North Alabama politicians may have the toughest job in the world, a fact that became clear Wednesday when President Barack Obama floated the idea of privatizing the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Their job is difficult because of the incessant sales pitch they feel they must make. They feel they must be relentless in their attacks on the federal government. They must promote market forces over government at every turn. They must call for the smallest possible federal government.
They must make this pitch, however, in a region that is uniquely dependent on the federal government.
North Alabama’s federal lawmakers routinely rail against the “socialist” policies of the federal government. With considerable support from their constituents, they blast a government they view as too large and too disruptive of capitalism. Lists of federal agencies that should be abolished flow from their lips with abandon.
What they do not do, however, is target TVA. They recognize, as do their constituents, that north Alabama owes much of its success to the government-owned utility. They know that the low rates and reliable power that TVA provides are instrumental to the region’s industrial success. They know the river, once unnavigable, provides north Alabama industries with inexpensive access to markets around the world. And they know, of course, that thousands of north Alabama voters work for TVA and its suppliers.
Obama did not propose selling TVA in his budget, but he did propose studying whether divestiture makes sense. The uproar among Tennessee Valley politicians was immediate, appropriate and disingenuous.
U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, questioned whether Obama can demonstrate privatizing TVA “will lower the costs of electricity to TVA consumers. … Quite frankly, I am skeptical the President can make that case.”
Yet Brooks has been making the case since before he took office in 2010. He has been a tireless advocate of free-market efficiency and an implacable enemy of government performing functions that could be handled by the private sector.
U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby also challenged Obama’s idea, questioning whether divestiture would allow for “affordable electricity throughout the region.”
Maybe most direct was U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.: “There is no assurance that selling TVA to a profit-making entity would reduce electric bills in the Tennessee Valley — which should be the overriding objective — and it could lead to higher electricity rates.”
What each lawmaker is acknowledging is that government sometimes works better than the free market. A wise society does not allow cookie-cutter ideology to trump beneficial programs.
TVA is imperfect, but it does a better job than most private entities with the same tasks. Begun as one of the nation’s most massive stimulus programs, it continues to provide vitality to north Alabama.
We applaud area politicians for defending a governmental corporation that has improved the lives of millions. We just wish they would recognize their defense of TVA should temper their ideological attacks on a federal government that does much good for the citizens of north Alabama.