Who Hijacked Our Country

Sunday, August 01, 2010

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.”

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Anonymous Tim said...

Reminds of of a tea Party rally I attended. Yeah they were there with puffy chest,calling welfare and medicaid people parasites. I proudly boost no one ever gave him a damn thing. Hell he's been a State Worker almost 30 years now.
A State Worker that our taxes are paying for. He has all kinds of Insurance and tons of sick time and Vacation coming to him. Yet not one drop of empathy. Nice post Tom, and something to remember.

August 1, 2010 at 6:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember Didier when he played for "America's Team" The Cowboys.

This is the exact story of the Hardcore Republican districts of California. They have the rural areas of Northwest, Northeast California, the Imperial Valley and the Gold Country.

It has Farmers, Ranchers, Ex- Hippies who want the rural life and people who just hate the city.

And all those in between.

They consider themselves Individuals who got where they are by hard work and not taking from the Government.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

According to the State Treasurer those districts receive not only a much higher percentage in State and Government aid then they put in taxes, but they are being subsidized by the more democratic coast and big cities.

And they don't think anything thing is wrong with that.

There is a high percentage of people up there on some sort of welfare because they move up there to "get away from it all!" and because of the lack of jobs, wind up getting on some form of Aid.

Their representatives are the classic conservative who believe the Government is spending too much on aid programs - so they accuse the Democrats of being "Tax and Spend", the Budget gets held up every year until the Republicans agree and then slip in their own pet projects, now the Budget gets passed and those same Republicans go back to their districts reporting they were dragged into agreeing with it, "those tax and spenders are going to bankrupt the state and by-the-way I got that new Highway you wanted."

They are always trying to cut the same social programs their districts depend on KNOWING the Democrats are going to save them and they are off the hook.

The S F Chronicle Interviewed those districts, they considered themselves salt of the earth people who hated the coast for taking all the money, even when it was pointed out they get a higher percentage of state money and much of that comes from taxes the City Slickers pay.

It's so typical of Conservatives, Cronyism and Nepotism is all right to get a job but Affirmative Action is Unfair.

According to Studies of the Tea Party many of those expect and/or get Social Security and Medicare not caring how much it cost.

"Cut the deficient somewhere else, not in my back yard!"


August 1, 2010 at 7:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh it looks like Washington is trying to go for The same thing California's doing able to produce such cheap produce that it can sold anywhere in the country cheaper then bought locally.

It's called Federally Subsidized Water


August 1, 2010 at 7:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading a biography of LBJ, when all those public works projects during the New Deal were going on, the plan was to supply Power only to the big cities because it wasn't cost effective to supply it to the rural areas.

So many rural folks watched power lines being strung right over them.

Thanks so the efforts of LBJ and other Congressmen who represented Rural districts, they put pressure on FDR to get the water and power to their own areas.

Just like Eastern Washington today.


August 1, 2010 at 7:28 PM  
Blogger TomCat said...

This follows the same hypocritical theme as those red states who say they will refuse federam money, then not only accept it, but tell voters it's coming from them, not us. Red states receive more funds than they contribute. Blue states contribute more than they receive. We're paying their way.

August 2, 2010 at 10:53 AM  
Anonymous Jess said...

Didier is taking the Angle, Paul way of going about campaigning. He won't talk to just anyone, because they will ask him questions. I wish I was kidding about this. This is what is happening with these idiots running in the tea party. They are taking the Palin way and just upping the ante on it. Only give their talking points with no time for us to rebut. It is obscene they even have points on the board if you will. Just goes to show there are a whole lot of stupid people, will vote for anyone.

August 2, 2010 at 2:22 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Tim: I can't believe people can still think of themselves as being "independent" and not needing any outside help. Government programs that have been in place since the 1930s or the '50s are probably so ubiquitous, people don't even notice them. Not just dams and irrigation projects that the columnist was talking about, but highways, mass transit. If the teabaggers had been in power during the 1920s, the country would look like Herbert Hoover had never left.

Erik: The interior parts of Washington, Oregon and Calif. are all in that same category. Rural, conservative, and totally oblivious to the fact that they're being subsidized by those hated liberals on the coast.

It's a variation on the rugged self-reliant red states being subsidized by those socialist blue states.

TC: Exactly. Those red state bootstrappers are being subsidized by us liberal elitists in the blue states.

Jess: You're right, and this really sucks. They can spew out their shit, and only answer softball questions from their pre-screened audiences. If they can get elected with this sleazy method, the system is clearly not working.

August 2, 2010 at 5:26 PM  
Blogger Lew Scannon said...

The myth of rugged individualism and the weening the weak form society so the strong can survive reeks of Social Darwinism. I wonder how that plays out with the creationist pole of the GOP big tent.

August 2, 2010 at 6:29 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Lew: Pretty ironic, huh. They hate Darwin, and yet Darwinism is their exact solution to society's problems.

August 2, 2010 at 7:34 PM  
Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

Excellent column and excellent post, Tom. The points about Eastern Washington are accurate.

This mythology is as much a matter of human nature as political philosophy. Help that goes to others is just a case of catering to freeloaders, to keep them fat, lazy and dependent on evil ol' big gummint.

OTOH, all manner of breaks and benefits that go to hard-working, taxpaying, conservative (or libertarian) "me" are deserved rewards or wise investments that will pay off grandly for everyone else as I proceed to trickle on everyone else.

Perhaps the scariest part is that so many on the right actually believe this nonsense.

BTW, even in the old west, many settlers looked to Army forts and cavalry protection for their survival, all paid for by taxpayers. They also welcomed the coming of the railroads, made possible in large part by federal and state land grants, and other subsidies.

August 2, 2010 at 7:40 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

SW: Very true. Subsidies that go to "me" are earned through my tireless hard work. Somebody else's subsidies are just handouts given to a lazy bum.

And this mindset, this cognitive dissonance, refuses to die.

August 2, 2010 at 7:47 PM  
Blogger Snave said...

What TomCat said.

Also, related to what Lew said, when so many of them loathe Darwin's theory of evolution, why do they adhere to tightly to applying it in a social/economic framework?

Reeks of moral relativism to me! LOL

August 3, 2010 at 2:10 PM  
Blogger Nance said...

I have Steven of "Projections" to thank for the link to this post. Well and truly writ!

I hope you'll be expanding this infinitely applicable perspective to other areas. My bloody Red State is responsible for more than its fair share of mischief in Congress and in the public view; we could use some of this sort of exposure.

I'll most definitely be back.

August 4, 2010 at 10:15 AM  

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