I was recently invited to a seminar at a university whose thesis might be considered insulting.
West, said the invitation, "lacks an intellectual, cultural or
social presence within either the country or the continent. Eastern
publishers, Eastern intellectual centers and agencies, public and
private, based in Washington, D.C., still provide the authoritative
voices on Western matters."
In other words, if the
American West were slightly more advanced, it might qualify as a
If this is true of the part of the West that
includes Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, imagine how true
it is of the Interior West of Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona, Montana,
Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.
These big-box states are,
in many ways, worse off than other out-of-it places like Oklahoma,
Arkansas and West Virginia: Half of the Western states are federal
land administered by agencies based in the East.
usually said that the Interior West is a colony of the federal
government. Unfortunately, our former colonial master has lost
interest in the West, and is now chasing new colonies in Iraq, the
"Stans" and the Ukraine. That we are a cast-off colony — a
first-wives’ region — means the feds no longer
subsidize our dams, or the logging of our matchstick-sized trees,
or the building of nuclear weapons here.
should be in an economic depression. Instead, even after five years
of drought, this once-rural region is booming. I think that’s
because we have glorious national parks such as Yellowstone, the
Grand Canyon and Glacier. Visitors get a taste for these landscapes
and then find that they can own their own little national park, or
at least a national monument. So it is our fate that millions of
Americans are moving here, bringing equity and pensions to this
As a result, the pretty West is
making do. But will this transfer of wealth halt when the last
"unspoiled" valley is spoiled?
Of course, lots of places
don’t even have this much of a future. But sometimes,
no-account regions rise up. According to Joseph Ellis’s
His Excellency, a biography of George
Washington, the American Revolution really started when Washington
realized he was keeping himself in poverty by aping the British
nobility’s pricey way of life.
Washington urged his
countrymen to produce their own goods to free themselves from
English imports. In the end, of course, the scorned, culture-less
colonies triumphed and came to dominate the English-speaking world.
They succeeded because the colonists had — in addition to
several million square miles of land at their backs —
aggression, pride and a genius for politics.
land-rich and culture-poor Interior West also be the seed of change
that ripens within the current American empire?
signs.This spring, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson organized an
international meeting on energy for Western Canada, Western Mexico
and the Western United States. Richardson wants to weld together
the Western portion of North America using our common stores of
energy — both the fossil kind and the renewable kind.
I don’t know if the governor was asked by John
Kerry to be his running mate. But if Richardson was asked and
turned Kerry down, it might be because he thinks putting together
the Western chunks of three nations is more important than becoming
vice president of a declining imperial government.
is not about revolution, of course. It is about the filling of a
vacuum created by the federal government’s decision to ignore
a large chunk of the nation in order to go off on foreign
adventures. Patriotism will carry those adventures for a while. Yet
in the end, the United States is a very practical, bottom-line
The correction to this adventuring should have
come from the "blue states," but despite the presence in their
midst of Harvard, The New York Times and herds
of intellectuals, they have proven more tone-deaf to America than
the present administration.
So it is up to the West,
whether led by Richardson, California Republican Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger or Nevada Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, to figure out
what’s more important to America — nation-building far
from home, or building energy independence.