Great Expectations: the Oldest Trick in the Book

“I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.” Thomas Jefferson
By Bob Ferris
So much of our attitudes and actions in life are determined by our expectations—some of them true and some of them false. When you look at some of the unrest about wolves in the West, for instance, some of that has to do with Bob and Incense Cedarfolks incorrectly believing that the minimum delisting goals for wolves in the Northern Rockies were maximum acceptable population levels. I can, to a certain extent, understand their anger but it is misdirected at the wolves and wolf advocacy organizations when it should be directed at those promulgating the falsehood and creating the unreal and untrue expectation.
“To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States, and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the state in which the same shall be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings;–And…” US Constitution Article I Section 8
This phenomenon of purposely created false expectations becomes particularly pertinent as we start to hear election rhetoric regarding federal lands and so-called “government overreach.” The most distilled and egregious of these attacks are the ones made by candidates and others shaking a copy of the US Constitution, invoking the founding fathers, and boldly stating that the federal government cannot own any lands within the states greater than 10 square miles. This is usually emphasized by the speaker saying that they are a “student” of the US Constitution. Yep it is right there is black and white. However…
“The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States….”US Constitution Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2
The problem is that these “students” are extremely good at finding Article I Section 8 that actually deals with the federal government taking or purchasing state lands with the approval of the state legislatures for “needful buildings,” but miss Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2 known as the “property clause” which actually deals with federal ownership of lands (see also here). They also conveniently forget that all this land stuff is settled by an Act of Congress before a state becomes a state in what is essentially a congressionally approved application for statehood that always includes clauses dealing with who owns what (see steps to statehood).
So these folks who bang this 10-square mile drum either do not know or understand the US Constitution;re advocating for ignoring or dissolving what is essentially a legally binding agreement between a state and Congress; or are trying to deceive you and create a schism between you and the governing body of your country. Regardless of which it is, none of these strike me as desirable behaviors or conditions from a person looking to gain elected office or the respect of thinking voters.
I have to admit that I have a deep, probably inbred, sensitivity when it comes to discussions that simultaneously mischaracterize the founding fathers, the US Constitution and federal lands. I come by this honestly as I am the Mary Walton Morrisperson in my family in this generation who bears the middle name of Morris. This naming honors Lewis Morris (my great5-grandfather) who signed the Declaration of Independence. It also touches on his half-brother Gouverneur Morris who was one of the primary drafters of the US Constitution and widely credited with coining the “We the People” phrase so popular with and so misunderstood by the Tea Party. And it also honors my great3grandfather William Walton Morris who was shipped off to West Point at age 12 and fought with honor in the War with Mexico where many of the western lands were gained and during which his cousin and West Point classmate Lewis N. Morris was killed with a bullet through the heart.
"I'm guess maybe I'm a little bit like the Founding Fathers. I got a job to do, and I'm going to do it the best I can." Rancher Cliven Bundy
This lineage likely also explains some of my tenacity when it comes to matters of principle and rightness. Grandfather Lewis was to-the-manner-born—in this case the Manor of Morrisania –and he and his wife Mary (we have to give credit to founding mothers too, at right above) gave much of that up to push forward this exercise in democracy. And one-legged, withered-armed Gouverneur Morris died a gruesome death while performing a ticklish medical procedure on himself. William died of natural causes while commanding iconic Ft. McHenry during the Civil War but not before he famously pointed the fort’s cannon at the citizenry of Baltimore to make sure they understood that he was serious about quelling any rebellion in the country that his grandfather and great uncle had worked so hard to establish. (I am sure a pattern is emerging here.)
All of the above is probably why I am so personally offended by actions like Cliven Bundy riding across the landscape with a US flag, carrying a copy of the US Constitution and comparing himself to the founding fathers. Bundy’s broad claim to these lands springs from Dudley Leavitt who swopped down from Canada in 1850, had 5 wives, and was a member of the militia group that infamously massacred a wagon train of Americans—men, women and children—heading west in 1857 and then tried to blame it on the local Indians. There is some debate as to whether or not Dudley directly participated in the Mountain Meadows killings but this seems materially different than the actions of two cousins from New York who faced the cannons and an opposing force nearly twice theirs at the Battle of Palo Alto in 1846 in order to gain the lands where Mr. Bundy’s illegal cattle now squat and compromise public safety. But enough of this, Bundy is just a tool in a bigger public lands’ game and we should focus on the forces who gave this waste of skin much, much more attention than he deserved
For those actually paying attention (and we all should) so-called “government overreach” is really just a misdirect. It is a ploy that gets folks to look in one direction while the thing that the real players want to remain hidden saunters by out of sight. It is—as one popular commercial calls it—the oldest trick in the book. When we focus on this myth of government overreach, we miss seeing the “corporate overreach” that Jefferson, Madison, Roosevelt, and Eisenhower all warned us about so often and is so evident in these post-Citizen United days.
Characterizing this as a misdirect is correct but perhaps too simplistic because it is really a whole family of similar actions cobbled together in an amalgamated campaign to open up public lands to abuse and rob us of needed protections. It is the energy companies, ranchers and timber interests targeting trophy hunting groups—buying influence or perverting policy from within. It is also corporate-funded think tanks spewing intellectual pollution on climate change, nutrient loading or pipelines.
“The power of all corporations ought to be limited, […] the growing wealth acquired by them never fails to be a source of abuses.” — James Madison
It becomes apparent when you look closely and pay attention that “junk science” is just as much a misdirect as “government overreach.” And the same is true for “timber gridlock” when the chainsaws and timber mills want more logs from our public holdings like Oregon’s O&C lands or the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. And you can see it too in the manufacturing and marketing of iconic “victims” such as the aforementioned Mr. Bundy to stir up public opinion to enable more public lands abuses, dismantle key environmental protections or lay down a smoke screen that masks the true motivation behind privatization.
“Our aim is not to do away with corporations; on the contrary, these big aggregations are an inevitable development of modern industrialism, and the effort to destroy them would be futile unless accomplished in ways that would work the utmost mischief to the entire body politic. We can do nothing of good in the way of regulating and supervising these corporations until we fix clearly in our minds that we are not attacking the corporations, but endeavoring to do away with any evil in them. We are not hostile to them; we are merely determined that they shall be so handled as to subserve the public good. We draw the line against misconduct, not against wealth.” Theodore Roosevelt
Those of us in the West are the ones being subjected most frequently to this collection of anti-regulatory and public lands opening misdirects. This makes sense because there is a lot at stake financially for those proffering these misdirects. Unfortunately there is even more at risk to those of us who would suffer the consequences of their success in profiting off our resources and compromising the natural systems that support us.
"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist." Dwight D. Eisenhower
So the choice is clear, we can get informed and active in protecting these lands and cornerstone environmental protections or we can go through life like the young and confused lad with the unstylish bowl-cut continually falling for the oldest trick in the book and having our expectations recalibrated by those who would rob our purse and make our lives poorer rather than richer.