Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Nebraska, The Pipeline, And Red State Progressives
I haven't been writing much about politics recently because I don't really see much of a point. Antarctica's ice is crashing into the sea with potentially catastrophic consequences and the party that looks primed to control Congress acts as if the facts of climate change are somehow in dispute. I have taken to shrugging my shoulders and wondering what the point is. That's even the case locally, where the Essex County Democratic machine (led by Joe DiVincenzo) has stood behind Chris Christie, even though he's a Republican, mostly to keep the graft and patronage flowing.
However, I did see an article this weekend that gave me hope. It's about Jane Kleeb, a Nebraska progressive living in my hometown of Hastings who has been organizing locals against the XL pipeline. Nebraska has not been too friendly to progressive causes in recent years. My home state has always been conservative, but recently when I've visited it seems to have been sliding into whacko conservatism. Towns like Fremont have been passing anti-immigrant laws, the governor has pushed a massively regressive taxation policy, and half the folks living in rural Nebraska's aging towns talk as if they've been spending their idle hours glued to Fox News.
It was not always thus. In my youth Nebraska was conservative, but it was a state that supported its public institutions, and its old populist suspicion of corporate power still held strong. I have felt like the land of my birth has become foreign to me, but maybe the current Tea Party resurgence is actually an aberration, mostly because it has led to some not very populist outcomes. ALEC-style corporate shenanigans don't go down well in a state distrustful of outsiders and big shots. TransCanada, as the article points out, has been strong-arming ranchers and farmers, people who are used to doing business based on trust, and who massively resent those messing around with their property, be it the government or a corporation. If the pipeline should break, which we can practically assume will happen at some point, it could very well pollute the Ogallala Aquifer, the water resource the state's farmers depend on.
The GOP has been pushing a cookie-cutter, one size fits all approach to state-level governance: austerity, erosion of labor rights, regressive taxation, and corporate giveaways. In the case of the pipeline, that corporate power uber alles approach might be backfiring. The modern Republican party is fundamentally ideological, it has become a mere vehicle for the conservative movement. Ideologues are typically incapable of adjusting their precious theology to human conditions on the ground, and that's where red state progressives can make some headway. This has already been happening in Kentucky, where the Republican ideologues calling for Obamacare's repeal have to contend with the fact that the state's management of the program has been very popular. Having health care trumps empty words and free market religion. In Nebraska protecting the interests of farmers will inevitably be more popular than promoting the bottom line of a foreign corporation.
Of course, many voters are yellow dog Republicans, so it might be extremely hard to get their vote. Red state progressives also have to steer clear of issues like abortion and guns, and progressives in other parts of the country are going to have to be understanding of that fact. All that said, I am quietly confident that the conservative gambit to completely take over red America may have drastically overplayed its hand. I can only hope.