Commentary: An 'extreme' misuse of language

The longer you cover politics the easier it is to become jaded about the description of one side or the other as “radical” or “extreme.”

Usually those terms are used in Idaho next to the word environmentalist. Recently, recreational suction dredge miners have been describing the Idaho Conservation League as extremist for the concerns it has raised about their effects on fish habitat.

This is the same ICL that helped cut a deal to help ranchers in the Owyhees and supported a new timber mill in Emmett.

But environmental activists have shown the same rhetorical creativity. A former Boise National Forest supervisor was labeled “the Butcher of the Boise,” to highlight the salvage logging he pushed after big fires in the 1990s.

In the hands of professionals, the words “extremist” and “radical” are meant to make their listeners or readers dismiss the opposition as outside the mainstream of American thought. Former Sen. Larry Craig was especially good at it.

When President Bill Clinton unveiled his roadless initiative in 2000, Craig called him “King William” and accused him of seeking to make the West like “feudal Europe,” as an “overt political move to shore up support for Prince Albert,” a reference to Al Gore.

Former Interior Secretary and rancher Bruce Babbitt could joust with Craig as well as anyone. That’s why he peppered his speech with “draconian” and “radical” as he spoke about the GOP on Wednesday at the National Press Club.

Babbitt is trying to perhaps persuade Obama’s advisers to take a tougher position on public lands. Buried in his long speech is an issue I suspect we will hear a lot about during the 2012 campaign: nullification.

Babbitt talked about Republican Rep. Rob Bishop’s bill that would amend the Constitution to grant states the power to nullify federal law. Gov. Butch Otter suggested states already have that right and the Idaho Legislature discussed several bills that would have nullified federal laws.

“I thought that issue was settled 150 years ago at the end of the Civil War,” Babbitt said.

To read the complete editorial, visit www.idahostatesman.com.