Like punch-drunk fighters, Gov. Judy Martz and President George W. Bush are on the ropes and staggering, knocked for a loop by a series of spectacular policy failures and a seeming inability to think their way out of a wet paper bag. I suppose someone, somewhere, is taking pleasure watching these two, out of their league and in over their heads, stumble about. But many Montanans are terrified at the condition of the state and national political scene and wonder from day to day what new and horrible blunders will be next.
George W., the guy who became president by not getting the most votes, went “home to the heartland” for 28 days in August. In plain language, after about six months in office, Bush took a month-long vacation. Oh sure, he’s supposed to be the president, setting world policy as leader of the world’s mightiest nation, feared and respected by the rest of the globe. But he’s not. His popularity rating in Britain, our oldest and most loyal ally, is 17 percent. In Europe, it’s 16 percent. Those kinds of numbers probably convinced W. that he had nothing to lose by taking a break from “being president.” After crashing the budget with an ill-advised tax break, dumping the Kyoto Treaty on global warming, rattling sabers at the Russians and Chinese over Star Wars and the anti-ballistic missile treaty, Bush really needed some genuine Texas barbecue time.
Now he’s back on the job and our “leader” is slaving away once again. This time, he’s been told that he needs to remake his image to show that he can identity with “wurkin’ Amuricuns.” That’s because working Americans are on the receiving end of the blunt trauma caused by the continuing economic crash. As you may recall, the last President Bush fell by the wayside when the economy tanked. Adding insult to injury, he then got beat by some sax-playing homeboy from Arkansas. Hating to see history repeat itself, W. has been told to get down in the yards and walk among the jittery masses.
But ask yourself, who do you know that gets to take a month off with pay after six months on the job—especially considering the dubious performance W. has compiled? Presidential spin-meisters will be working overtime, but for all their efforts, it will remain apparent to everyone that George W. knows as much about what life is like for American workers as he does about stem cells. The average worker isn’t born a millionaire who never worries about balancing a checkbook. Working people, as all of us know, work because they have to, just to survive. Here’s a quick test. Since he’s been “home to the heartland,” let’s ask Bush if he knows what his last monthly utility bill was. He won’t, because those are not the kinds of details with which presidents bother themselves. But working men and women sure do.
Increasingly, Montanans are working more jobs, for less money, than anyone in the nation. Our fastest growing jobs market? The appropriately-named service sector, where, in real life, no one gets a paid 28-day vacation after six months on the job.
Closer to home, our own governor’s titular mantle of leadership is peeling off like the heat shield on Apollo 13. Dizzied by the vagaries of the energy markets and the resulting blows to the state’s economy, Gov. Martz has been further stunned by the resignation of her most trusted policy advisor after his involvement in a fatal DUI. Incapable of thinking her way out of the dilemmas with which she is faced, Judy has decided to come out swinging. Her targets (yawn) are environmentalists. How creative of the governor to blame environmentalists for the collapse of Republican free-market, large-scale, economic experiments—with the businesses and citizens of Montana as the guinea pigs! Unable to “jump start” the economy with snazzy rhetorical phrases, the Gov has instead decided to blame and try to undermine the state’s environmental groups.
Now ask yourself: Was it environmentalists who decided to overturn a century of reliable, affordable electric supply to leap into the unknown waters of deregulation? No, that was done by the Republican-controlled 1997 Legislature. Was it environmentalists who sold off our dams to out-of-state energy conglomerates, leaving us at the mercy of market manipulation and “regional” energy prices? No, that would be MPC—the power company we used to think of as our own. Was it those rascally environmentalists who shut down the Butte mines? No, again. The mines closed and hundreds of people lost their jobs because the company they worked for simply could not afford to pay the outrageous price of deregulated electricity.
The environmentalists didn’t cut down those huge swathes of checkerboard forests during the great “liquidation” of corporate resources in the ’80s. Nor was it the environmentalists who sent tons of toxic mining wastes down the Clark Fork. Environmentalists don’t control the world’s oil supply, set global prices for gold, or control ag and timber markets. Which is not to say those markets aren’t controlled—they are—but assuredly not by environmentalists. And guess what? Those who control the markets do what they have always done—concentrate the wealth at the top, in the hands of their own interests. Meanwhile, “the little people” who grow, harvest, and make the goods, struggle from day to day, living paycheck to paycheck and wondering when they will come down with some industrial cancer or another.
Just because George Bush goes to a Labor Day picnic and tries on a hard hat doesn’t make him a laborer. And just because Judy Martz decides environmentalists are the cause of her own inability to successfully govern, doesn’t make it so. Both of these stumbling leaders are dumbfounded that the rhetoric on which they campaigned has not produced the results they so fervently promised. In desperation, Martz throws wild haymakers while Bush plays charades. The citizens, meanwhile, are left asking the question, “Who do they think they’re kidding?” The answer, of course, is “no one.”
When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Missoula Independent.