Socialism did not Create National Parks, Just Good Government

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Denali National Park in Alaska
Denali National Park in Alaska

Ken Burns’ six-part series, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” concluded its premier broadcast on PBS last week, although some critics are calling the filmmaker a propagandist for socialism.

Burns’ 12-hour film, written and co-produced by Dayton Duncan, was filmed over the course of six years and includes spectacular footage of some of the nation’s most treasured landmarks including Acadia, Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. The film explores the radical idea of preserving America’s parks, first introduced in the mid 1800s, and follows its evolution until modern day.

Airing of the “The National Parks” ironically coincides with the raucous debate within Congress over healthcare reform, primarily about the role the federal government will have in any new legislation. Anti-Obama supporters and conservatives have questioned the timing of the documentary’s release, calling it a vehicle for socialism and government intrusion.

Is Medicare and Social Security socialism? It’s just good government adding value to the quality of life for America’s citizens. The word socialism has been so misconstrued over the past year, creating an almost irrevocable wedge between political parties and their constituencies. What would the Grand Canyon be without government intervention? A very exclusive community of million dollar homes no doubt. Today the Grand Canyon and scores of other protected lands are open to the enjoyment of hundreds of millions of people each year.

Capitalism thrives in the nation’s parks as well. Consider how the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) of 1980 ultimately benefitted the state’s tourism economy. Legislation in the early 1970s to protect certain lands was vehemently opposed by the majority of Alaskans. It was years after President Carter signed ANILCA into law that Alaskans finally realized its true value: protected lands that can earn a profit.

We must be careful not to use words like socialism too loosely, and remember we live in a democracy. Government in its truest form is not evil and helps progress the common good. At the same time, thank goodness for the Freedom of Information Act, which allows everyday citizens to question their government and hold politicians accountable for their actions.

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