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Arizona's 'rugged individualism' demythologized

The A-10 Warthog, which the top brass of the U.S. Air Force seeks to retire, needs to be kept around, Arizona politicians say, for economic reasons.
The A-10 Warthog, which the top brass of the U.S. Air Force seeks to retire, needs to be kept around, Arizona politicians say, for economic reasons.Courtesy U.S. Air Force

Exposing a myth is easy enough to do. Just takes a little research. But to eradicate it from the state of Arizona's group-think, liberating the masses into a real-world view, well, that's really pissing in the wind. This comes to me after creeping all over the web for research on Arizona's bad ol' political argument between members of the GOP who want to be governor. It's a nasty fight. The weapons are idiotic campaign commercials, usually aired around the "news" hour, that period of the day when television viewers are dipped into the shallow waters of the local newsreaders, and then, fully prepped, sent into the slick furies of the national network news.

In between, as if the actual reports aren't propaganda enough, viewers have been inundated all summer with pretty much the same campaign commercials, over and over, with little variation ... let's face it, neo-cons aren't real well known for having a lot of imagination, variety not being the spice of conservative life ... and even the GOP party boss in the state has had enough, asking the candidates to cut it out, the negatives are too amplified. Guess he was afraid the voters might be hard to deprogram after months and months of this, and the presumptive Democrat, Fred DuVal might win.

The point is, one Republican candidate, Doug Ducey, is accused of getting a government bailout due to the failure rates and financing, in general, for his Cold Stone ice cream franchises. Another candidate, Christine Jones, is on the commercial repeat mode over sending "Obama the bill" for border enforcement. And how either political advertisements jibe with the truth hardly matters in this, the age of repeat something often enough and it becomes true. This Orwellian reinvention of the past, over time, can get a little maddening. For myself it got so bad, it didn't even take a political commercial to put me over the edge (that is, to inspire an extended commentary). Nope, it was an ice cream commercial that boasted Arizonans are "fiercely independent."

That's a load of crap. A common mistake about the West, in general. The American Southwest owes its very civilization to the federal government. And Arizona is completely on life support in myriad ways. For example, without water from the Central Arizona Project, a federal project carrying water from the Colorado River to Phoenix and Tucson, such cities would have never grown to blob status. Before that was built, before Arizona was even a state, the Newlands Reclamation Act of 1902 set up the possibility of raising federal funds for irrigation projects across the West. Because the Southwest is a drought-dry desert, and anyone who lives there is essentially receiving only slightly less life support than what's needed on the moon.

But you really have to worry when the Washington Times, founded by a strange South Korean cult leader, and is therefore as cranky and dilute, intellectually, as an inflatable pig, starts to pay attention to western politics. Such was the case when the online opinion editor Monica Crowley wrote on July 16, 2014, that the American West is "a region that remained most faithful to the nation's founding principles of personal freedom, rugged individualism and economic freedom." Clearly, as she raised the ghosts of Richard Nixon, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, and their rejections of "Big Government," the opinion editor for has seen too many John Wayne movies. Arizona born, but raised in New Jersey, her vision of the West is nothing short of infantile. In addition to being legally blonde for the right-wing newspaper in Washington D.C., Crowley also is a "foreign affairs analyst" for FOX News. Analysis, off these shores, no doubt inspired by Rambo fantasies. Because the truth is, regardless of the Orwellian pipeline of the right, leans more toward the reality that politicians will pretty much kill for their piece of the federal pie.

For example, in 2011 Cronkitenewsonline.com reported "Federal funds flowing to Arizona have doubled in the past 10 years." Citing the U.S. Census Bureau, the report states "Arizona residents, governments and businesses received $64 billion in federal money in fiscal 2010, more than double what the state received in 2001 ." (This year it was reported that Arizona ranked 10th in the nation for federal funds.)

That amounts to $10,080 per person in Arizona. The national average is $10,460.

"The biggest increase in federal funds to Arizona over the past decade was not in salaries or welfare payments, but in federal grants to the state and to local jurisdictions, which grew from $5.4 billion in 2001 to $14.4 billion (in 2010)," the report states, a 164 percent increase that occurred while the state's population grew 20 percent, from 5.3 million people to 6.4 million. The very notion that Arizona is "fiercely independent" doesn't score very high when, according to Ballotpedia.org, the state is No. 8 in the nation in terms of federal aid to state budgets, more than Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. The very notion that these staunch tax resisters live out in the boonies, far from the corporate city enclaves of Phoenix and Tucson must be dispelled when seven of 14 Arizona counties are above the national average in terms of receiving federal funds. The largest is Cochise County in southern Arizona, which receives $23,531.74 per capita.

How this could be is the root of the myth of the West as somehow being some kind of island of do-it-yourself virtues, and also helps to explain why Arizona continues to breed such weird political animals. All kinds of ironies persist. State residents, consisting mainly of conservatives and so-called "independents" are unhinged from the truth by politicians playing either a pretty cynical game, or, are so dyslexic over the state's real history they have merely swallowed the Kool-Aid. The truth is out there, somewhere far in the southwestern deserts of the state, waiting to explode like some kind of unexploded ordnance on the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range, 1.9 million acres of bomb targeted rock and dust roughly the size of Connecticut (so be forewarned Yankees). Yes, Arizona's elected are pretty strong on defense, the largest portion of the federal budget, and, a huge part of Arizona's economy.

When asked about why Cochise County receives $23,531.74 per capita, the finance director for the county, according to the Cronkitenewsonline.com report, "attributed the disproportionately high federal purchases and salary payments in the county to the Fort Huachuca Army Base there." In addition to that southernmost point surveillance and communications post, the cities of Phoenix and Tucson are also on the life support systems offered by the military industrial complex, And it has come to the point that it's more than just doing what's right for national defense. For example, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) did gymnastics to land the $1 trillion F-35 aircraft training site at Luke Air Force Base, despite once calling the program's price tag "one of the great national scandals."

McCain was in no mood for mythmaking when he told AZ Capitol Times that "potential defense spending cuts could cost thousands of jobs and $3 billion to the state's economy." Yes, it takes a little manure to make the grass green, and rainmaker McCain did all that he could to plow the field. He inserted $14.3 million in a 2003 defense bill so Sun Cor Development could get its way to buy 122 acres around Luke Air Force Base. At the time, McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers explained the senator "wanted to prevent the Pentagon from closing Luke." (That worked out okay, but Sun Cor went belly up in 2012.)

Indeed, pork knows best. According to Forbes, as a percentage of GDP, Arizona is among the top 10 states (ranked No.8), receiving nearly three percent of all defense spending, $2,321 per resident. Tucson is among the top 10 for military spending or contracts, receiving $4.9 billion per year. The entire state accounts for 96,000 jobs, $9.1 billion in annual economic output and $401 million in state and local taxes. It's no wonder that politicians (even democrats) defend this militaristic welfare system even when, for example, the brass is saying it doesn't need the aging A-10 Warthog attack planes anymore, they will lobby and legislate to keep the funds coming in for another year.

Yes, the myth is easy to dispel but hard to eradicate. As Phoenix Business Journal political reporter Mike Sunnucks wrote, "Despite its conservative politics, Arizona has always been a huge beneficiary of federal spending."

Show us a candidate who believes success in business entitles them to an elected post and I'll show you a politician who has found ways to make government work for themselves. And show us an opponent opposed to Big Government, and I'll show you a politician afraid to speak out against the defense budget. Yes, when the mists of myth clear, the storm still rolls on.