The Single-issue Voter: A birder’s look at Paul Ryan (R)
It’s that time again. As civic-minded individuals do, I’m oft interested in how the platforms of those running for president affect my life, that’s as a birder naturally. With so many candidates and elections still more than a year off I decided to do the work so you, dear reader(s), don’t have to. So here’s what I hope will be a regular look as those who would be birder-in-chief. Starting with the long-shots and working my way up so that you all will be prepared when the time comes to cast your ballot. This is the first of a four part series looking at the challenger and the incumbent.
I read Ayn Rand back in college. Not the interminable Atlas Shrugged, but the slightly less tortuous The Fountainhead. I wish I remembered it better, or maybe I don’t, but what I remember is a very long and slightly boring book about unrealistically noble and not particularly likable Howard Roark and his attempt to erect some building that was different that all the other blocky skyscrapers. There was this slimy newspaper guy who tried to tear him down and this love interest who was actually raped by Roark and came to love him anyway despite the fact that he was aloof, distant, and everyone seemed to hate him. I certainly was not the politically astute individual you see writing here today but I could see that Roark was made time and time and time again to be a victim, but one who rose from the ashes to do great things like build curvy buildings. It was fantasy, but weird fantasy.
I mention this because, prior to his selection to be the GOP’s vice-presidential candidate, media reports about Representative Paul Ryan seemed to harp on his wacky Ayn Rand obsession. He requires his staff to read her novels. He has stated that his own economic beliefs are heavily influenced by her writings. And he has had this aspect of his persona largely scrubbed from his life story in the last few months as it became something of an uncomfortable affiliation when held to scrutiny. Turns out an highly evangelical voting base might not take too kindly to an out atheist writer who hated everybody. Go figure.
n any case, Ryan has been in politics his entire career, first interning in the office of Wisconsin Senator Bob Kasten before Kastan’s in 1992 loss forced him into speechwriting. He ran for the House of Representatives in 1998, where he’s represented Wisconsin’s 1st congressional district ever since. His legislative career is objectively unimpressive; only two bills initiated by him have ever become law. The first renamed a post office in his district and the second lowered an excise tax on arrow shafts, but he has been most effective as a demagogue, speaking out on economic issues and the budget. In fact, the Republican Party has made a big deal of Ryan’s budget, passing it in the House and attempting to do so in the Senate but being stymied by the Democratic majority. And it’s here where his bird-related creditionals take a significant hit.
As you might expect from an individual with a strong Randian streak, Ryan’s priorities don’t involve preservation of public lands, or even really the idea of public lands, the core resource that many of us depend on to practice our hobby and probably the most important issue for those interested in birds and nature. What is interesting is that this is particularly at odds with Ryan’s public persona as an avid hunter and outdoorsman. Because Ryan’s budget calls for the selling off of public lands. Lots of it. And that hurts those who use that land regularly. Not just birders and hikers, but hunters and fisherman too. Now Ryan claims he does much of his hunting on his family farm, and that’s fine. But those who don’t have “skin in the game”, to borrow a phrase used liberally by conservatives, don’t really understand the impact that placing the lands that have historically been owned by the people in the hands of the few.
More so, Ryan’s budget reduces to a mere skeleton the federal expenditure for Department of Interior programs like the National Park Service and National Wildlife Refuges and Department of Agriculture properties like the National Forests until they are forced to sell this land off. Imagine if Ohio birders were suddenly unable to access Ottawa NWR on the south shore of Lake Erie, California birders lost the Klamath Basin, or North Carolina birders were shut out of Lake Mattamuskeet or Alligator River. Imagine if these lands were suddenly in the hands of private landowners, or worse, extraction industrialists looking to drill for gas or log the place clean. And more, why would we as a nation allow these assets to be sold, knowing that they drive the economies of many nearby communities. It’s just too easy to see how this is supposed to work, particularly for those of us without the means to afford our own personal wildlife refuge. That goes not only for birders, but anyone who spends any amount of time outdoors. This is what we’re up against.
I’ve written before about my disappointment in the hunting community for failing to see this threat and to take it seriously, but those sportsmen who continue to cling to the Republican Party because of the perception that they better protect gun rights (though no gun law advocacy group I’ve ever seen has threatened to limit access to hunting rifles and shotguns), are cutting off their nose to spite their face. Those firearms are a lot less useful when you have significantly less space to use them and significantly less game to use them on.
But don’t worry about Paul Ryan. He’s still got his tree stand on his family farm. He’ll be just fine.