Those who cannot remember the past

It was Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás – George Santayana – who said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”1

He might have been talking about Alaska. Both unlamented former Governor Sean “Captain Zero” Parnell and the current Republican caucuses in the House and Senate are obsessed with how unfair the federal government is being to Alaska. WC recently re-read More Perfect Union, the final report of the Alaska Statehood Commission. It was published in January 1983.

Federal land conveyances – no longer much of a problem

Federal land conveyances – no longer much of a problem

The Alaska Statehood Commission was established by voter initiative in the heady, wealthy days following completion of the pipeline, when it seemed like oil revenues would never end. The Commission’s Final Report laid out 20 fairly milquetoast recommendations, some of them figurative pipe dreams, most of which never again saw the light of day. Some ideas, like the repeal of the Jones Act, were so narrowly self-serving to Alaska that they never had a chance. The intermittent efforts today to demand a federal constitutional convention are an echo of Recommendation No. 6 of that 1983 Report.

But the striking thing a reader takes from More Perfect Union is the extent to which Alaska is a net winner in its relationship with the federal government. Apparently, it came as something of a shock to the members of the Commission. The military, various federal subsidies, federal employment and support for Alaska’s Native peoples turned out to have considerable value in excess of the burdens of statehood. While the Report indulges in alarmism – a perceived risk that the northeastern and mideastern states might attempt to limit the amount of revenue Alaska could obtain from oil and mineral development on federal land – the actual threat was minor and now forgotten. Another amusing thing about the Report is the exaggerated self-perception by the Commission of the importance of Alaska. Maybe it was all that oil flowing down the pipeline? The hard fact is and always have been that the entire gross state product of Alaska, dropped in the banking district of Seattle, would be too small to find. A virtual penny on the sidewalk.

I knew a sad little lizard who claimed to be a brontosaurus on his mother’s side.

– Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

We’re now some 33 years down the line. A third of a century. Our oil has vastly diminished importance. The Quitter’s antics have made Alaska a political joke.  The whole Alaska Statehood Commission is forgotten and its perceived problems and solutions largely irrelevant and beyond our means. And yet the majority caucuses in the Alaska Legislature once again focused on the perceived evil of federalism.

Last time it may have been delusions of grandeur. This time it seems to be a mix of utter ignorance of history and an especially appalling example of political Find the Lady, an effort the my Republicans to distract the voters from the real problems those Republicans have created by waving the Federal Bugaboo and shrieking hysterical nonsense.

WC calls bullshit on the attempt.

  1.   Reason in Common Sense, p. 284, volume 1 of The Life of Reason (1905).