THE ANGRY WEST: A Vulnerable Land and Its Future by Richard D. & Michael McCarthy Lamm

THE ANGRY WEST: A Vulnerable Land and Its Future

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Someone should have warned Colorado's governor Lamm and his collaborator against the impracticality, even the irresponsibility, of springing a trap in their very last chapter. For almost 300 pages of fevered, repetitive rhetoric, they appear to be making the Western insurgents', or ""Sagebrush Rebellion,"" case against Eastern exploitation and federal ""paternalism, arrogance, secrecy"" and ""ignorance."" They rehearse historical gripes against Eastern mining, cattle, and financial interests, against federal land ownership and ""federal policies on the land."" They tick off present-day objections to oil-shale (pre the Exxon pullout) and coal development--air pollution, water diversion, social upheaval. (""Where people once shared weddings and church and football games, now they will share a sense of loss."") They argue that Sunbelt growth has not been subsidized, via the federal government, by the Frostbelt; that federal water projects (apropos of Carter's ""hit list"") are not ""pork barrel""; that conservationist efforts--national forests, withdrawal and leasing of grazing lands, additions to the wilderness system--threaten a new civil war. They raise the specter of States' rights, of ""equal footing"" (for admission to the Union, ""Western states were forced to relinquish title to all public lands within their boundaries""), of return of federal lands to state control. They review measures toward that end--some executed, some pending. And then, in a chapter titled ""The Dark Riders,"" they call the Sagebrush Rebellion ""a murky fusion of idealism and greed that may not be heroic, nor righteous, nor even intelligent."" The big economic interests have latched onto it, to gain control of the public domain; the cattlemen have destroyed the range, and created their own problems; the environment requires, and the wilderness merits, federal protection. The doctrine of equal footing, moreover, is fallacious (it refers to political, not economic, rights). And, furthermore: the whole Rebellion may be collapsing--after peaking with Reagan's election and getting James Watt, who can't deliver. Whatever their intentions, Lamm and McCarthy have provided the hot-heads with ammunition--and the opposing forces with cause for alarm--before pronouncing the Rebellion a fraud. Since the book reads so unvaryingly like a tract, members of both groups may well abandon it long before the end. And to the extent that the authors want to call attention to just Western grievances, and justified resentments, they have miscalculated altogether: the reader, told first one thing and then the near-opposite, has no idea what to think.

Pub Date: July 21st, 1982
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin