With Sarah Palin on the ticket, all the old myths about the West are out there, especially the beauty, adventure, independent streak, self-reliance. These are contradictory of course.

One very important competing myth that has actually been close to fact is the West as a ward of the federal government. It was largely true in the past for much of the Interior West, and three times true for Alaska, one reason why the same corrupt political elite has ruled the state for many years. They brought come “the bacon” from Washington, the earmarks. Palin says she defeated the “old boy” network. That’s partially true, but she didn’t change the rules about seeking federal projects any more than she killed the “bridge to nowhere.” She was just going to be more honest about it, or less corrupt, or something like that.

For years the group most intent on stripping away the federal subsidies from much of the West has been the conservationists who went after taxpayer subsidized below cost timber sales, excessive federal roadbuilding on the public lands, irrigation dams that never came close to repaying their cost with the new crops grown, scores of subsidies to livestock operators, from predator control, token grazing fees, to entire colleges of the land grant universities devoted to trying to make agriculture in the interior West profitable with subsidization.

Some western projects did pay their way.  The ward of the federal government myth is entirely true. Most importantly it doesn’t have the political backing that the anti-fed, rugged individual myth does. But think about it the latter next time you hear some self sufficient, rugged, outdoors wise person from Idaho, Montana or Wyoming say they are scared of wolves — lousy, rotten myth destroyer! 😉

Story in the New York Times on this subject. A Western State of Mind. By Katerine Roberts.

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides, and he is President of the Western Watersheds Project.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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