recently, Tea Party strategists and various of the “non-profits” that emerged this year to funnel private money into Election 2010.

Their collective purpose? To disable and dwarf the federal government “down to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub,” said longtime strategist Grover Norquist (of the Koch-funded Americans for Tax Reform).

Long Term Gains

Investing in government influence in order to disable the government, ironically, has enabled the Kochs to profit from the very system they disparage—e.g., winning hefty energy subsidies, tax breaks and contracts earlier this decade from Karl Rove and the Bush White House whose campaigns the Kochs helped promote.

The Kochs aren't the only private entities buying and benefiting from public influence, of course. When public and private affairs merge, one corporation's investment in public policy means the competition must invest—if they can afford to.

That most of us can't is the reason Republican President Teddy Roosevelt, over a century ago, set out to end this kind of government corruption, limit corporate powers and establish protected public lands, waters and wildlife habitat for America's future.

His conservation actions, judged by today's “conservative,” might be seen as “big government”—socialist and un-American.

Yet it's Americans who profit, today, from those same protected waters, forest, wild species and a land still worth keeping free.

Liza Field teaches English and philosophy in the Virginia Governor’s School and Wytheville Community College. This column is distributed by Bay Journal News Service.

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