Who would have thought, given the exuberance with which the nation greeted the ousting of George W. Bush and the inauguration of Barack Obama, that 2009 would turn out to be such a disastrous year? But here, at the end, we look back not on the notable accomplishments of "change and hope," but the dismal, disappointing outcome of the year in which Democrats took control of the nation but failed miserably to move us into a more progressive, equitable and hopeful future.
It's not hard to recall the heady promises made by candidate Obama to change America's course at home and abroad. Guantanamo Bay's ugly torture chambers were to close. The wars would be wound down so the massive drain on the U.S. Treasury could be spent on domestic needs. The people would take precedent over the moneyed interests that have controlled Washington, D.C., for far too long, and transparency would be the benchmark of his administration.
Looking back, it seems ludicrous to have ever believed such malarkey. Guantanamo is still open—now with no plans to close it until 2011, if then. Wall Street took precedence over the people, who continue to lose their homes, jobs and families while the titans of finance and industry cash their fat bonus checks thanks to the Obama bailout.
The wars, meanwhile, are not only on-going, but expanding dramatically under the New Barack, who is beginning to sound all too much like the Old Bush these days as he embraces the endless War on Terror. We're already increasing Predator drone strikes in Pakistan and the president has now approved sending death from the skies into Yemen and Somalia.
And, of course, each of these military expansions brings with it an equal increase in actions against this country, the latest being the attempted destruction of an airliner by a Nigerian in retaliation for the Yemen drone strikes. It's a mystery that Obama doesn't get it that "if you go looking for a fight, you're gonna find one." But it's good for the military-industrial complex, and despite the high oratory from the White House, it's apparent the death dealers are still calling the shots in D.C.
Although Obama has been a huge disappointment, the Democrat-controlled Congress has been far worse for the nation. Take the so-called "health care reform." Can anyone except a Demo political operative find anything that marginally resembles "reform" in the 2,000-page monstrosity handed to us by the U.S. Senate? That Sen. Max Baucus personally decided real reform—like implementing a single-payer, Medicare for all, something used by every other industrialized nation of the world—would be "off the table" at the outset was an outrage. That the bill was obviously written to favor the existing insurance-medical-pharma-hospital industries—in collusion with secret White House meetings with the lobbyists for those industries—is nothing short of a tragedy. The outcome is so disastrous that Baucus may well have sown the seeds of his own party's destruction in the coming election cycles. And even though the Republicans are off-the-scale crazy these days, they're benefiting from the flight of deeply disappointed independents who recently voted for Democrats but are now finding little to like from the former "party of the people" turned the party of Wall Street and war.
Yet, while Washington, D.C., produced one disappointment after another, things closer to home are a very long way from the "New Day" we were promised when Gov. Brian Schweitzer took office five years ago touting his self-proclaimed "big ideas." A look back, however, shows that virtually none of Schweitzer's "big ideas" have gone anywhere.
Take coal development, for instance. Remember his big idea to turn coal into liquid fuels? It consumed the last three years of his first term as he flew around the nation with little vials of synthetic diesel, proclaiming it was the solution to America's energy appetite and starting with, wouldn't you know it, producing fuel for the military to continue to wage wars.
The governor, who touted himself as "clean and green," can look back instead on the opening of a new coal mine in Roundup as the sum of his progress on coal. Or how about his recent vote to lease the highly problematic Otter Creek coal tracts, which may never—and should never—be developed. Mining bad coal for bad power plants isn't progress.
And what about bison? While campaigning in 2004, Schweitzer said: "I will work with park officials, USDA, APHIS and landowners to find a commonsense solution that doesn't involve the wholesale slaughter of one of Montana's most recognizable symbols, or diminish the value of our cattle." Yet, at a recent Stockgrowers Association meeting, Schweitzer boasted: "No governor in Montana history has sent more bison to slaughter than this governor." Indeed. Under Schweitzer, 1,500 bison were slaughtered last year, almost half the wild bison left in the nation and more than at any time since their near extinction. How can that be something to brag about?
Given the dearth of real progress, one might wonder what the governor meant when he told reporters, "My management style is at 30,000 feet," while saying it's up to his chief of staff to "run Montana government." Luckily, we only have the non-governing governor for another couple years.
Paul Krugman, Nobel prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist wrote this week: "From an economic point of view, I'd suggest we call the decade past the Big Zero. It was a decade in which nothing good happened, and none of the optimistic things we were supposed to believe turned out to be true."
Unfortunately, he's right. But we're headed into 2010, a new decade with new opportunities to finally get it right. And if our politicians can't figure out how to quit their sexual carousing, find fiscal and moral accountability, and begin taking care of the people instead of Big Money, well, we'll have a chance to "throw the bums out" come the next election.
Helena's George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at email@example.com.