The “Independent” “Self-Reliant” American
Americans are defined — maybe “painted into a corner” would be more accurate — by this archetype. The self-made man. Ayn Rand’s fictional heroes. The cowboy riding off into the sunset.
In the past few generations it’s been practically impossible to live this ideal, unless you live on your own private island where you raise all your own food and have your own personal doctor on the premises at all times.
Not only is this archetype virtually non-existent, but look at how subjective it is. If somebody works hard but can’t afford the health insurance premiums, this person is a no-good parasite, just lying there waiting for a handout. On the other hand, a rancher (to name just one example) can lease thousands of acres from the federal government for pennies an acre — and this person is a rugged self-reliant hard-drivin’ individual who got where he is through his own blood, sweat, tears and hard work. He didn’t get no handouts from the gubmint, and nobody else should either.
This excellent column by Danny Westneat (from last Sunday’s paper) should be required reading for everybody who’s still captivated by these myths about “self-reliance” and “rugged individualism.”
He talks about the “self-made” mystique in general, and Clint Didier — a rightwing Republican who wants to unseat Patty Murray in the Senate this November — in particular. Westneat says:
“Of all stories we tell ourselves, the one about how we're a merit-based nation of lone wolves has got to be the most enduring. The most intoxicating. And the most baloney. Nowhere is the myth as confused with reality as in rock-ribbed Eastern Washington. The place depends utterly on the government and communal resources for its existence, from the New Deal irrigation system still being paid for by taxpayers elsewhere, to farming subsidies and crop price supports. Yet in their own minds, they are mavericks living off the land.”
Clint Didier is a farmer and a former football hero. As Westneat says:
“His personal story is impressive…That's true merit there. At the same time, I'm having a hard time thinking of two more socialistic enterprises than pro football or farming.”
Think about it — the players are unionized, and they’re playing in a stadium financed by taxpayers. Not to mention that in football, like any team sport — you’re not out there on the field winning games all by yourself. You could be the most incredible athlete in the world, but if your teammate drops the ball, you’re fucked.
Washington’s farmers have received $4 billion in federal cash subsidies during the past fifteen years. $273,000 of that went to Clint Didier’s alfalfa farm. Parasite!
Didier’s alfalfa farm, like most farms in the area, is made possible by the Columbia Basin Project, the country’s largest system of dams and irrigation canals. And yes the Columbia Basin Project is financed almost entirely by taxpayers and electricity ratepayers.
And yet the handout-taking tax-sucking Clint Didier is a rugged individualist who wants everyone to stand on their own two feet and stop begging for help from the Nanny State. He says:
“We've got to get rid of this 'protecting the weak.' If we keep the weak alive all the time, it eats up the strong.”
Give ‘em hell, welfare guzzler.
Westneat’s column ends with:
“This myth that we're all self-made men and women is paralyzing us. The real story is that it took extraordinary acts of community-building, on a national and local level, to turn Eastern Washington into a fruit and vegetable basket to the world…Same with the public school systems (which Didier attended). The safety net for the elderly. The national parks. The electric grid. The public-health system. All, like the Columbia Basin Project, are communal in spirit and dramatically raised the quality of life in America. So why do we pretend we didn't do them? Why do we persist in this phony yarn that everyone got where they did solely by hard work and self-reliance? I'll admit the truth isn't as romantic. But it's not the limpest story in the world, either — that we did it together.”