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Denny Rehberg likes drones—except when he doesn't


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In June, Rep. Dennis Rehberg wrote a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency demanding that it stop using aerial drones to enforce farm waste regulations. He also issued a press release claiming that President Barack Obama wanted to "use air drones to spy on American citizens." He made a strong case that the farmers of this nation should not be watched by flying robots, and the EPA wrote back to say that they agreed and were not doing that.

Frankly, it was embarrassing. It was not a showstopper, though. The Rehberg for Senate campaign had five months to recover, and besides, the whole sad exchange might endear him to a certain type of voter. I was of that type. Although I mocked Denny Rehberg when he demanded that the EPA ground its nonexistent air force, I also admired his spirit. I learned that we shared a position re: watching everyone with flying robots.

We are against it.

Missoula Independent news

Or so I thought. Now I learn from listening to my girlfriend that Rehberg supported HR 1505, a bill that authorizes U.S. Customs and Border Protection to patrol using aerial drones within 100 miles of either border. He supported it twice: last October he co-sponsored it out of committee when, per his suggestion, the term "Department of Homeland Security" was replaced with "U.S. Customs and Border Protection." Then he voted for it on June 18, when it passed the house as part of HR 2578, a land-use bill "to amend the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act related to a segment of the Lower Merced River in California, and for other purposes."

Other purposes include surveillance drones.

I thought candidate Rehberg and I agreed on those. I thought we both considered it an essential function of government to keep Montana's big sky free of flying robot spies. Now I know that he opposes drones when says the EPA is using them, but he supports drones when the DHS—pardon me, its subordinate agency in Customs and Border—wants to fly them over Great Falls.

How am I, as a voter, to reconcile these facts?

I am forced to choose between two explanations:

1) Denny Rehberg only went off on the EPA to curry favor with nutjobs like me.

2) Denny Rehberg is trying to get as many drones into the air as possible, so that when people remember the EPA thing they will have to admit that he was ahead of his time.

Explanation (2) appeals to me in an Orwellian way, but I'm not sure that's what he's up to. Rehberg does not captain America's most sophisticated campaign. An afternoon's research reveals that you cannot change "occupation" on his Wikipedia page to "eats a big poop," so someone in that office understands the internet—yet when their aunt or whoever forwarded them a false "EPA takeover" story that originated on Alex Jones's conservative propaganda site, they jumped on it with both feet.

When I get suckered by fake news on the internet, it's usually because I saw what I wanted to see. As a vain and petty person, I enjoy reading that the government wants to watch me with flying robots, because it fuels my indignation. I need that stuff.

The only people who need indignation more than the vain and petty are candidates for office. Late on a Tuesday night in November, Denny Rehberg is going to find out if he made senator. I personally would manufacture a lot of indignation to secure an office like that, so I cannot blame him for seizing on the fake EPA drone story in June.

Of course, the difference between me and Denny Rehberg is that I don't get to make any laws. While Rehberg and I both enjoy grandstanding about aerial drones, only one of us gets to vote on whether to launch them. Only one of us lives with the obligation to make his votes in Congress re: flying robots match his rhetoric. Thirteen days after Rehberg wrote in outrage to the EPA, only one of us voted spy-bots into law.

I don't get to vote on anything until November when, like a senatorial candidate squinting at Infowars, I will have to decide what is real. Is it candidate Rehberg, who hates flying robots as I do? Or is it Rep. Rehberg, who squandered his chance to not start doing what the EPA wasn't doing when he ordered them to stop?

It is a confusing choice, made more difficult by my suspicion that Rehberg and I are similar guys. We both like ginning up outrage over problems we do not plan to do anything about. Probably, we are both wrong to think we can pull off a cowboy hat. I'll bet we could go a whole boat ride on Flathead Lake without disagreeing, provided we had beer. Yet for all our similarities, we are different on the flying robots thing. I am a single-issue voter, whereas Rehberg can go either way.

Dan Brooks writes about politics, consumer culture and lying at


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