Thursday, August 11, 2005

Hidden Democrats of the Interior West

Colorado Luis says even a turd like Cheney could win the Presidency by keeping the swing states of Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada from swinging to the left, just by virtue of his being a westerner. I don't know that I agree, since I know several Colorado Republicans who despise the man. I think even my mom (who lives in Wyoming) would have to hold her nose to vote for Cheney.

But I do agree in the importance that the interior west (that is, not California, Oregon, or Washington) is in gaining power for the Democrats. As Dan Slater of DemNotes points out, Democrats need to become more involved in the interior, and understand the priorities that westerners have: "land use, the environment, and individual rights issues..."

The evidence for that is pretty graphic. If you look at population density on the funny electoral maps, you see that large swaths of unoccupied land are voting Republican. If land is keeping neo-cons in power, it might be a good idea to understand the needs of those who occupy that land, speak to their concerns, involve them more.

I am originally from California, so I know how little coastal Democrats think of the interior west. I don't mean Californians think they are better, just that they don't think about it much at all. But I moved to Wyoming, then Michigan, then Florida, and now Colorado, and I've lived with my midwesterner husband and gotten to know his large family, most of whom have generations of farming in their blood.

It occurred to me, while living in these different areas, that a very large difference in political ideology between those who live in cities and those who live in the country has to do with population density.

For one thing, the more people there are living in close quarters, the more necessary it is to have rules and regulations to control behavior to maintain a somewhat peaceful and safe environment. As Oliver Wendell-Holmes said, "The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins." In an urban area, people's noses are a lot closer together (the impulse to control sexual and moral matters has a different motivating factor, and I'm not talking about that).

Also, if the environment is a high priority for the west, the Dems should jump all over that. Democrats want regulations to force industry to stop polluting, but people in sparsely populated areas don't necessarily see the effects of pollution -- especially in the west, where lower humidity contributes to clearer weather -- and look at it in terms of the Federal Government meddling in local economic concerns.

But local pollution does not stay local. Texas A&M University geoscientist Robert Duce:
"Most of the haze in wilderness areas comes from wind-blown pollution from many sources spread over hundreds of miles, including sources well outside Texas and far from the border in Mexico.


"But global industrialization, coupled with natural patterns of atmospheric circulation, means that some of the pollution we see today could have been generated in Asia two weeks ago. Clearly, cleaning up Big Bend will require a lot more than just overhauling the situation near the border."

The Eastern States actually contribute to the pollution in the West. Put in those terms, it might make go further to convince some that controlling polluting industries really is a national, as well as an international concern.

As I said, I'm a recent transplant to Colorado, and I'm a city girl. So my insights into the importance to westerners on issues of land use, the environment, and individual rights is very limited. But there are plenty of native local sources to be tapped in these areas, and a compelling reason to do so. Just look at the picture.

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