New opportunities - It’s not too much to ask for a better 2008

The great thing about a new year is that no matter how discouraging the preceding 12 months, looking ahead always gives one hope for a brighter day to come—especially where politics, politicians, and the policies that affect us all are concerned. Truth be told, 2007 wasn’t exactly a bell-ringer for progressive politics. But with the entire year ahead, the opportunities for politicians to make new and better choices are significant.

Starting at the top, wouldn’t it be just great if the Decider in Chief, President George W. Bush, took stock of the tidal failures of his administration and gave up his disastrous foreign policies? Bush, by far the most unpopular president in recent history, has just one year’s worth of dwindling days to leave anything that might be seen as a legacy of successful policies instead of a sewer of infamy.

Thinking big, Bush could announce that Iraq was up and running to the best we can hope for and announce a firm pull-out date for the 160,000 American troops based there. While he’s at it, a cessation of antagonistic attacks on Iran and a reduction of the Afghan campaign to parity with our NATO partners (who want out) would be welcome too. He could immediately stop the hemorrhage of the treasury, bring some stability back to our free-falling dollar, and end the drivel that passes for debate on the entire Iraq-Iran-Afghanistan disaster.

While it’s not likely to happen unless Bush has some kind of epiphany, if there’s any single action that could rescue the tattered remnants of his administration, that would do it. As far as cover goes, well, Bush could rightfully point to the latest political unrest in nuclear-armed Pakistan with Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, our deadliest and most expensive year yet in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the accelerating disintegration of stability in the Middle East as being simply too much to ask Americans to bear any longer. If he needs a snappy phrase that fits his rhetorical posture, how about: “Real homeland security starts with making Americans secure in their homes.”

Moving right along, the Democratically-controlled Congress has been given a second chance to do a whole host of right things. Thanks to Bush using a pocket veto on the most recent (and most expensive) defense appropriation bill, Congress should reconsider its hasty pre-holiday decision, accept Bush’s veto, and go back to the drawing board on an entirely new bill. Only the new bill would be for maybe half as much of the nearly $700 billion in the old bill (which would still be a billion a day for the military), with the specific elimination of the $190 billion slated for Iraq and Afghanistan to an amount limited to just what’s absolutely necessary to bring the troops home.

Congress, like Bush, has all the cover it could possibly want or need to finally get serious about domestic spending priorities, including the sub-prime mortgage crisis from which the ugly financial ripples continue to spread, the crumbling national infrastructure (it isn’t London Bridge that fell down), the rapidly escalating needs of the aging baby boomers, and the inescapable urgency to move to renewable, sustainable, and non-polluting energy sources via massive federal investment.

Closer to home, Montana’s local politicians have another shot at some ill-considered decisions as well. Gov. Schweitzer, for instance, has every reason in the world to blame the financial markets for the demise of his coal development and massive export energy plans, and he could turn wholeheartedly toward achieving energy security for Montanans. What that means in a nutshell is putting real money into affordable, renewable energy for Montana’s citizens, institutions, and businesses.

Remember when we had the cheapest electric power in the region? Now we have the most expensive. Not much could be politically or practically smarter for Schweitzer than going to bat for Montanans with the goal of reducing their energy costs. Serving Montana’s needs makes eminently more sense than chasing corporate and political pipedreams that, in the end, leave Montanans competing with the rest of the nation for the energy we produce, suffering with the pollution, and sending whatever profits the energy corporations make on our resources to their out-of-state headquarters.

While ’08 won’t see a regularly-scheduled legislative session, it might be a good year to begin some serious dialogue between Montana’s legislative leaders. High on the list of reasons for last year’s legislative disaster was a serious lack of communication and negotiation between the political parties. Everyone knows the Democrats and Republicans love beating on each other, but at some point it would be encouraging to see more attention given to the task for which they are elected—serving the citizenry.

Far too many good ideas from both parties went down in flames last year due to partisan affiliation. Expecting the Democrats and Republicans to dial back their bickering during an election year seems naive, but it’s not too much to ask that the best and brightest legislators from both parties sit down during the interim and find some things upon which they can agree. The majority of issues facing Montanans aren’t partisan in nature and the finger pointing and chest pounding have worn thin. One way of diffusing the partisan conflict of our political debates might be to bring legislative ideas to public debate well before the measures are introduced—rather than trying to stuff important policies through in the final weeks or days of a heated legislative session on sheer partisan muscle.

To some, these new year options undoubtedly sound like fantasies. But when we finally see the removal of the Milltown Dam and the restoration of the Blackfoot-Clark Fork confluence this year, remember that it was Republican Gov. Judy Martz, one of the least environmentally-friendly governors in recent history, who authorized the dam’s removal. Sometimes, even the most far-fetched political fantasies can come true—which is plenty of reason to hope for better in 2008.
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