Movin’ on up 

David Sirota puts Montana politics in perspective

Most national political pundits don’t bother much with Montana and its measly three electoral votes. That’s at least one thing that separates David Sirota from his colleagues on the political spin circuit.

In his new book, The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington, Sirota often backs his class-heavy, anti-globalization rhetoric and avidly progressive ideas with examples from Big Sky Country. The Denver-based freelancer spent the 2000 election cycle working as a press flack and message strategist for Brian Schweitzer’s unsuccessful campaign to unseat Sen. Conrad Burns. Sirota then returned in 2004 to work in a similar role during Schweitzer’s winning run for the governor’s office. Since then, he’s made a name for himself by publishing three books and countless columns, with the late columnist Molly Ivins once describing him as someone who “understands that the only real questions are, ‘Who’s getting screwed?’ and ‘Who’s doing the screwing?’”

Sirota’s latest book elaborates on these questions by describing a populist resurgence taking over the nation and thereby redrawing the national political map. He surmises Western voters are more important to the upcoming presidential election than ever before. In advance of his book tour through western Montana, we asked him to elaborate on why.

Indy: So there’s this uprising?

Sirota: Yes. The Uprising describes a sort of middle state between the typical disengaged stasis that is happening most of the time in our country’s history, and then those moments of a full-fledged social movement. And in between is an uprising—an upsurge in anger and passion, a populist sentiment. I think that’s what we’re in right now. It’s not a full-fledged social movement, but it’s certainly not the disengaged stasis that we’re accustomed to. Something’s going on.

Indy: Why begin your new book with a chapter about Montana politics?

Sirota: Because I wanted to look at what the state of the last uprising was. The last uprising before this one was in the late 1970s–the conservative uprising, which became the full-fledged conservative movement. That uprising shifted, among other states, Montana. Montana went from a pretty blue state to a pretty red state through the ’80s and on into the ’90s. So I wanted to see where that conservative movement was at in a state that was a bell-weather.

Indy: Who’s getting screwed in Montana, and who’s doing the screwing?

Sirota: The tax structure certainly had been rigged to make sure that regular working people were getting screwed and that huge, wealthy, out-of-state landowners would be in cahoots with politicians in the legislature, who were doing the screwing. In [the] 2007 [state legislature] there was an effort to try and change that around. What I present in the book is that this conservative movement was challenged on its most fundamental issue–taxes—by this new populist uprising.

Indy: You write about how the Rocky Mountain West has a “unique –and uniquely intense—brand of subjugation psychology.” What do you mean by that, and how has it impacted Montana’s political landscape?

Sirota: Well, subjugation psychology, as I use the term, is the sense by people that far-away interests–distant economic interests—are subjugating local communities. I think the Rocky Mountain West has a uniquely intense history of this because large economic interests have been trying to control the region. The Rockefellers and the large extractive industries have [done that] throughout history. And right now that’s exacerbated by a sense of cultural infiltration by wealthy coastal people coming into the region.

Indy: If there’s an uprising in Montana, whom are they rising against?

Sirota: The money establishment. Right now, that’s a lot of the Republican Party and a lot of the corporations that do business in Montana. I’m talking big corporations, not small mom-and-pop companies. I’m talking about the big corporations. But it’s trans-partisan. Max Baucus is not really part of the uprising; he’s part of the establishment. He represents a state with one of the lowest wages in the country, and he uses his seat in the Congress to go to bat for many of the largest corporations in the country–cutting taxes for billionaires and passing massive corporate tax cuts through the Congress. So I don’t think this is a partisan thing. 

Indy: To talk national politics, why do you think presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama is devoting so much of his campaign’s attention to Montana?

Sirota: Three electoral votes is important in a close presidential election, so I think the math of it is obvious. He thinks he can win, and I think he’s got a good shot. And I think he’s got a good shot less because of anything he’s saying, but I think people in Montana and nationally are really, really desperate for change…I think we’re in an election where the electoral map may fundamentally change. If this is a national election where Montana, Colorado and Nevada are really, really competitive, that may mean we’re on the precipice of a new electoral map and therefore a very new political dynamic in this country.

David Sirota reads from and signs copies of The Uprising at Fact & Fiction Thursday, Aug. 7, at 7 PM. He will also appear at a special reception hosted by Western Progress and Forward Montana at 526 E. Front Street at 5:30 PM.
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