Smoke on the water 

Current political climate couldn't get much worse

As summer fades into fall, the political season hits high gear while America's two major political parties unleash all they've got on each other. And this year the smoke they're blowing is so thick voters may well have to wear respirators to the polling booths. Ironically, while more people are unemployed and losing their homes to foreclosure every day, the politicos are raising and spending record amounts to obfuscate their records, distort history and mislead what few members of the public continue to have interest in politics. In this battle, as in war, the first victim is the truth.

It seems impossible that a mere two years ago the Democrats were on top of the world, predicting the downfall and perhaps eventual collapse of the Republican Party following the endless policy debacles and blatant corruption of the Bush-Cheney administration. Then again, only a few years earlier, the Republicans had been making the same foolish predictions about the Democrats following the sad and ignominious end of Bill Clinton's presidency.

But no, the Republicans didn't disappear after Bush, although given the condition in which they left the nation, mired in two unwinnable wars and plunged deep in economic trauma, disappearing would have been the honorable thing to do.

Instead, they bunkered up, dug in their heels and kept their votes firmly in the "No" column for virtually every policy initiative presented by the Democrats. As President Obama, hoping to rally his dispirited party at a Labor Day speech, quipped: "If I said the sky was blue; they'd say no. If I said fish live in the sea, they'd say no." Indeed, for the last two years—except on kicking military spending into the stratosphere—Republicans have simply voted no and watched in amusement as the hapless Democrats tumbled over themselves, abandoning their base, their campaign promises and whatever good sense they may have had, to try and wring Republican votes out of the House and Senate.

In the meantime, the Tea Party cranked up its own version of reality with a two-century step-back under the banner of the American Revolution. But what they meant, instead of "Don't Tread on Me" is "We'll Tread on You." As recently illustrated by the well-deserved unseating of Montana's Tea Party leader, Tim Ravndal, they slipped a gear in the logic department and let the roots of their many hatreds rise to the surface. Of course, this is no real surprise to those who can recall the obvious intimidation and open threats delivered at congressional public meetings all across the nation last summer. The Tea Party, it turns out, is not really about being "taxed enough already" but actually the far-far-far-right faction of the GOP, which is already so far to the right it's only got one wheel left on the road.

It would be wonderful if voters could simply see through the religion-laced Glenn Beckian bombast and realize these guys are actually the equivalent of the Taliban in their "tolerance" of others. Ravndal's not-so-oblique reference to the Wyoming murder of Matthew Sheppard is how far away from the barbarous Taliban stoning of women for adultery? Or how about the foaming-at-the-mouth Arizona border vigilantes? How far are those Tea Party supporters from the "lawless" tribes of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border? Closer than we'd like to admit—much closer.

It would also be great if we had a cohesive Democratic Party to counter-balance the madness. But that, sadly, is not the case. Instead, we get the same old, same old from the Democrats whenever they feel their butts are on the line. Namely, they scuttle to the middle, or in this case, well right of middle, to try to wrest the so-called "undecided voters" away from the Republicans. It is a well-known aphorism in political circles that if voters want to support Republicans, they won't vote for Demos who act like Republicans, they'll vote for real Republicans every time. But for some mysterious reason, this truth has escaped the shadowy Demo strategists and the limp-spined politicos they work for.

Instead of keeping their campaign promises to actually change America after the Bush debacle, the Democrats did what? They bailed out Wall Street first, then the banks, then the auto companies, then funded more wars, until they ran out of money. And the "little people" who have always looked to the Democrats to save them from the avaricious extremes of the ruling class? Well, sorry folks, but you know how it is...we can't save everybody. And unlike the "too big to fail" banks and financial institutions, you're small enough to let slide beneath the waters with nary a gurgle.

The history of the Democrats' failure to deliver on their high-minded campaign promises is already written. Unfortunately for the Dems, it's not in invisible ink. We know it, we see it, and we're living it. But most of all, we're not liking it and we're not taking much more. The sand has run through the hourglass and time is up for the Dems to produce the change and hope they so fervently promised the nation.

Nothing illustrates it better than the recent promise by President Obama to launch a new program dumping another $50 billion into building or rebuilding highways, airports and railroads. But nowadays, the president's mighty oratory falls on deaf ears. It is too well known by too many that the creation of any such program will take an immediate and concerted act of Congress to pass the legislation and appropriate the funds. As the last two years have illustrated beyond doubt, Congress doesn't act that way these days. If anything, there's even less chance that will happen just before elections.

And so it goes. Smoke from the Republicans. Smoke from the Democrats. Insane blather from the Tea Party. Meanwhile, voters are headed for the exits. I'd like to say it couldn't get much worse, but somehow, I have a bad feeling it will.

Helena's George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at

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