Rural Alchemy

Dr. Samuel Johnson, the author of the first great English dictionary, complained of the American colonists of the 1770s, “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?” That’s a tough question to answer about our founding fathers, but if Dr. Johnson was annoyed at the hypocrisy he saw coming from the New World, he might not have survived learning about rural Nevada.

The Clean Energy Summit at Aria recently brought Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu to Las Vegas, along with news that a one-of-a-kind hybrid power plant will be built—thanks in part to some encouragement from Sen. Harry Reid—in Churchill County, where no Democrat holds countywide office. Reid got 28 percent of the Churchill County vote in 2010, and Sharron Angle carried 63 percent. Meanwhile a $1 million federal grant for Internet access went to Gabbs in Nye County, where Reid racked up a whopping 37 percent.

That’s far better than the 22 percent he got in White Pine, where residents gave Angle two-thirds of their votes last year. White Pine voters are concerned about losing their share of the $200 million annual budget of the Essential Air Service, a federal program that serves rural airports, helping make it possible to transport passengers in and out of Ely—especially passengers who work for mining companies.

Rural Nevada has much to recommend it—indeed, Las Vegas and Reno residents should spend more time there. The historic Mizpah just reopened in Tonopah, a couple of hours from Gabbs. Fallon has a fine community college and a great local history museum. Ely has what may well be the world’s greatest railroad museum, as well as a wonderful small national park an hour away (White Pine residents have never forgiven Reid for getting it for them) and classic old spots like the Hotel Nevada.

Granted, Ely’s advocates have expressed a willingness to find ways to cut costs, but in general rural Nevada is a perfect case study of the drivers of opposition to the federal government being among the loudest yelpers for federal aid.

This makes rural Nevadans typical Americans—not, as the non-rural Jerry Seinfeld said, that there’s anything wrong with that. NIMBY, meaning “not in my backyard,” doesn’t just apply to the idea of, say, a nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain or other undesirable federal projects. It also reflects the belief that any government budget can and should be easily cut, as long as the cuts have no impact on you or me. At that point, they become bad, if not downright un-American.

Opus the Penguin, of the late, lamented comic strip Bloom County, captured the essence of this problem when he tried to become a farmer, which included learning to say the following without bursting into laughter: Keep Washington out of my business, and where’s my federal subsidy check?

The problem is that rural Nevada is the reddest of red regions on the electoral map. And its Republicans aren’t moderate—they drink tea with Angle.

All well and good. But the time has long since passed for rural Nevadans who made their pot of tea to drink all of it. Their distaste for government, especially the federal government, is well known and obvious. Why do our federal and state elected officials do so little to accommodate their feelings and desire to have less government? Besides, we socialist, tax-and-spend Southern Nevadans could always use more dough.

Once upon a time, when rural Nevadans dominated the Legislature, they claimed to take care of the rest of the state. They didn’t. When reapportionment gave Las Vegas a plurality and then a majority, they warned that they were doomed. They weren’t.

Now the politicians that rural Nevadans support—and even those they oppose—say we must get by with less. Why not grant the wishes of those who want much less? Besides, if mining companies can reap huge profits from Nevada, they could fly a prop job into Ely. They can afford that—it isn’t a tax.