What’s less clear is whether this restlessness reflects a new conservative political tilt, or if it’s just the latest flare-up in a turf war over resources and real estate that’s been waged for over a century.
Are we looking at an ideological movement determined to turn this region to the right, or simply a periodic episode of sound and fury, signifying nothing?
Defining Western political forces has always been tricky because these forces so much depend on the current state of relations between the locals and their Washington, D.C., landlords. The federal government’s hand is especially heavy in a region where bureaucrats half a continent away control 50 percent of all lands and heavily regulate the state and private lands that remain.
Increasingly, though, Westerners’ political leanings can be pretty accurately guessed by how far their trade or their traditions lie from that heavy hand.
As in the blind men and the elephant parable, what an observer might “see” depends a lot on which part of the elephant he or she is sampling. A nurse in Seattle or a software engineer in Denver will perceive a much different Western political culture than will a rancher in Montana’s Missouri Breaks, or a roughneck in Utah’s Uinta Basin. They will also have significantly different public policy inclinations: not so much because their interests or goals vary so much they don’t. Their policy preferences diverge because of the angle and proximity of their viewpoint.
One perspective witnesses and experiences the rural production economy up close as a livelihood and a lifestyle, while the other has real memories or implanted images of an unspoiled and imperiled natural legacy.
This isn’t a left/right or Republican/Democrat divide, although that’s how it is manifested in the voting booth. It’s an urban/rural difference of perceptions more than of aims, and it is too often exacerbated by cooked-up controversies and outside agendas insisting that urban and rural values must be competing rather than complementary. But those perspectives are different, and they do make a difference. Read more