Recently the Republican-led House restored Abandoned Mine Land funds to every coal-producing state except Wyoming, a decision costing us 700 million dollars. Wyoming’s all-GOP congressional delegation was outraged. Congresswoman Lummis told Public Radio the Republican chairman of the Appropriations Committee refused to even take Governor Mead’s and her calls when they attempted to make their case. Imagine that? In Washington it’s that easy to take Wyoming for granted.
Wyoming’s Republican governor searches for an excuse to deny healthcare to 30,000 uninsured families, saying the feds won’t answer his letters. A pattern? The GOP legislature finds it’s critical that hunting, not healthcare, be a constitutional right, and Lummis votes to exchange Medicare for a voucher.
Causes you to wonder whether Wyoming gets anything of value in exchange for being reliably right. Is conservatism an end in itself? Does Wyoming’s conservatism add anything to people’s hopes for the future?
What does it mean for Wyoming to be “conservative?” William Buckley, the voice for conservatives before that job went to Limbaugh and Coulter, was asked to define conservatism. "Conservatism,” Buckley said, “is a paragon of essences towards which the phenomenology of the world is continuing approximation."
Webster defines conservatism as a “disposition in politics to preserve what is established, a political philosophy based on tradition and social stability, stressing established institutions…the tendency to prefer an existing or traditional situation to change.”
It’s the “disposition to preserve what is established” that defines Wyoming conservatives, conflicting with Buckley’s vision of conservatism as “a paragon of essences towards which the phenomenology of the world is continuing approximation." Buckley liked words like “phenomenology.” It’s the study of “phenomena,” i.e. ways we experience things, meaning found in our experiences. It’s entirely different from clinging to the past.
Thinkers like Buckley view conservatism as pivotal in making certain that our experiences in life, not our prejudices or ill-informed notions, move us forward in a deliberative manner. Many Wyoming conservatives want to make sure there is no deliberative process much less any move forward. Whether it’s a job, a livelihood, piece of land or civil rights, they have theirs and believe both the Constitution and the Bible should be interpreted to make sure that’s as far as it goes.
That’s why Wyoming’s greatest export is neither coal nor gas but our youth. The millions we invest in educating children becomes an investment in the future of other states. Communities pretend to bemoan the loss of these young people but, in truth, it’s the inevitable result of an unwillingness to consider the “paragon of essences towards which the phenomenology of the world is continuing approximation." Clinging to the past and its symbols assures that anyone with an urge to think about the opportunities of the future will find themselves elsewhere, contributing to some other community somewhere else.
It wasn’t always this way. But today, more than any other time, Wyoming is defined by an increasingly narrow political, social, religious, and economic philosophy. Conservatism has become an excuse for being unwelcoming to new ideas and innovation in education, business, the arts, medicine, healthcare, employer-employee relationships and more. More often than not, it’s the tool for holding tightly to a nostalgic sense of history and a self-serving idea of fiscal and personal responsibility, using big government strategies to impose their moral beliefs on others while avoiding a commitment to excellence in the institutions that are designed to make certain nothing changes.
There’s a choice. Wyoming could provide the environment in which aspirations of young people are fulfilled or an environment they find stifling. But doing what would keep young people in Wyoming threatens the establishment. Those who don’t want anything to change have a stake in making certain these young thinkers do their thinking somewhere else.
In the meantime, Wyomingites continue to vote “regardless-Republican” even when the Republicans we elect can’t even get other Republicans to take their phone calls. Taken for granted and holding the short-end of the stick is apparently all we get for being so reliably right.