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Sunday, September 27, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control: Culp offers up a fiery ‘quote’ that Inslee campaign criticizes

UPDATED: Fri., Sept. 11, 2020

If political campaigns can be considered a Rorschach test on the boundaries of rhetoric, gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp offered a verbal “ink blot” last week that will almost certainly be viewed differently by his supporters than by Gov. Jay Inslee’s.

Talking on Facebook Live, which is often the Republic police chief’s favored medium, Culp offered up a favorite quote on one of his favorite topics, limited government bounded by the Constitution:

“Government is like fire. If it’s contained within your fireplace, then it can heat your home, provide comfort for your family … but if it gets outside the boundaries of your fireplace, it can consume your home, it can consume you, it can kill you and take everything you have.”

He attributed it to one of the Founding Fathers – he wasn’t sure which one – and wanted to make clear he wasn’t plagiarizing, although he was paraphrasing.

The Inslee campaign denounced the comment as “a fake quote comparing government to a fire that can kill and take everything you have as fires kill and destroy in Washington state.”

That’s a lot of criticism packed into a single sentence, so let’s break it down.

Something pretty close, at least in sentiment, would be the quote: “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence. It is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

That pithier quote is sometimes attributed to George Washington, and if you were to Google it, you’d get several citations attributing it to the first president. But as his successor Abraham Lincoln used to say, you can’t trust everything on the Internet.

There’s no contemporary record of Washington saying or writing that, and the quote is listed as “spurious” by the Mount Vernon estate, according to CheckyourFact.org. Another website, Quoteinvestigator.com, traces similar sentiments to other writers back to the 1600s; sometimes the servant/master relationship is with water.

It’s not in Bartlett’s, but in Culp’s defense, it does show up attributed to GW on some other online catalogs of quotes.

Whether it’s an appropriate quote to trot out when significant chunks of the state are burning is a separate issue. On the one hand, folks can pick up any newspaper, turn on any newscast or just walk outside and take a deep breath to realize the destructive power of fire.

There also has been at least one death, of a one-year-old, caused by the fires so far.

As the Inslee campaign notes, however, the current fires are a case where government that is not being destructive but doing everything possible to fight them, whether it’s local fire departments, the state Department of Natural Resources, the tribes and most recently the National Guard.

Inslee attributes the rising danger of wildfires to climate change. Culp blames it on poor forest management. Both positions have their adherents, but fixing either will take government action and money. In the meantime, state government has improved the way it fights fires, invested in more resources and embarked on a long-term program to improve forest health.

None of which could save the small Whitman County town of Malden last Monday, because unlike a wind-whipped wildfire on the Palouse, government action has its limits.

More on email requests for campaign cash: Several readers wrote after last week’s rundown of the Biden campaign’s relentless end-of-August request for cash to say they get similar appeals from Trump and the Republicans. I don’t doubt that, and see them from time to time, but it’s possible the GOP separates its list of media email addresses from its list of donor addresses a bit more carefully.

One helpful reader suggested I mark unwanted emails as spam or unsubscribe as it “may help with your burden, and need to chronicle the absurd.”

Thanks for the thought, but chronicling the absurd is part of the job description.

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