Ken Burns’ new PBS documentary The Roosevelts, among many things, should remind us just how radical and extremist the Republican Party has become since the turn of the century.
It’s not difficult to imagine how the progressive politics of Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican president from 1901 to 1909, would be greeted today by conservative politicians, who advance the cause of states’ rights and corporate greed over the welfare of their country.
Roosevelt eventually wanted his “Square Deal” for people, arguing, “The effective fight against adequate government control and supervision of individual, and especially of corporate, wealth engaged in interstate business is chiefly done under cover; and especially under cover of an appeal to States' rights . . . “ That’s simply the antithesis of the Republican Party today.
Burns’ documentary is a fascinating study of Theodore, Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt. Republicans must hate it because it exposes the contemporary paltry platform of this country’s right-wing reactionaries, who in their paranoia always see sinister motives in their country’s government. Theodore Roosevelt’s political philosophy was much larger than that.
Oklahoma’s Republicans, who dominate state government right now, are especially anti-federal government as evidenced by Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s legal actions against the Affordable Care Act and any number of recent legislative actions based on supposed intrusion.
The war here on the federal government always has its negative consequences. When the legislature and Gov. Mary Fallin recently scrapped some Common Core standards for schools because of supposed intrusion, for example, the federal government announced the state would lose its “No Child Left Behind Waiver” and may have to reassign some $29 million federal funding.
The most recent mess to come to light because of paranoia over the federal government involves state driver's licenses. In 2007, lawmakers passed a law banning the state from participating in a federal program called the REAL ID Act, which was implemented as an anti-terrorism measure. Now, we’re finding out that Oklahomans starting in 2015 won’t be able to use their state licenses to get through a federal government security checkpoint. Starting in 2016, Oklahomans also won’t be able to board an airplane by showing their state license. Instead, a federally approved document, such as a passport, will have to be used.
Obviously, the paranoia and resulting hassle and contradiction are not limited to Oklahoma. An article this week in The New York Times points out that despite the success of the Affordable Care Act in Kentucky, some residents there—even those who have benefited from so-called Obamacare—are supporting Republican politicians who want to do away with the new health care law.
It’s tempting to file all this anti-federal government sentiment here and elsewhere under “stupidity” or just argue that it’s Republican and corporate manipulation of low-information voters, but Burns' documentary reminds me that something more fundamental has changed among a major segment of the electorate.
More than ever, it seems impossible to me that we can bridge through words or arguments the great partisan divide or educate voters in some meaningful and large-scale sense. Perhaps, only incremental demographical developments—an increase in minority voters, for example, who reject racist politics—will make a difference and advance progressivism in the twenty-first century.
Theodore Roosevelt’s Republican politics at the turn of the twentieth century started this country on an enlightened course and his cousin, Franklin Roosevelt, a Democrat, showed us how government can be a humane force in our lives. They were two significant politicians from the country’s two largest political parties in agreement with the pressing issues of their time. They were united under the philosophical idea of progressivism.
The fact a Republican legislator in an extremely conservative state is pointing out the lack of government oversight of oil and gas wells exposes the dirty business of extracting fossil fuels.
Here’s the larger, local philosophical question right now: Can one acknowledge the positive impact of the energy industry on the Oklahoma economy while also arguing for stricter regulations and oversight protecting the environment?
State Rep. Steve Vaughan, a Republican from Ponca City, held an interim study last week on the issue of water contamination related to oil and gas wells. According to a media release, here’s what Vaughan had to say on the topic:
There are more than 22,000 producing as well as disposal wells in my area. Less than 50 percent have been tested for their mechanical integrity in the last four years, according to DEQ. I think we learned in today’s study that we could give some of our fish and wildlife guys and other agencies some power to report and shut down problematic wells. We could also give the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality and Oklahoma Corporation Commission more resources to look into these wells.
The concern is whether oil and gas pollution is contributing to fish kills in the Salt Fork River and water well contamination in north central Oklahoma in Vaughan’s District 37.
Another pressing issue is that scientists claim wastewater disposal wells used in the hydraulic fracturing or fracking process are responsible for the state’s earthquake emergency. The state is now experiencing more 3.0-magnitude earthquakes than California. There have been so many earthquakes that it’s literally difficult to keep track of them. As I write this, the number could change. As of July, there were 258 3.0-magnitude quakes. I use that low number only because it’s cited in this excellent National Geographic story about Oklahoma’s earthquake swarm.
The larger issue is that all this points to the need to develop cleaner, renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power and hydropower. Even those energy sources don’t come without their own negative environmental impact, but there’s no doubt the extraction of fossil fuels, along with carbon emissions, continues to critically damage our planet.
(Mixon should be banned from ever playing football at OU and, if legally possible, expelled permanently from the university if he is convicted in the case. If that sensible decision doesn’t happen soon then Stoops and OU Athletic Director Joe Castiglione should be fired or allowed to resign, and Boren should retire.)
The fact suspended University of Oklahoma football player Joe Mixon still gets to hang out with the team despite the serious criminal charge against him is an embarrassment for OU and the entire state.
It sends a message that we condone violence against women here, and it comes at a time when the national media is also focusing on Ray Rice, the former Baltimore Ravens football player caught on video knocking out his then fiancé by a fist blow to her face.
The 18-year-old Mixon faces a misdemeanor charge of an “act resulting in a gross injury” after he allegedly hit a fellow 20-year-old female student in the face at a Norman restaurant on July 25. Like the Rice case, there is a video of the incident, which has been viewed by reporters.
According to one media report, a police affidavit claims Mixon "struck her on the left side of her face with his closed right first, knocking her into a table top and then to the ground where she laid motionless." Another police document, according to the same report, outlines how the young woman was diagnosed with a “fractured jaw, fractured cheek bone, fractured sinus and fractured orbit which caused a hemotoma on the left eye.”
Mixon has been suspended from the football team for one year by the university, a decision which I have argued in another post was basically siding with him in the case and ignoring the growing evidence that football breeds, promotes and condones violent behavior among its participants, especially violence directed against women.
Unfortunately, OU President David Boren was involved in the decision to only suspend Mixon for one year, and he’s apparently looking the other way as the university’s football program led by coach Bob Stoops continues to coddle him.
On Thursday, according to media reports, Mixon was with OU football players at a pep rally before Saturday’s game against the University of Tennessee. A photograph shows him surrounded by team players, who apparently are not overly concerned about the allegation against Mixon.
Let’s be clear: All this is reprehensible. The fact Mixon is still connected to the team absolutely sends a message the university condones violence against women. It is a violation of everything a university should stand for. It also opens up OU and state taxpayers even more to legal action. It’s an embarrassment for the entire state.
Mixon should be banned from ever playing football at OU and, if legally possible, expelled permanently from the university if he is convicted in the case. If that sensible decision doesn’t happen soon then Stoops and OU Athletic Director Joe Castiglione should be fired or allowed to resign, and Boren should retire.
The fact that some 18-year-old wannabe college football player, accused of a violent crime, is apparently more important than the reputation of the state’s leading research university is a disgusting spectacle that should be difficult to endure for everyone here, but especially for educators in the state.
This is exactly how and why violence against women in our culture is perpetuated.