Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Tierney is Right?

Remarkably, John Tierney is on the right path here.

Tierney talks about how some western environmental groups have decided to play by Republicans' rules and buy out ranchers' grazing rights to get the cattle off the range. Bush and his rancher friends are not happy about this and now are changing the rules away from the market-based environmentalism Tierney supports and Gail Norton said she supported.

You have to get through Tierney's rhetoric about the market and such to see that he's right on. Doesn't it seem better for all sides to have well-heeled environmental groups buy out grazing rights rather than spending that money on divisive court cases? Of course it does. But that undermines today's political realities in ways that the administration doesn't like, including

1. The Right likes divisive court cases over the environment. They figure they can outspend the environmentalists and now that the courts are fully in the hands of Republican appointments, that they can win. They get to talk about property rights and individualism. To have these things settled out of courts not only ends in results that Republicans don't like but they also lose the rhetorical battle.

2. Reforming agricultural policy. The nation's agricultural policies haven't made any sense for decades. There is no good economic reason to run cows in the Escalante, in the Gila Mountains of Arizona and New Mexico, or on most national forest land. But agricultural subsidies are not only politically popular but politically popular in red states. These kind of individual settlements, while they make perfect sense to all parties, reforms American agricultural policy through the back door.

3. It exposes the hypocrisy of Republican rhetoric about representing small property holders and small farmers. An individual buyout makes great sense for the lucky rancher. They can get far more money from the buyout than they can from their cattle. By having to oppose these buyouts, the Republicans show that they don't give a damn about small ranchers or their terrible financial situation.