Thursday, April 01, 2010

My Dad Hated FDR but Loved the REA!

My Dad’s side of my family always seemed so conservative, so Republican through and through.  But part of my Mom’s side was definitely Democrat and probably today would be called liberal and proud of it.  Both sides came from good pioneer stock and very much helped settled the Western part of this great nation.  So I’ve had six decades of hearing very partisan arguments at any gathering of family.  Of course, in formative years I was far more surrounded on a daily if not weekly basis by the Republican side.

I probably owe my predisposition for critical thinking and being accepting and tolerance (they call that liberal) to a reaction to listening to parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and great grand parents argue every position imaginable.  But definitely not because they were accepting.  Actually they knew I was growing up “on the other side” but it wasn’t clear to me until I moved away from home and realized that my hero and in today’s terms definitely “liberal” Senator Frank Church of Idaho, ‘57-‘81, the only Democrat re-elected to the Senate from that state, was indeed an anomaly.h2_RL_2001_1_3

As I great up surrounded by my Dad’s family, they, like most folks in the Yellowstone-Teton region of Eastern Idaho were very, very, very conservative and it seemed, nearly all Republican and very distrustful of big government and any government was pretty much considered big.

But one thing that side of my family hailed over and over was the “big government” that brought electricity to ranches and farms like the one I was born on and that had been homesteaded by my Grandparents and Great Grandparents.  It transformed their lives and their quality of life.  And if it hadn’t been for the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) that part of Idaho would probably still be waiting for the private sector utilities to believe it could be financially viable to run electricity there.

Recalling their heartfelt gratitude for that “big government” program is what makes me realize that although that part of my family would probably be Tea Party sympathizers were they alive today, “big government” is just a symbolically pejorative term.  In reality, “Big Government” is a very relative thing and ironically, if it weren’t for “Big Government,” talk-show millionaires wouldn’t be fill the heads of people like them with senseless vitriol.

The REA  is not unlike the healthcare insurance reform just passed or the proposal by the FCC to rapidly expand access to broadband.   It involved grants and coops and mandates etc.  It came about over strenuous opposition and all kinds of dire predictions and labels like “socialism.”  But virtually no one now can even imagine that what it accomplished would have happened any other way, nor that it isn’t one of the greatest things that happened to this country.  And what the REA achieved created an economic and social miracle.

Some in that part of my family, like my Father, apparently like some in the Tea Party, were also racist.  Oh, they didn’t think they were racist because they were tolerant of individuals they knew who happened to be of different ethnicities and cultures.  But boy they sure sounded and acted racist, talking about groups and individuals with which they were not personally familiar.  I can recall how many people across the country for instance reacted with a similar anger to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, fueling a politically conservative frenzy later that year.

And yet today, the act is a given and very much symbolic of what this country is about and it is clear, because of the act, we’ve come a long way toward measuring up to our ideals.

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