Michael A. Fletcher’s recent article in The Washington Post showing how much Oklahoma benefits from federal spending is an insightful piece, but the incongruity between massive government spending and the anti-government vitriol here remains a historic tale.
Fletcher’s article, “In Okla., a beneficiary sours on federal spending,” (April 10, 2011), rehashes old information-in the past, at least, the state has received more back in federal taxes than it pays in-and brings up the money poured into Tinker Air Force Base and the Federal Aviation Administration’s Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center, which together employ some 21,000 civilians. Fletcher, focusing on Oklahoma City, goes on to point out: “About 7 percent of the area’s workers are federal employees, more than double the U.S. average . . .”
Meanwhile, as Fletcher points out, a “jaundiced view of the federal government is common here, local leaders say, even though the region’s surging economy is built to a large degree on a foundation of federal spending.”
“Jaundiced view” is an understatement. I would describe it as a raging hostility among many Oklahomans against the federal government. The corporate power structure and some Republicans here have methodically fanned the hostility for more that 30 years. But the incongruity between the hostility and the state’s sweet deal with the feds has been pointed out for years by writers such as Frosty Troy, with The Oklahoma Observer, and, well, by myself, too.
In 2006, I wrote this on Okie Funk about the state receiving from $1.46 back in federal spending for each dollar it spends:
The tax issue has long been a point I have mentioned in this blog and elsewhere. It is a major contradiction middle-class people, especially in places like Oklahoma, support tax cuts for the rich when the state receives so much money back on its federal tax investment. Essentially the progressive tax rate leads to more money for our state.
You can only imagine what an outpost this would be like if Oklahoma only received 55 cents back on every federal tax dollars. So much for the phony, rugged individualist pose of the typical, right wing Oklahoman. It takes extra federal money to keep this state going, folks.
This is not to claim the same status of the legendary Troy or meant to criticize Fletcher or The Post. I appreciate The Post for seeing this as an issue that deserves attention. The story needs to be updated, but it’s still the same old contradiction.
In 2010, I wrote an article in the Oklahoma Gazette that outlined the historic aspects on the state’s reliance on the federal government. As I wrote then:
All this opt-out legislation at the state Capitol this year ignores the fact that Oklahoma’s history shows the state is heavily dependent on the federal government for its viability. Oklahoma has been rescued by federal money and policies since statehood.
Fletcher, who refers to the near shutdown of the federal government last week and the seemingly lack of interest here over the issue, quotes Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, who says, “There is no question that government jobs are great ones to have in a community . . .”
But Fletcher and Cornett never really get at why Oklahomans are so anti-federal government when it has done so much to help the state. Let me suggest some reasons:
(1) The corporate media and power structure here, since former President Ronald Reagan was elected, has demonized the federal government in no uncertain terms on a consistent basis. The Oklahoman editorial page, for example, has been a hotbed of anti-federal government hyperbole and drivel for decades, and it remains so. Chris Casteel, a Washington correspondent for The Oklahoman, even had specific and critical counter response to The Post story.
(2) The state’s low college graduation rate has been a contributing factor as well. Intelligent people can understand the contradiction between hating the federal government and enjoying one of the major lakes it built in the state or traveling on roads it built, Do people here really want the country to do away with Medicare as we know it? Probably not, but some here can get beyond the anti-government sloganeering to see the reality.
(3) The conservative political class bundles together ideological and emotional issues year after year that ultimately manipulates people to not only vote against their own financial interest but to also not apply or practice basic critical thinking skills in elections.
Fletcher’s story augments the history here, but only a huge financial calamity will shake some conservative Oklahomans’ beliefs that they’re getting a rotten deal from the federal government, which actually treats the state like an overly doting parent treats a petulant, spoiled child.