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Talking 'tea party' and trash in Arizona

November 16, 2010 | 12:04 pm

Now, this is just getting silly.

In Arizona, "tea partyers" have been protesting a town trash collection plan that would streamline trash collection and could cost less money.

The town of Fountain Hills, population maybe 30,000, has two tea party groups, and they’re up in arms because their town council (an elected one) has voted (majority rules) to go with a single trash collector rather than continue to give residents a choice among five different collectors. The opponents are outraged: Why, it’s, it’s … socialized trash!

The new trash collection arrangement also requires some recycling, which is vastly overdue in Arizona. I visit family there frequently, and the scenic splendor that Arizonans boast about (and that brings in all those tourist dollars) is cluttered by bottles and cans that in states such as California get cleaned up because they're worth a few pennies back from a point-of-sale recycling program. (In fact, entrepreneurs have been known to collect Arizona trash and haul it across the Colorado River into California to collect the Golden State’s deposit recycling fee they’re not entitled to; states’ rights, remember?)

The Arizona Legislature refuses to impose even that small deposit on cans and bottles -- money that you can recover just by hauling your bottles and cans back to where you bought them. You don’t lose a penny. But no, that’s too much trouble for the rugged individualist. Just throw it out the window if you’ve a mind to.

In the town of Fountain Hills, sympathizers with the tea party sentiments have left out fliers warning about a Fountain Hills "green police."

Let’s tease this out. Recycling saves money because without it, more crap goes into public landfills, and landfills cost taxpayer money. And recycling also saves energy -- all the energy that went into finding and moving and processing the raw materials into the finished product. To save is to conserve. Conservation and conserve come from the same root as "conservative."

Are they sure they even want to use the term trash "collecting"? After all, it’s from the same root as "collective" and "collectivism," which is only one nudge away from socialism, right? And from there, well, you can see the Kremlin from your house.

(I’ve never understood what on earth is supposed to be so pansy-pants liberal about recycling. It was the righteous, patriotic, American thing to do during World Wars I and II: mend, make do, reuse, recycle. You’d think real conservatives who worry about the debt and spending would be jumping all over the chance to claim recycling as a conservative virtue and to paint as "liberal" anyone too wasteful and profligate to recycle.)

From studies like the classic "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," it’s clear there have always been a metaphorical handful of people -- and now more than a handful -- who see everything in fearfully partisan terms themselves, and so assume that everyone else does too. That isn’t the case. Most Americans regard themselves as occupying the practical middle when it comes to public life. The notion of a sensible commonweal that exists apart from partisanship is a significant part of American public life,  and yet one that is being killed off by inches by paranoid partisans who see big-government boogeymen in town trash collection.

Haven’t we learned from "freedom fries"? When Americanism is ascribed to a lightbulb, you don’t know whether to laugh or despair. Texas Republican congressman Joe Barton has pledged to fight to defend the "traditional incandescent lightbulb" against the requirements for the energy-saving fluorescent model, "the little, squiggly, pig-tailed ones."

In fact there is no "traditional" lightbulb shape -– evidence "other-shaped" Christmas tree lights and security floodlights and camera and flashlight bulbs and recessed lighting and fluorescent tubes. Thomas Edison himself went through several iterations of bulb shape, and GE created the first practical fluorescent light seven years after Edison died. The only arguably un-American thing about energy-saving fluorescents is that American companies have allowed China to get the jump on their manufacture.

People have been seeing patterns where there are none ever since early humans were sure they saw a face in the moon. Over Veterans Day, Google’s home-page tribute of flags and bombs bursting in air got some people swearing they saw a Muslim crescent hidden in there. In fact, it was just the lower part of the "e" in Google, peeking out from the Stars and Stripes.

But hey -- it’s the American way, right?


Did the tea party lose California, too?

-- Patt Morrison

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