Monday, June 09, 2014

Knute Berger, it isn't hypocrisy, it's a competition of political visions

Knute Berger is usually right.


But, not on this one:
Our current self-image is wrapped around the idea that we're better than other people, that we're more idealistic, more humane, more fair. Some of that is pure snobbery.

Some of it is idealism, a genuine desire to do good and do better. Mayor Ed Murray has said that he wants Seattle to be a role model for progressivism in the world, and the mayors before him, Mike McGinn and Greg Nickels, were largely on board with a similar agenda. But to accomplish that, we’d have to get a whole lot better at looking at the real costs and true values of all those economic engines we embrace. It’s time to reconsider our corporate heroes in a fresh light.
Berger is trying to point out that Seattle (or I think more accurately, urban Puget Sound... Pugetopolis, maybe...) says one thing but does another. While we fight for a $15 minimum wage, fight gravel mines in our back yard (and mines in Alaska), we roll over for Amazon and Boeing. We talk a nice game, but when it comes down to it, we're a bunch of corporate whores.

Sure, people are hypocrites. No one really lives in truth all the time. That's like saying the sun rises. But, pointing out hypocrisy hardly makes a good column.

In this case, Berger is being overly simplistic. Seattle (Pugetopolis and even Cascadia) is more diverse than he gives us credit for.

And, one of the deepest caverns of political difference in Pugetopolis (if you don't mind) is how we approach corporations. Back to the founding of our greater region of Cascadia, the issue of corporate power has divided us. It shaped the very founding document of Oregon, played a large part in early drafts of the Washington constitution and drove the history of entire cities. The early battles between Seattle and Tacoma often took the shape of battles between railroad companies.

At the founding of our region, there were two competing mindsets on corporate power and society. One from New England was very pro-industry and pro-corporation. The other, from the upper Ohio Valley and Appalachia was very nervous about the power of companies over communities.

These competing visions were the reasons they debated corporations during the Oregon constitutional convention. Its also why Berger can see hypocrisy in Puget Sound, when really what he's seeing is a century plus old political debate.

And, with any political debate, where the support is nearly evenly split, each side takes turns winning the day. When we raise the minimum wage its our anti-corporate (and anti-slave and anti-slavery) Appalachian history winning. When we give Boeing massive tax breaks, its our New England capitalistic history taking over.

And, these New England/Appalachian divides don't often follow modern political divisions, you can have Democrats acting like corporatists and you can have Republicans taking shots at Boeing.

When it looks like we're talking two different games, it is just our single regional identity working through one its largest issues, how we treaty corporations.

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