March 22nd, 2012

Inspired by Life after the Big Book (George Will 3/22/12 A15).


” Theodore Roosevelt, America’s first progressive president, thought it was government’s duty to ‘look ahead and plan out the right kind of civilization.’ TR looked ahead and saw a ‘timber famine’ caused by railroads’ ravenous appetites for crossties that rotted. He did not foresee creosote, which preserves crossties. Imagine all the things government planners cannot anticipate when, in their defining hubris, they try to impose their static dream of the ‘right kind’ of future.” – George Will


“If the present rate of forest destruction is allowed to continue, with nothing to offset it, a timber famine in the future is inevitable. Fire, wasteful and destructive forms of lumbering, and the legitimate use, taken together, are destroying our forest resources far more rapidly than they are being replaced. It is difficult to imagine what such a timber famine would mean to our resources. And the period of recovery from the injuries which a timber famine would entail would be measured by the slow growth of the trees themselves. Remember that you can prevent such a timber famine occurring by wise action taken in time, but once the famine occurs there is no possible way of hurry ing the growth of the trees necessary to relieve it.” – Teddy Roosevelt Address to the Forest Congress,Jan. 5, 1905


“You must remember that the forest which contributes nothing to the wealth, progress, or safety of the country is of no interest to the government, and it should be of little to the forester. Your attention should be directed not to the preservation of the forests as an end in itself, but as the means for preserving and increasing the prosperity of the Nation. Forestry is the preservation of forests by wise use. We shall succeed, not by preventing the use, but by making the forests of use to the settler, the rancher, the miner, the man who lives in the neighborhood, and indirectly the man who may live hundreds of miles off, down the course of some great river which has its rise among the forests.” – Teddy Roosevelt at meeting of the Society of American ForestersMarch 26, 1903


George Will is at it again,

Creating and attacking progressive straw men.


This time, Will’s premise is particularly strange:

Progressives are the ones who fear progress and change.


It seems to me that George is in denial,

Or at least confusing the two sides of the aisle.


George Will suggests that progressives are “stasists” (meaning people who oppose change and innovation and understand the world as if it is static rather than dynamic). He decries “bureaucracies” (which I guess are even worse than “bureaucrats”) that want to force the future to conform to their uninspired stasist vision of it.

Progressives do that all the time, apparently, though Will gives no actual examples of when bureaucrats have actually done or tried to do what he claims. Even his TR example actually proves the opposite point. First, as the TR quotes above show, TR was not fixated on railroad ties: he lists fire as the first threat to America’s timber supplies, followed by waste, followed by productive use (including railroad ties, though he doesn’t single that out). Nor, as illustrated by the second quote, does TR advocate preservation for its own sake: his philosophy of forestry management was to manage America’s timber resources to allow sustainable extraction of economic value without destroying the resource itself, which is what was happening before TR took action. And what was that action? He didn’t shut down railroad construction, nor did he forbid logging.  Instead, TR created the U.S. Forestry Service to manage timber resources on public land. That management halted the precipitous drop in forest cover that had taken place up until that time. And now, America still has forests.

George Will and his ilk assume that anything the government does is wrong and perhaps even actively evil. They’d instead have us trust in God’s plan and/or the unregulated free market, but that doesn’t always work out so well. The financial meltdown, climate change, over-fishing of the Chesapeake Bay that would have destroyed the the oyster population without action, and almost did. Things don’t always work out for the best if you just leave them up to God and/or the unregulated free market.

Will also ignores that it is the reactionary Tea Party wing of the Republican Party who is ideologically attached to and wants to return to America’s morally superior past, when life was simpler, women didn’t work, no one had premarital sex or abortions, white males ruled the roost, minorities knew their place, gays stayed in the closet, American manufacturing dominated, and America’s military might was unquestioned. So where’s their acceptance of the inevitability of change and faith in the future?


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