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An ACA Pitch From Woody Guthrie's Ghost

Musician Ben Nanke even issued an anti-Obamacare retort bashing Gibson's Oregon imagery and noted that the earliest settlers "Facing snakes and bites and the mud and the rain/They just hiked up their boots and they pushed through the pain/They said 'oh, don't fence me in'." He added in comments beneath his video that "We take care of ourselves. No government mandates."

There's only one problem with that: The entire state is built on a government mandate. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark's expedition that brought them to Oregon and helped build Fort Clatsop near what is now Astoria, Ore., in 1805 was commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson, with Congress approving federal funds. The first residents weren't poor, hardscrabble bootstrappers, but well-paid employees of the wealthy John Jacob Astor and his American Fur Company. His company, the North West Company and the Hudson Bay Company were the reason fur trappers came in the first place. However, when the Peoria Party started the first wave of emigration to Oregon in 1839, they did so with the intention of making Oregon a U.S. colony. Joseph Meek, who helped open the last leg of the Oregon Trail after a brutal passage, argued vehemently for Oregon's inclusion in the United States, saying when he settled in Hilllsboro, Ore., that "I want to live long enough to see Oregon securely American... so I can say that I was born in Washington County, United States, and died in Washington County, United States."

As the Cover Oregon singers seem to know, Oregon didn't come into being on its own. Also, contrary to Nanke's suggestion, "the Oregon spirit" and "a large-scale, federally-funded ad campaign" filled with music aren't mutually exclusive. Cover Oregon's songs aren't "out of Portlandia," but out of This Land Is Your Land-ia.

While we have Oregon's history books out, let's flip to 1941 and a 29-year-old gentleman by the name of Woody Guthrie coming through Oregon and drawn by the promise of work. The politically active singer, who'd already found success singing songs of the working man and countering Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" with his aforementioned, all-inclusive love note to the U.S., was hired to narrate a documentary about the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam. When the filmmakers grew wary of Guthrie's political stance and narrowed his role in the project, the Department of the Interior hired him on to write songs about the Columbia River and the building of federal dams along it for the film.

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