Ochenski: Chaos comes home 

The sad, sucking sound of a leadership vacuum

Monday’s speech by President Bush was supposed to provide a “clear plan” for future actions in the disastrous Iraq War. Yet despite the pre-speech buildup, Bush’s rambling, repetitive attempt to cheer on the nation was, by all standards, a flop. The president and many, if not most, of his fellow Republican politicians seem to live in a world where their ideas and dreams and fantasies all come true. But in reality, the chaos which has engulfed Iraq since America’s ill-fated invasion has now come home in the form of out-of-control government spending, soaring gas prices, and a collapse of the much-vaunted Republican Revolution.

The first hint that President Bush’s continued enthusiasm for slaughter and war is beginning to fall on deaf ears was the decision by the major television networks to skip his speech altogether. The reason, which is as telling as anything about where this nation’s “true values” lie, is that Monday was one of the last evenings that networks use to measure viewer ratings and set their local advertising rates. Apparently, the networks felt the Bush speech wouldn’t do them any favors in this regard.

Instead, they went with the regularly scheduled programming, which included two editions of Fear Factor on NBC, the season finales of Monday night comedies on CBS, and A Beautiful Mind on ABC. Obviously, Bush’s version of Fear Factor, which he has been force-feeding the nation since 9-11, just didn’t stack up to the viewer appeal of eating bugs. And although the “clear direction for Iraq” Bush promised was somewhat comedic in light of its stale and muddied logic, once again the networks obviously thought viewers would rather watch a fictional comedy with canned laughter than a Bush speech with canned applause. As for the difference between the Bush speech and A Beautiful Mind, suffice it to say that the choice was clear and mutually exclusive.

It is also telling that Bush chose to give what was supposed to be an important address not to the American people, but to the Army’s War College, where he wouldn’t have to worry about hecklers and could expect to receive applause on cue. The truth, as so clearly reflected in Bush’s plummeting poll numbers, is that about the only enthusiasm the president can muster these days is from the military crowd, where his promise to send “more troops” might be seen as a chance for battlefield promotion rather than the senseless slaughter of America’s sons and daughters.

In return for the vast “investment” Bush and the Republican-dominated Congress have made in the Iraq War, we get—what? Gas prices are at all-time highs. While this may not make any difference to those Bush serves—namely, the few percent of Americans at the top of the wealth index—it is a crushing burden on those at the other end of the scale.

In Montana, where we regularly travel long distances, the pump price of gas and diesel is taking huge chunks out of our wallets on a daily basis. The result is obvious: every extra dollar that goes into the gas tank means a dollar less that can be spent supporting our local merchants. As the cost of fuel has skyrocketed, so have the other costs that are dependent on transportation—especially here, where so many of our daily necessities are shipped in.

These ripples of rising costs are turning into waves—and those waves are savagely eroding the buying power of our already pitiful average incomes. Meanwhile, the flood of tourists the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial was supposed to generate may well be cut to a trickle as people decide Montana is just too far to drive and too much to spend in the Bush era of economic chaos and uncertainty.

What we are seeing is not just the crumbling of the Bush presidency, but the dissolution of the entire Republican political foundation. Contrary to their promises, widespread deregulation has not brought us prosperity, but has left us defenseless against predatory corporations, while fouling our air and water and lands for generations to come.

Contrary to their promises, the Republican “leaders” have not brought government spending under control, but have plunged both the nation and state into budgetary disasters. Here at home, the profligate and irresponsible spending by the state on firefighting costs only mirrors the national excesses in spending on war, corporate subsidies, and foolish tax cuts for those who need them least. Montana is funding its schools on a baloney budget, but as recent news stories report, we’re buying T-bone steaks for fire crews.

As the Republican paradigms and economic theories fall apart, they are mirrored by the rudderless policies of their candidates. For real comedy these days, one need only to look to the Republican gubernatorial campaigns. Pat Davison, who tried to slip his Californian running mate in as a Montanan, is spending tons of his own money trying to keep his faltering campaign on its feet until the primary election. Failing that, which he is, Mr. Davison figures it’s worth reaching up to drag his opponent, Secretary of State Bob Brown, down with him. Instead of talking about issues, their campaigns are flailing away at each other in front of the Commissioner of Political Practices over competing charges of campaign ethics violations.

Meanwhile, in a total vacuum of meaningful leadership, Montana faces a mounting series of crises. Recent predictions say the fire season ahead will be worse than expected. Given the irresponsible excesses in past fire spending, one might think there would be a plan to rectify the situation. But there isn’t. Nor is there a plan for school funding or virtually any aspect of the state’s future.

Our state and nation are adrift as the chaos we have wreaked abroad comes home to roost. In a word, the Republicans have failed. It’s time to try something else—but the leadership vacuum seems to extend far beyond party lines.

When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at opinion@missoulanews.com.

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