Fresh from his State of the Union address, George W. Bush planned to jump a plane to Montana and put the presidential heat on Sen. Max Baucus to support his move to privatize Social Security. Perhaps being bathed in continuous adoration from his highly vetted Cabinet has convinced Bush that his is the power to simply speak and have every command followed without question. But given our recent history, coming to Montana to convince us to pressure Baucus to hand over our long-term retirement security to the corporate pirates of Wall Street is a long shot indeed.
Just last week, Montana’s senior U.S. senator addressed a joint session of the Legislature and in no uncertain terms told them that he did not plan to back the Bush plan to divert Social Security payments into private stocks. For Max, this was no great leap of logic—Montana’s population is not young and restless and looking to make easy money on the glittering promises of corporate shysters. Quite the opposite, really, and Max knows that.
Montana’s aging Baby Boomers are approaching retirement in the next decade and have been paying into Social Security for all of their working lives. Every so often we get an envelope in the mail that tells us how pitifully little we will get back when (and if) we make it to retirement. Because Montana has one of the nation’s lowest per capita incomes, our Social Security payments will likewise be at the bottom of the barrel.
Bush, on the other hand, would like to convince us that Social Security is in a crisis from which it can be saved only by putting the money that should go into the long-term fund into stock market speculation. At this juncture, it would be beneficial to remember that this is the same George W. Bush who warned us that if we didn’t invade Iraq against the wishes of the civilized world we would soon be facing mushroom clouds on the horizon.
As we now know, Bush’s entire rationale for throwing our nation into a billion-dollar-a-week war that has taken the lives of more than a thousand of our soldiers was nothing more than a bald-faced lie. He scared the nation into a war that has plunged our country into enormous debt, transferred billions from the treasury to his corporate cronies, and now wants to scare us into giving up Social Security to those same corporate pirates.
And so he comes to Montana, a state over which he probably flew dozens of times during the campaign, but which wasn’t important enough then to visit. But now he needs Baucus to cave in to his specious plans.
It makes one wonder if Bush has any idea what has happened in Montana over the last eight years. President Bush openly acknowledges that he doesn’t read books or newspapers, but perhaps he should talk with his good buddy Marc Racicot about what transpired the last time Montanans trusted corporations with our future. Doesn’t he know the 1997 Legislature followed Racicot’s lead to deregulate our energy utilities—or the details of the unmitigated disaster that followed?
First we lost our energy production facilities to out-of-state conglomerates. The hydroelectric dams that had churned out cheap energy from falling water for nearly a century were sold within a year of deregulation. Then came the miraculous transformation of the Montana Power Company, a former foundation of Montana’s economy, to Touch America, the get-rich-quick telecom that, despite the promises of CEO Bob Gannon, collapsed into a pile of worthless paper, debt and corruption.
Not only was our cheap hydropower gone, so was the stock value, the pensions and the jobs of those who had labored so long to build Montana Power. Given the budget-busting increases in the cost of heating our homes, Max knows Montanans are more unlikely than ever to hand over our future to Wall Street promises of corporate largesse.
Granted, Bush most likely remembers that it was Max Baucus, as chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, who broke ranks with his fellow Democrats to side with Bush, making it possible to pass his $1.3 trillion tax break for the wealthiest amongst us. And it was Max who featured George W. Bush in the campaign ads that sent him back to Washington. Given Max’s past propensity to accommodate the Bush agenda, perhaps it is not unreasonable for Bush to think he might once again bend this particular Gumby to his will.
But this time I think he’s wrong—Montanans have had it with corporate promises.
Just this week, Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy stood before the House Natural Resources Committee, once again trying to establish a long-term fund for the cleanup of lands pillaged by the Zortmann-Landusky Mine. The gold is long gone, but the acid mine drainage—and the host of toxins it carries—continue to poison Montana’s waters.
In Butte, a citizens committee is struggling to get the EPA to do a real cleanup there—and not just pull a grassy rug over the toxic mess that is the Berkeley Pit, Silver Bow Creek and the square miles of tailings at the headwaters of the Clark Fork River. Once again the corporate raiders left behind unimaginable destruction that will plague Montanans for generations to come.
We have been and continue to be ravaged by corporate promises gone bad. George Bush can try to threaten and scare us on his visit to Great Falls, but as the saying goes, “the once burnt child fears the fire”—and we have been burned repeatedly.
This time around, Montanans should tell Bush to get back on his plane and go somewhere else. And we should back Max—and give him the strength he needs to stand against this latest Bush attack.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.