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A Patriotic, Pro-Family Conservation Program for the GOP
is the heart of conservatism if it does not include
leadership in conservation? And why have conservative
thinkers needlessly, and against all logic and their
own self-interest, surrendered the moral high ground
on this issue to the liberals?
here for my review)
Lecture, American Enterprise Institute, 4/9/2001
As I pointed out
last column, the Bush Administration has been
alienating what ought to be its demographic base -
well-off white people - by seeming to side with
industrial interests against polar bears, condors, and
water drinkers. Granted, much of the brouhaha
generated by environmentalists was scientifically
overblown. Yet, ultimately, so what? Image, not
science, is reality in politics. The GOP's image
problem is that it has nothing to offer as positive
assumption that conservatives should automatically
oppose conservation is a fairly recent development. It
dates back to the rise of the conservative think tanks
in the late Seventies.
Republican Presidents had played key roles in helping
Americans enjoy our majestic landscape. Abraham
Lincoln set aside Yosemite as a public trust. Ulysses
S. Grant made Yellowstone the first national park.
Teddy Roosevelt glamorized conservation. Dwight
Eisenhower built the interstate highway system that
made it feasible for average families to visit the
national parks. Richard Nixon signed into law the
Endangered Species Act and the Environmental
intellectual economy that emerged in the later
Seventies - with corporate
interests funding conservative think tanks that in
turn subsidized the brightest Manhattan and Beltway
intellectuals - brought many advantages to the
Republican Party. One unfortunate side effect,
however, was that it brought to dominance pundits who
not only were beholden to industry, but who lacked the
average American's love of his nation's beauty.
neoconservative godfather Irving Kristol and his wife
Gertrude Himmelfarb lived for decades in an apartment
overlooking New York's Central Park. Yet, according to
Dr. Himmelfarb, never once did they set foot in
Frederick Law Olmsted's gorgeous commons.
Further, the GOP
turned against conservation because it never developed
a strategy for compensating its supporters in the
Great Plains and Mountain Time Zone in return for land
controls. (I'll suggest one below.)
Republicans need is a positive, pro-humanity,
pro-family conservationist program to contrast with
the Democrats' misanthropic environmentalist program.
liberal environmentalism is the assumption that the
world would be paradise if every single person died
tomorrow. Obviously, nobody actually believes that.
What environmentalists feel deep down is that the
world would be paradise if everybody died … except,
of course, for them and their friends. In reality,
environmentalism is essentially a form of status
competition in which environmentalists demonstrate
their moral superiority to the mass of humanity.
the GOP's current stance of pure negativism tempered
by bouts of me-tooism can't effectively attack the
status-seeking motivation behind modern
environmentalism. No, what the GOP needs is a positive
conservation program that combats the social-climbing
misanthropy by siding with the only force in modern
American politics stronger than the urge to
demonstrate one's cultural and spiritual superiority:
the urge to help America's children.
for what it's worth, is that a winning political
strategy could center on getting our increasingly
pallid and pudgy youth away from their video games and
out into the great American outdoors.
I'm sure a Dick
Morris could come up with better ways to symbolize
this new commitment. But here are nine ideas.
1] End the Forest
Service's long crusade to slash the number of visitors
to America's most spectacular natural setting,
Yosemite Valley. Documentaries have shown forest
rangers lamenting that all those tawdry tourists were
interfering with their personal opportunities to
commune with nature in solitude. This is liberal
elitism at its most noxious.
Instead, the GOP
should offer to increase
the camping capacity of Yosemite National Park - by
making habitable again the second most beautiful
valley in California, Yosemite Valley's once lovely
little sister Hetch
Hetchy Valley. The city of San Francisco drowned
this valley in 1913 by building a dam across its
outlet, breaking John Muir's heart.
The idea, floated
in 1988 by Reagan Administration Secretary of the
Interior Dan Hodel, of pulling down the dam and
restoring the valley for camping still makes sense. A
study projected that visitors would increase from
40,000 annually to 1,000,000.
would force the San Francisco Bay Area to find other
sources of drinking water. But the Bush Administration
exactly be losing a lot of Republican votes in San
Francisco anyway. The political calculus is
simple: If you force the environmental elitists of San
Francisco to pay for their crime against America's
landscape, you can give Hetch Hetchy back to the
American people as a whole. Is this a losing
proposition for Republicans?
2] Instruct the
military to turn over 10% of their most beautiful
military bases - such as the spectacular California
coastal bases Camp
Pendleton (17 miles of coastline between Los
Angeles and San Diego) and Vandenberg
Air Force Base (between Santa Barbara and Hearst
Castle) - to organized camping groups, such as the
Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.
3] Stop violating
landowners' property rights by enforcing quite so many
anti-development restrictions. Instead, the Federal
Government should buy up more outstanding land on the
For example, a
war is brewing between the ranchers who own the
beautiful coastline west of Santa Barbara and want to
sell it for development, and environmentalists, who
want to keep them from doing whatever they want with
their own property. Forget it. Buy up the land at a
fair price and make it a National Seashore. Then put
in parking lots and staircases down to the beaches so
the public can enjoy them.
4] Change the
Forest Service's puritanical prejudice that
backpacking is the only truly moral way to get
outdoors. Merely 2.4% of the population engage in for
at least five days a year. And those enthusiasts are
white upper middle class males.) In reality,
Americans are becoming more like Europeans, who demand
a certain degree of comfort. The number of backpackers
in the Sierras, for example, is down sharply compared
to 25 years ago. Rather than considering this a
problem, the Forest Service is congratulating itself
on clearing the riff-raff out of the mountains so the
chosen few can contemplate nature in seclusion.
In contrast, in
the Alps you can wander for a week through the high
country carrying just your clothes in your backpack.
You make reservations to sleep each night at permanent
"high camps," sleeping on cots in cabins or
waterproof tents permanently pitched on wooden
platforms, eating meals cooked by the staff. The Swiss
Alps are full of hotels,
pensions, youth hostels, mountain huts, cog railroads,
and aerial tramways. For most people over the age
of 22, this beats humping 60-pound packs and sleeping
on the ground.
backcountry of Yosemite National Park, there is a
similar network of five such camps. They are so
popular that a lottery for precious reservations is
held every fall. My aunt and uncle tried for many
years to win the lottery, but eventually gave up.
Despite this evidence that the public wants these
modest but not Spartan accommodations, the federal
government has refused to allow the system to expand
to the rest of the Sierras. Apparently it considers
the idea too decadently European.
5] Make getting
to the wild places a lot quicker. Last summer it took
me two and a half days to drive my sons from Chicago
to Denver, the gateway to the Rockies.
small town life so that people can continue to live
closer to nature than in sprawling
Both problems 5]
and 6] have the same solution. The interstate
highway system needs to be upgraded to German autobahn
standards so that within a couple of decades
Americans in the vast "red zone" on that
famous 2000 electoral map can drive at German-style
speeds across our land. I ought to be able to drive my
grandchildren across that vast, flat expanse between
Chicago and Denver in under ten hours.
numerous country songs have pointed out, a small town
is a much more tolerable place to live if every now
and then you can watch it disappearing in your rear
view mirror, preferably at speeds upward of 100 miles
per hour. Life in South Dakota would be far more
enjoyable if you were only a five-hour drive from both
Chicago and the Grand Tetons.
Today's cars are
getting close to being able to do that. My 200
horsepower sedan, which cost barely over $20,000, can
certainly cruise at 100 mph. But the safety features
aren't designed for that velocity. I'd need better
tires, more airbags, a somewhat wider track and so
forth to make German-style speeds reasonable for a
cautious family man like myself. Perhaps electronic
auto-piloting will be able to play a role. For the
right to drive over 100 mph, I'd be willing to pay
more for safety features and put up with a special
high-speed drivers' training course and annual safety
inspections. While the death rate in Germany in 1970
was substantially higher per mile driven than in the
Germans have managed to close 97% of the gap, even
as their speeds have increased.
roads are in shameful shape. I recall driving 95 mph
in a rattletrap Fiat on a Brussels freeway, a feat
made possible only by Belgium's wonderfully smooth
roads. American roads fall apart quickly because
American politicians like handing out more road
rebuilding contracts to their close personal friends,
those generous folks in the road-building
highways would have to be redesigned, with three lanes
to accommodate cars going 70, 90, and 110+. They'd
also need more sweeping curves and broader shoulders.
Obviously, American autobahns are more practical in
eastern Wyoming than in Vermont, much less in downtown
LA. Politically, that ought to be fine with the GOP.
One of the purposes of the project would be to prevent
the depopulation of the Republican Great Plains and
7] Stomp on Lyme
Disease. The medical establishment is slowly
starting to realize that this is a much more
widespread and serious problem than they had thought.
The symptoms extend far beyond joint pains to fatigue
and even cognitive problems. In the Northeast, fear of
deer ticks is - not at all unreasonably - causing
parents to keep their kids indoors. A friend of mine
spent a fortune buying two acres in a suburb of New
York City so his kids could play in the woods. His son
immediately came down with Lyme disease. My oldest boy
somehow got it too, while we were living in Chicago,
where it is supposedly nonexistent. We need a better
vaccine and better antibiotics.
robotically condemning homeowners for what is
disparagingly called "Not In My Back Yard"
responses to proposed developments. The GOP shouldn't
view as pests homeowners who have invested a lot of
money in backyards for their kids. Instead, it should
view them as a constituency to be coddled.
The problem with
the NIMBY impulse isn't that homeowners want to
protect their investments in backyards. That's only
natural. What isn't natural is how many millions more
backyards there are each decade. During the Nineties,
U.S. grew by a record setting 32.7 million people.
Today's growth is almost wholly a function of the 1965
lament how hard it has become to build power plants in
the deserts and canyonlands of California due to urban
sprawl. What they forget is that those NIMBY
protestors are generally white Republicans who have
been driven into California's scorched interior by the
immigrant tidal wave into the mellow coastal regions.
9] Fight urban
sprawl. But don't do it the anti-freedom Goreite way.
Liberals want to force you to raise your kids in
apartments. But the way to cut down on sprawl and
NIMBY protests is by going to the root of the problem
and cutting down
the number of immigrants. (See my "Green
Gag" for an account of how leftist
environmentalists have hamstrung themselves on doing
anything effective about population growth because of
their terror of offending the immigration lobby.)
enough ideas from me. You can probably invent better
ones yourself. The point is, though, that
conservatives need to think hard about inventing a
patriotic, pro-family conservation program. Otherwise,
the Republicans are going to continue to lose their
crucial white voters.
April 24, 2001