An Esquire blogger has also noted that Gov. Mary Fallin's anti-federal government tirade Tuesday at the Republican National Convention ignores the state’s historical reliance on the feds.
In a post titled “On RNC Opening Night, Republicans Dare To Build A Lie,” Charles P. Pierce quotes a portion of Fallin’s speech that celebrated the state’s first oil well and then put it as bluntly as it gets.
“. . . it was perhaps the most singularly dishonest speech I have ever seen a politician give . . .,” Pierce writes.
I had posted on the same issue before Fallin’s speech on Tuesday when it leaked out she was going to extol the virtues of local oilman Harold Hamm, the wealthy CEO of Continental Resources, an energy company here. Fallin argues that Hamm embodies the Oklahoma spirit, whatever that means. We should all know Hamm’s legacy could be fleeting because it’s quite probable the Oil Age will be a small blip in the history of mankind if carbon emissions from fossil fuels don’t destroy the planet first and there actually remains a history to consider.
Pierce takes issue with this portion of Fallin’s speech:
. . . And, in 1897, eight years after the land run, a handful of adventurous pioneers risked their own money — not the federal government's money — to drill Oklahoma's first oil well, the Nellie Johnstone. By doing so, these early-day pioneers changed the future and Oklahoma forever and today Oklahoma is one of the nation's key energy producers and job creators. President Obama wants us to believe that Oklahomans owe that success to the federal government — to the Department Of Energy, to the EPA, to the IRS, or maybe even to him. Mr. President, we know better. As we say in Oklahoma, that dog won't hunt.
Note the “not the federal government’s money” aside and all those scary, terrible government agencies she mentions. Pierce’s point, and it’s a point I’ve been arguing here for years, is that Oklahoma owes its very existence to the federal government.
My god, Oklahomans wouldn't even have Oklahoma without the federal government, without the Homestead Act of 1889 or the Railroad Act — both, by the way, achievements of a Republican presidents named Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Harrison.
And, of course, that doesn’t mention all the help the state has received through the years since statehood in 1907, including a long time period when the federal government built the state's major lakes. Recent U.S. Census and Internal Revenue figures show that the state receives $1.30 back from the federal government for every $1 it pays in taxes. Like many red states, Oklahoma is a “receiver” state, essentially taking money away from “donor” states, which are most often blue states.
All this gets omitted from Fallin’s extremely selected history of Oklahoma. As I’ve written before, Oklahoma is only sustained and viable because of the federal government, and its very creation was definitely a multi-layered and multi-year federal project. The history of Oklahoma as an ongoing federal project supported by people in the East doesn’t necessarily diminish the state, but obviously the truth doesn’t fit with Republican ideology.
This doesn’t mean that Fallin or other Oklahomans should never criticize the actions of the federal government, but to completely ignore the obvious reality of our state’s history and its current reliance on the federal government is a deliberate gross distortion.
But Fallin isn’t the only Republican with a “facts” problem at the convention. U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee, gave a speech Wednesday night that sent fact checkers into a frenzy. Joan Walsh, editor of Salon.com, published an insightful piece titled “Paul Ryan’s brazen lies” on the issue.
On Tuesday night at the Republican National Convention, Gov. Mary Fallin will speak about the “spirit of Oklahoma” and how it apparently manifests itself in energy executive Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources, according to a media report.
But defining the “spirit” of anything or anyone is always problematic, and Hamm is an obvious if not crass political choice since he serves as an energy advisor to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The Oklahoma spirit, if such a thing exists, is much deeper and varied than a wealthy oilman producing the fossil fuels that create the carbon emissions that are slowly but steadily destroying the planet through global warming.
Surely, Fallin will talk about other examples of the so-called Oklahoma spirit, including the state’s American Indian tribes and Will Rogers, but there’s one thing she’s not going to mention, and that’s the state’s long-term and current reliance on the federal government for its basic sustenance and viability. That would be considered blasphemy at the RNC, but then the truth is often perceived as blasphemy.
Let’s be clear: The federal government is not the problem for Oklahoma; it’s the reason for Oklahoma. That line won’t get any applause at a Republican gathering.
As I’ve outlined in some recent posts and as a recent Washington Post article clearly suggests, the state continues to feast at the federal trough even as it produces citizens expressing the Oklahoma spirit of biting the hand that feeds them or, in other words, posturing as terribly aggrieved small-government patriots.
It’s all the federal government’s fault when, in fact, the government supplies, according to the most recent figures, $1.30 for every dollar the state pays in federal taxes. This is the state’s old story of post-World War II ingratitude, as much part of the Oklahoma spirit as anything else.
But don’t worry. A recent editorial in The Oklahoman, the state’s largest newspaper, tells us that “Oklahomans aren’t any more or less ‘hypocritical’ than other folks.” That’s good to know, I guess, but where exactly in Oklahoma are those hypocritical limousine liberals to which the editorial refers. I don’t believe Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips rides around town in a limousine. Is it Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder? Is he even liberal?
Or is the editorial’s overall point that Oklahomans are just as hypocritical as folks in other red states such as Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, which also receive much more in federal dollars than they pay into the system? All those states will start to feel the brunt of Hurricane Isaac, fueled by the residual effect of global warming, right around the time Fallin extols the virtues of a wealthy oilman, and so we come full circle.
This is certain: Those states hit hardest by Isaac will not only expect but demand the federal government help them out after the storm hits, and, by logical extension, therefore demand Massachusetts and New York citizens pay for their obliviousness. So goes the spirit in red-state America these days. Rich oilmen become demigods as the federal government continues to coddle its petulant children.
An interactive map and a recent in-depth New York Times article raise the question progressives here have grappled with for a long time: Why do red-state Oklahomans increasingly vote against their own financial interests by electing conservatives?
I’ve been asking that question here on Okie Funk since at least 2006 following the publication of Thomas Franks’ book What’s The Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. In the book, Franks argues that conservative politicians use cultural wedge issues, such as abortion, to win votes while promoting an ideology that is financially detrimental to most people’s lives in places like Kansas and Oklahoma.
While Oklahomans, for example, elect politicians who profess to be small-government advocates and want cuts in entitlement programs, they also take advantage of government financial assistance in increasing numbers. It’s a striking contradiction.
An interactive map recently published in The Times shows that in some Oklahoma counties, the percentage of government money used as income is more than 35 percent, far above the national average of 17.6 percent. In Pushmataha County in southeastern Oklahoma, for example, 38.95 percent of all income is derived from government benefits programs, such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and unemployment insurance. In Tillman County in southwestern Oklahoma, the rate is 35.11 percent. Oklahomans rely on the government for assistance in huge numbers, and that’s nothing new.
As columnist Paul Krugman recently pointed out, “there’s no mystery about red-state reliance on government programs.”
Yet Oklahomans continue to elect politicians such as U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican, who would cut government programs and essentially reduce their income and potential income.
So it’s an old issue, but it deserves to be revisited periodically. The Tea Party rhetoric of limited government and self-reliance doesn’t match the reality in Oklahoma. It’s the largest political contradiction of our era, and there doesn’t seem to be any resolution in the foreseeable future.