There is, the philosophers tell us, nothing like a little danger to focus the mind. The recent Ola complex fire on Squaw Butte did just that for me. Awakened about 4 a.m. by officers from the Gem County Sheriff's Department, we were told that we had an hour, perhaps two, in which to evacuate. We could see the glow of the distant fire silhouetted on the hill above us.
Before the time to leave, Gem County firefighters arrived and set up their equipment in our yard and we waited. A few hours later, a backfire lit by the Bureau of Land Management helped keep the fire from our home. But the danger wasn't over--the fire was all over the butte and still threatened to come after us. All day long we watched as various aircraft dropped fire retardant and water on the advancing fire. By nightfall, it had been stopped above our place.
That day we saw county, state and federal employees working together to stop a fire that threatened the homes of people they didn't even know. Some of the vehicles came from Nevada (both BLM and Bureau of Indian Affairs). We saw government at its best. Grover Norquist, the mastermind behind the Republican plan to gut the government, has said that he wants the government so small that he would be able to strangle it in a bathtub. Such a government wouldn't have been able to muster the resources to battle the Ola complex fire--and the towns of Sweet and Ola might now be smoky memories.
Norquist apparently hasn't considered that if he can strangle the government in a bathtub, then so can the likes of Osama bin Laden.
Even as the dedicated firefighters did their job, the Bush administration was working to privatize more than two-thirds of the employees of the Forest Service. Bush would like to "outplace" all of the Forest Service's firefighting jobs along with half of its law-enforcement officers and rangers, all of its geologists, and 3,000 foresters and conservationists.
Apparently, in the Republican dream world, the next time there's a fire or flood, call Halliburton. And no doubt Jim Risch will be there to sell you water at $5 a bottle. (Risch has so little understanding of history that he doesn't know or care to know that it was the federal government who bailed out all those Idahoans whose property was damaged by the Teton Dam disaster. And that the dam itself was one of those welfare programs that Idahoans so love while complaining about welfare queens in the cities.)
In his book Trust, The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity, neoconservative Francis Fukuyama argues that it is trust between people and their institutions that allows civilizations to succeed. The Republican plan to sell the government to the highest bidder will undermine our trust in America's public institutions.
Certainly the ancient Greeks, the people who gave us Western Civilization, understood trust. Their concept of the polis (which we badly translate as meaning "city-state") was a living, communitarian thing to them that embodied their ideals of Justice. The ties of polis held the Greeks together and enabled them to create the world's first democracy. The founders of the American democratic republic, steeped as they were in the history and philosophy of ancient Greece, also understood this when they gave us the motto e pluribus unum (one out of many).
On November 7, if we are to be true to our common heritage, we must avoid succumbing to the ugly sectarian, racial and ideological divisions that threaten to undermine our democracy.
Gary L. Bennett lives in Emmett.