Paul Andersen: Fair Game
Aspen, CO, Colorado
“I was taken aback by your Fair Game column in The Aspen Times. It really seemed out of character for you to write such a caustic personal attack on Mr. Wexner.”
So began an email from a critical reader. Rather than shrugging it off, I took every word with gravity. I care what my readers think.
“I do not know Mr. Wexner and only know about him through the media and conversations with others. He is obviously very wealthy, as many are in this valley, but I cannot speak to his personal motives or desires. Perhaps you have much greater insight into his particular values through direct dealings or other more accurate sources of information than hearsay.”
I expected negative feedback, yet I felt a stab of unease at being called out by someone I respect. I wrote back that occasionally my umbrage exceeds my caution, prompting a jeremiad like Monday’s column. I asked forgiveness for any personal offense but said that I stand by what I wrote. Here’s why:
When personal wealth is leveraged for personal gain via public lands or excessive impacts to the commons, I get triggered by a sense of injustice. That is what I believe Wexner is doing through a calculated strategy, and I condemn it regardless of spin-off benefits for certain local interest groups.
The resulting column spoke to my disdain for the excessive self-indulgence of the American aristocracy. Whether in government or business, its manipulations often are left unexamined on moral grounds and are, instead, catered to as a sign of obeisance to wealth, power and status – the triumvirate of our national religion.
Another reader wrote asking how I, who write affectionately and passionately about my son and about nature, could stoop to deride Wexner in his efforts to simply enjoy the place we live in and share.
That’s because the influence of wealth is being used to commandeer public lands for purposes of exclusion, not sharing. As for my son and the future generations he represents, conspicuous consumption by the super rich constitutes a reckless use of natural resources and disproportionately accelerates climate change. I can’t sit idly by and condone that.
I have taken stands like this before. More than 20 years ago, I objected when Tom McCloskey attempted to close the north access to Hunter Creek. I dug in my heels when Prince Bandar proposed his 55,000-square-foot mansion at enormous resource costs.
I remember well how, after voicing my objections at a public hearing on Bandar’s home, a representative of the prince charged that I was “un-American.” There is nothing more American than the right to comment and the freedom to speak truth to power. That’s what set America on the track to independence in the first place against the colonial British aristocracy.
If I sometimes err, it is in the passionate expression of my opinions, which reflects another American tradition dating back to Patrick Henry, Frederick Douglass, Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King Jr. and a number of historical figures who have bridled at the undue influence of power.
Read Edward Abbey, and you’ll hear a voice potent with cynical rage over perceived injustices. Read about Jesus throwing the money changers out of the temple, and you’ll hear an impassioned defense against corruption.
“You are absolutely entitled to your view and I support you in that,” wrote my gracious critic, disagreeing with my points, but not with my right to print them. “However, I question your execution of your opinion in today’s column. I believe you demeaned your excellent writing skills, intellect and ethics in your narrative. I am sorry that your column compelled me to write this.”
I, too, am sorry for occasional high-spirited invective and the need to use it. Perhaps my approach was wrong, but one cannot always rhapsodize on love and beauty, especially when principles like fairness and transparency hang in the balance.
On these matters, I will always speak out. As a columnist, that’s my job, my responsibility to readers, to journalism and especially to myself as a citizen advocate.
Paul Andersen’s column appears Mondays in The Aspen Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.