The paranoid opposition to RhodeMap RI

Dec 15, 2014

It looks like the RhodeMap RI debate is much ado about not so much. Those who oppose this largely benign economic and social blueprint have blown the results so far out of proportion as to be ludicrous.

This map is a planning document that was crafted with the input and help of the business community after hearings all over the Ocean State. Some of the recommendations are of the mon-and-apple-pie variety:  Leveraging Rhode Island’s economic and cultural assets, including such factors as a primary location along the Northeast corridor, a history of manufacturing and innovation, marine, boatbuilding and associated industries, such as aquaculture, and better promoting our food culture and tourism industries.

Much of these objectives have been around at least since the Greenhouse Compact of the mid-1980s. The difference is that the Greenhouse required changes in tax laws for business and state money to finance elements of it. It was soundly defeated by voters in a special election in 1984.

The latest RhodeMap is supported by the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, the Newport County Chamber of Commerce, the Rhode Island Foundation and Grow Smart Rhode Island. None of those groups are populated by screaming lefties.

There are rational reasons why conservatives would oppose such planning initiatives. One legitimate pose of opposition is that such planning initiatives are a waste of taxpayer money. In this case, that would be federal money in the form of a grant from the federal  Department of Housing and Urban Development. (No state money was used in this process).

Yet that hasn’t been the case. Many of the vocal opponents have used arguments straight from Richard Hofstadter’s  famous dictum about the paranoid streak in American politics. It has been labeled a communist plot, viewed as a precursor to world government by the United Nations and the other usual mainstream institutions the fringe right uses as punching bags. This plan does nothing to change any state or federal  guarantees of civil rights or property rights.

Yet, some of these people who have you think that if RhodeMap RI gains traction, the Boston Red Sox will no longer be sending players to McCoy Stadium for rehab stints for fear they will be seized under eminent domain.  Then there are the usual yahoos who think the federal government is out to take away their property, guns and Bibles. There is nothing in this plan that does any of that.

On a political level, it is easy to understand that some of these right-wingers are groping for relevancy. After all, they took a serious beating at the November elections; even their proposed Constitutional Convention initiative was comfortably defeated. All the candidates they favored lost. Their talk show enablers lost everything too.

Journalists must strive to be fair. But too much of the coverage of this issue has been of the false equivalence type. When one side says the world is flat and the other side the world is round, reporters shouldn’t be giving them equal coverage. Rather than a serious issue, this looks like it was cooked up and manufactured by a tiny, albeit vocal, group of anti-government activists, talk show piffle and editorial and op-ed page sophistry.

The sad thing is that this blueprint has not received more serious discussion, especially in the General Assembly where the leadership is listening too heavily to the naysayers and sky-is-falling attention seekers. House Speaker Nick Mattiello, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed and Gov.-elect Gina Raimondo should all take a deep breath and consider adopting the good ideas of this plan and discarding those that don’t seen workable. That would be a far more responsible stance than dismissing it outright. The McCarthyism that has suffused this issue has already lasted too long.