Friday, January 02, 2009

Response to the Ash Spill Defies the Liberal vs. Pragmatic Logic

It was not too long ago that I bitched about the mainstream media's tendency to assume a false dichotomy between liberalism (which gets automatically conflated with "ideological") and pragmatism (with which conservatism often enjoys the benefit of the doubt in press writing). The emerging crisis of TVA's coal ash spill and the response of liberal bloggers (who as Christian Grantham has pointed out repeatedly are the only bloggers responding to the spill) indicate to me a palpable pragmatic streak among Tennessee progressives.

TVA's legacy with FDR provides a real context for judging the larger point I was making about a month ago. TVA clings to its "New Deal" history and its legacy with FDR:
President Franklin Roosevelt needed innovative solutions if the New Deal was to lift the nation out of the depths of the Great Depression. And TVA was one of his most innovative ideas. Roosevelt envisioned TVA as a totally different kind of agency. He asked Congress to create “a corporation clothed with the power of government but possessed of the flexibility and initiative of a private enterprise.” 
By and large progressive bloggers do not seem swayed or cowed by TVA's Rooseveltian roots. I haven't sensed any trepidation or equivocation about taking shots at the new-dealistic TVA.

But criticizing TVA doesn't seem to be the ideological thing to do, given all the Depression-era imagery of mobilizing redeeming quasi-government agencies to bring progress to blighted areas. The reason is obvious: an environmental and health disaster vitiated distinctions between progress and blight in East Tennessee. And the fact that the disaster visited mostly red counties in pro-Republican Tennessee did not matter. Progressives are both informed about their ideals about progress and about the best response to conditions on the ground. That defies an unnuanced grasp of liberals; not that I assume media is supposed to be very sophisticated in their grasp of things. Likewise, while I am predisposed to call upon President-Elect Obama to launch a new New Deal in response to our current economic malaise, I am not such a doctrinaire liberal that I assume that all New Deal initiatives are good or need to exist permanently.

There is something profoundly wrong with the Tennessee Valley Authority. I do not know whether it is because it has become something that FDR never intended or it is because it is precisely what he intended. And I do not care. It isn't threatening or contradictory or disloyal to my progressive streak to question TVA's hold on several states, its hold over cities like Nashville, or its very existence. If it's not working for our common good then maybe we should be pragmatic and either reconfigure or dismantle it.

I am a pragmatic progressive: something that the mainstream media obviously fails to grasp. I am not betraying my cultural commitments if I oppose TVA or even if I wonder whether Roosevelt's idea of a hybrid clothed with the power of government but possessing the initiative of private enterprise (which now is a different corporate concept) is an idea that was meant to last 75 years. Even it was, we reserve the right to revise, extend, and retract our nation's old ideas.

1 comment:

  1. What's wrong with TVA is simple. It's leadership.

    Why I'm still the only blogger (to my knowledge) who's asked for Kilgore's resignation I will never understand.
    Kilgore is the BushCo type CEO. Like those at GM or Wall Street or Enron, he has focused on cutting critical safeguards to save money so he can get a 500'000 pay raise.

    The retaining walls broke because they weren't properly considered. Probably not considered at all. People like Kilgore (Republicans) cannot plan or anticipate. They only exist to line their pockets and care not who suffers for their greed.
    The ash levee fell apart for the same reason bridges and cranes are falling apart across the country, neglect for the sake of CEO bonuses.

    Anyway, Kilgore stepping down would indicate acceptance of responsibility. That would raise a little confidence in TVA.
    But you know who comes first and who comes last in the Republican mind.