Sunday, February 15, 2015

In Wyoming, we have our own nattering nabobs of negativism

"In the United States today, we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism. They have formed their own 4H Club -- the hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history."
Former vice president Spiro Agnew said this in 1970 about enemies of the Nixon administration, which included journalists, anti-war activists and pointy-headed intellectuals. At the time, none of these categories applied to me. They do now, 45 years later. I had to grow into them.

Agnew resigned in disgrace in 1973, replaced by Gerald Ford, who had some Wyoming roots and later went on the be president when Nixon resigned in disgrace in 1974.

Agnew's alliteration can be credited to William Safire, himself a journalist, and Pat Buchanan, known mostly for being a TV talking head and a presidential candidate. They wrote speeches for the Nixon White House. These guys loved words and it shows. They reached all the way back to the utterings of Captain Haddock, a character in the Tintin comic strip (and a 2011 Spielberg film) by Belgian cartoonist Herge. Captain Haddock was known for his colorful epithets: "Billions of bilious blue blistering barnacles" and "Ten thousand thundering typhoons!" Herge knew that sailors were known for their swearing but many children read his comic strip. So he found that alliterative words strung together and said in an angry voice can have the same effect as, well, you know -- a string of obscenities. You can call your critics pansy-ass anti-war dipshits. Or you can call them nattering nabobs of negativism. Those white Southern fundies will know what you're saying, and they can still pretend in public that they don't drink and swear.

Nattering nabobs of negativism. That term could be used for extremist Republicans in our state legislature. They've never seen a new idea they liked. To them, progress is a dirty word.  Technology is almost as scary as immigrants, LGBT people and Medicaid expansion. When our civic leaders promote planning initiatives, Repub extremists see a U.N. plot.

Agnew grew up a Democrat in Maryland and became a Republican and a moderate until Nixon got his hooks into him. Agnew became a mouthpiece for the Southern Strategy, the successful attempt to turn Bible Belt Conservative Democrats into Republicans. We're still feeling its effects. Most conservative ridiculousness comes from the South and deep-red states of the West.

It's difficult to reconcile the overwhelming negativity of the conservative legislature with the positive things I see happening all over Wyoming. The arts are booming, especially art on the local scene. "Local" is the key term here. Artists and artisans are figuring out that the best way to ensure the survival of your community is to grow it from the inside out. Big Coal isn't going to save you, nor is Big Oil, Big Ag, Big Tourism, Big Biz of any kind. Wyoming has always served as energy colony to the nation. That era is over, or at least on its way out. Gigantic wind farms, such as the one planned for Carbon County, may replace gigantic open pit coal mines. But it will be community-driven initiatives that save us. A paranoid fear of the federal government will not help. Nattering nabobs of negativism breed fear and insecurity. Instead, you need to look at what makes your community unique and open the door to change. That's not easy when you live in a small town in windswept Wyoming. It's much easier to blame some outside force for the fact that your town is ready to dry up and blow away. Federal gubment. Liberals. Obama. Enviros. That kind of negativism just quickens the inevitable.

Communities need to ponder their own navels for a bit to know what makes it tick. They may even have to indulge in some planning. It isn't always pretty when people from throughout a community get together to air their ideas. But the opposite is true, too. The death of a town through neglect and attrition is an ugly thing. We keep hearing that Wyoming is aging rapidly and our kids are leaving for more thriving locales.

Nonsensical nattering negativity is not the solution. What about continuing creativity conversations?

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