race to energy

Today, the federal government is considering a second revolution in energy. The issues are more abstract than those of the 1930s. We no longer have insufficient energy infrastructure. We have the wrong infrastructure.

Wallace C. Turbeville:

In the 1930s, a great many Southerners had no access to electricity. The Roosevelt administration perceived an enormous opportunity to restructure the region’s economy. By building facilities to bring power to the rural South, jobs would be created from thin air to mitigate the unemployment of the Great Depression. More importantly for the long run, commercially vibrant communities would replace subsistence farms. For the people directly affected, lives of toil and sweat would be a thing of the past; for the nation, large populations would be integrated into the economy for the first time, helping to assure sustainable and diverse growth in the post-depression era.

The political effects were dramatic. Robert Caro, in his epic biography of Lyndon Johnson, described the brutal life of West Texas before the creation of the Lower Colorado River Authority. He pointed out that the dramatic life-changing effect of rural electrification spawned a fierce loyalty to New Dealers like Johnson. This persisted throughout the South for three decades until, ironically, Johnson’s Civil Rights legislation snuffed it out.

For those 30 years, electrification and other tangible benefits of the New Deal drove political discourse in this country.

For the next three decades (and still), the Civil Rights legislation animated politics. The issue morphed from overt racism to resentment of the federal government telling people what to do. We must remember to thank Rand Paul for reminding us of the connection between race and the radical right.