Patrick Goldstein’s L.A. Times post “Is Ken Burns a Secret Propagandist for Socialism?” presages what will probably be an outrage du jour for the Beck-Limbaugh-Hannity-etc. neo-McCarthyites. Goldstein believes the loony right will seize on the new Burns documentary series, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” as the new exhibit ‘A; revealing the cultural left’s effort to sneak socialist values into American life. As Goldstein explains, refering to James Poniewozik’s Time magazine column on the topic:
The series is actually an ingenious refutation of the popular conservative belief that big government is evil, outmoded and unnecessarily involved in ruling our lives.
Noting that the original impetus for establishing national parks came from naturalists like John Muir who were horrified to see how Niagara Falls was nearly destroyed by the greed and hucksterism of free market- loving charlatans, Poniewozik writes: “With America frothing over the role of government — Should it save banks? Should it expand health coverage? — ‘The National Parks’ makes a simple case for an idea that is wildly controversial in the year of the tea party: That we need government to do things the private sector can’t or won’t.”
In other words, the entire origin of the national park system, whose most passionate backer was a Republican, Teddy Roosevelt, is based on a firm belief in — Glenn Beck, cover your ears, please — government intervention to regulate an out-of-control free-enterprise system. In fact, one of the more dramatic moments in Burns’ documentary involves the battle to create a park in the Great Smoky Mountains, while logging companies bankrolled anti-park ads and were “frantically cutting the old-growth forests to extract everything they could before the land was closed to them.”
Goldstein and Poniewozik make a good point. Burns’s documentary is right on time, because it serves up a potent, inarguable reminder that big business often does have rapacious and exploitative tendencies, which in this case would leave our wilderness areas denuded of hardwoods and clean rivers. It’s not such a huge leap from there to acknowledging that health care for profit often has a similar tendency, and maybe government could help contain it. Goldstein also posts a little preview clip of the series, and some interesting pro and con comments follow his post.