For anyone with even the slightest exposure to history, the term "unprecedented" is always a little suspect.
And so it is with the influx of money from outside, often anonymous, sources into Kentucky's political battles this fall.
True enough, this precise thing hasn't happened before.
An almost demonic brew of the recent Supreme Court decision, a fortuitous (for some purposes) recession and a host of very rich people becoming very nervous about how much a certain occupant of the White House just might be able to do, did result in an inflow of foreign capital into Kentucky's political life at a level never seen before.
But there's plenty of precedent for wealthy outsiders opening their pocketbooks to take advantage of Kentucky's odd mix of poverty and wealth. It's just that this time, instead of timber or coal or labor or soldiers or smart people, what Kentucky had to be exploited was a seat in the U.S. Senate.
Full disclosure here: I voted for Jack Conway. I didn't think he was the second coming of anything. I hated his "Aqua Buddha equals Non-Christian Rand Paul" ad because it seemed to ignore that a fundamental freedom we have in this country is to openly practice any religion we choose, Aqua Buddha-ism included. But I voted for him because demonstrably he knows something about Kentucky and seems to have a genuine interest in the state and its people.
Kentucky doesn't really seem to be on Paul's ideological landscape. His biggest bungles throughout the campaign were related to his ignorance of our state. (Could anyone who has been awake here the last several years have any doubt about the drug problem? Where has he been?) Indeed, on election night he squeezed only two references to Kentucky — one at the beginning and one at the end — into his victory speech. Other than that, he was all Tea Party and America. Kentucky, as has so often been the case, seemed to be an afterthought.
No surprise. Paul's campaign was 69 percent (to Conway's 27 percent) financed from out of state, as figured by OpenSecrets.org. As the sages say, money talks.
But what was this money saying? The same thing it's always said. Give us your wealth, keep your poor, your tired, your hungry. And Kentucky has always complied.
Much of what has been written on this subject focuses on Appalachia, but you quickly get the idea Kentucky has a long history of attracting external capital that in a peculiar way enriches individuals and regions outside our borders while pushing Kentucky further into the economic backwaters.
"The more outside capital flowed into Appalachia, the more dependent the mountain economy became on the region that controlled most of that capital, the North," historian Paul Salstrom wrote in Appalachia's Path to Dependency: Rethinking a Region's Economic History 1730-1940.
In Theirs Be the Power: The Moguls of Eastern Kentucky, Harry Caudill recounts the efforts of St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter James C. Millstone in 1966 to alert the world to "the curious fact that in impoverished eastern Kentucky, where federal dollars were being enlisted in a 'war on poverty,' gigantic and immensely profitable corporations were escaping almost untaxed, thereby assuring more poverty."
Caudill minces no words in summing this up: "In short, the rich were in total and unchallenged control of the Appalachian coal fields. The region and its people had been and were being exploited in a manner that might have reddened the cheeks of Attila the Hun."
Well, Attila could have saved himself and others a lot of time, trouble and messy pillaging if he'd had access to modern marketing and tons of cash.
He could have just convinced the people he wanted to conquer it was in their best interests to hand over their lands, their young and their wealth. That's the way we do it now.
To understand this, let's do some very simple math. Depending on which study you cite, Kentucky gets somewhere between $1.50 and $1.80 back from the federal government for every dollar our taxpayers hand over.
So, calls to shrink the government and balance the budget are really calls to reduce the amount of money coming into our state, whether through Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment benefits or the dreaded earmarks that build sewers, destroy chemical weapons and fund law enforcement enhancements, among many other things.
Likewise, getting government out of the way of business sounds great but can also mean fewer protections for our growing elderly population, for coal miners, for the water we drink and the air we breathe.
Perhaps Kentuckians voted for Paul with a disinterested desire for smaller government, knowing full well that it would leave our state even poorer. But I doubt it.
What I believe and, again, I think history is on my side here, is that people with a lot to gain persuaded us to give up this resource — a U.S. Senate seat — and get little in return.
I'm deeply concerned about our future weighed down by a huge, potentially lethal, national debt. I'm also absolutely certain that debt can only be addressed through some combination of reducing federal spending and increasing taxes.
The question Congress will deal with eventually is which taxes rise and which services go by the wayside.
And that, I believe, is why wealthy, anonymous individuals and interests with no concern for Kentucky invested in Rand Paul. They want to protect their interests, not the people or resources of Kentucky.
It's as simple as that. And, it's hardly unprecedented.