Friday, March 6, 2015

Alaska’s Don Young: the Political Litmus Paper of Our Demise

By Bob Ferris

Don Young in his office (from his Facebook page)
I remember attending a reception in DC once—some sort of hunting and angling affair.  As I got off the elevator, I went over to slake my thirst at the drinking fountain thinking that a wiser course than “solving” my dehydration problem with a few cocktails. As I finished slurping, the elevator doors opened and Congressman Don Young (R-AK)  burst out walking purposely to the registration desk and in a loud voice proclaimed “Now that I am here, the party can begin.”

It was a grand and impressive entrance bespeaking a man of stature and eminence.  That effect was ruined when the young woman handing out name tags and checking people off lists looked up and said, “Excuse me sir, but who are you?” I often wonder if Mr. Young heard the near crack of my ribs as I suppressed a building laugh before dashing into the nearby restroom?

Don Young is indeed an elected representative, but he really seems more like a bad act on the Gong Show only the Alaska political machine seems to have hidden the gong’s padded mallet so well that even they may have forgotten where it is.  How bad is Don Young?  Recently he offered up that wolves might be a solution to the homeless problem.  Perhaps Mr. Young has forgotten that his state has wolves and also ranks 10th in the nation in terms of homelessness.  So the remark was not only monumentally insensitive but uniformed as well--trademark Don Young.

In addition, this past fall in Sarah Palin’s Wasilla the good congressman entertained high school students by making bizarre and inappropriate comments about suicide and gay marriage. And I am not even sure what to make of his issue about being touched covered in the second part of this Washington Post blog or the funny face made in Congress during a presentation honoring a fallen serviceman (see below).

Now many of us who worked in DC can tell humorous or horrific Don Young stories like his waving a walrus baculum (penis bone) at the late Mollie Beattie—the first female Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service—or calling the female members of the House Resources Committee his “sled dogs” in the 1990s.   And many of us remember his infamous “wetback” comment.  But I perhaps identify most with his interchange with Dr. Douglas Brinkley a respected historian (below).

The above clip with Doug Brinkley and Don Young during an Arctic National Wildlife Refuge hearing is difficult to watch and is all about frustration, intellectual disconnect and the gap between those who command respect and those who demand it without deserving it.  Some may fault Dr. Brinkley for his response, but I suspect that none of them have sat in that seat as some of us have and suffered insult and abuse from folks who lack even rudimentary credentials.  Being pumped with adrenaline and backed into corners by those speaking nonsense are all powerful catalysts particularly when you fully understand that your tormentor has all of the above going for him as well as a string of ethics investigations (1,2,3) and other silliness.  I never blew smoke like that during testimony but that does not mean that it was not running through my mind and hidden under mental egg shells in a room where rocks were being thrown.

I have a great respect for Dr. Brinkley having read his excellent book on Roosevelt and interacted with him on an updating of Theodore Roosevelt for a blog post.  But all of this is not really about the interaction between a respected professor and an elected official from the Foghorn Leghorn School of Governance.   It is about a critical flaw in our election process.  That people like Don Young or James Inhofe (AKA #SenatorSnowBall) stay and stay in office in spite of minimal achievement, obvious allegiances to exploitative industries and serious cases of foot-in-mouth syndrome speaks volumes about a broken political system.  These elected officials and others like them defy the laws of political physics by rising to the top while everything about them seems to speak strongly of the bottom.

All of this makes me weary as I would much rather be sitting on the bank of a river somewhere wondering about which fly I might tangle in a branch rather than how to protect this once great but slipping country from the obvious peril we face from a system that places and keeps the Don Youngs of the country in office. Certainly the Citizen’s United decision is at play here and other forces, but it is also about voter turnout and the infinite resources of the moneyed that allow the system to be played so well and so often to their benefit.

As an ecologist I cannot help but think in terms of an extinction vortex when contemplating Don Young and the last straw on the camel's back represented by the political investment planned by the Koch Brothers and their allies in the next election in 2016.  Perhaps we will all miraculously wake up and "get it" at some point, but it is going to take a monumental effort to return to a time of deserved respect and global leadership.  I do not know if that will happen.  But I do know that our current situation that allows the concentration of wealth at the expense of infrastructure, education and our collective health is not a pathway back to this desirable state.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this Bob. Extremely well written and well said. My conclusion is that there is no pathway back to the desirable state we seek on the path that got us here in this first place. In Oregon we have been blazing a new path for quite some time in multiple counties. And we have now submitted an amendment to the Oregon constitution that will elevate the decision making authority of our communities over the Koch Brothers of the world, state and federal preemption, and world trade agreements. We have just launched our petition signature drive. Interested? Contact me at Dana@Bentonccrc or check out Oregonians for Community Rights here: