Ochenski: Headlong into darkness

One-party rule comes home to roost



If one-party rule in Washington does for the nation what one-party rule in Helena has done for Montana, we are in big trouble, amigos. Should the election results hold, and we have no reason to believe they won’t, both our state and federal government are now firmly in the clutches of one-party rule.

The Republicans, riding President Bush’s war wagon all the way to the polls, have maintained their control of the House of Representatives and wrested control of the Senate away from the hopelessly lame Democrats. Given their inability to either formulate or elucidate a clear national message, it serves the Demos right to have their heads handed to them on a plate. In the larger context though, it is not the confused and confounded Demo politicians who will suffer, but the citizens, their freedoms, the environment, and ultimately, future generations.

The international community is already trembling, wondering what our hyper-aggressive president and his cabinet of war hawks may do without even the marginal debate offered by the Senate to stand in his way. Their trepidation is not unwarranted. Bolstered by a new, billion-dollar-a-day military budget and an unquenchable thirst for oil, the globe’s sole remaining superpower is fearsome, indeed. Iraq’s oil is the first prize this steel fist reaches out to squeeze, but no one is so foolish to believe it is the last.

Closer to home, where we have been living with the disastrous results of one-party rule for almost a decade, the elections gave us some reason to hope. What good news there is comes in the form of a whittled down Republican majority in the state’s legislature.

Confronted by hundreds of millions of dollars in budget deficits, it seems fitting that the political party whose failed policies have put the state on the fiscal reef should bear the burden of getting us out of this mess. It will not be the politicians who suffer, however, but the children, the aged and the infirm. In the Republican hierarchy, it is never those at the top who pay the price, but the masses of worker ants who are relentlessly exploited and just as relentlessly discarded.

Likewise, all Montanans will find the natural amenities that are so much a part of our life under siege as the rapacious corporate kingpins are given free rein to ravage the Big Sky. What roadblocks existed to drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge have now vanished, and we can be sure Bush and his oil cartel won’t stop there. The Rocky Mountain Front is fully in the crosshairs for whatever minimal supply of gas and oil it may contain. Likewise, rest assured that the coalbed methane industry will now be free to pump eastern Montana’s groundwater dry while it spreads saline wastes over the land, poisoning it for generations. Sole control by the party of exploitation will likely mean drilling and mining in our roadless areas and national monuments, too. After all, if we’re more than willing to go to war for oil, why shouldn’t we plunder our own country while we’re at it?

And why stop there? For years our natural heritage of national forests has borne the brunt of the heavy hand of corporate logging. We pay to build the logging roads, then we pay to fix the resultant damages to our watersheds, rivers and streams after the trees are hacked down. With both state and federal administrations that view environmental regulations as nothing more than impediments to their greed, Montanans are likely to find even more of their favorite mountainsides reduced to eroding stump fields and silted streams. Where once quiet trails led to forested solitude, the Republican rampage will likely unfetter any attempts to hold motorized “wreckreation” in check.

On the energy front, the massive, inordinate spending by out-of-state utilities overwhelmed the initiative to regain control of Montana’s dams and the energy they produce. A ten percent electricity increase will hit Montanans next year, and with the proponents of total deregulation in charge at state and federal levels, the chance of keeping any control over market manipulation is slim to none. The new owners of our dams are already under investigation for Enron-style price gouging, but you can bet no one in Washington is going to worry much about whether or not Montanans have to pay “what the market will bear” for our electricity. After all, to the free-market mavens now totally in charge of our state and nation, “profit” is not a dirty word, it’s an all-consuming goal.

With all the gloom and doom, is there any hope for the future? Perhaps. In politics as in physics, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The new day seems black now, but just as Montana’s voters have whittled down the one-party control of our state, so will the impetus build to return some semblance of balance to our nation. As the results of the Bush policies of rampant exploitation stack up, so will the protests to the carnage. Dirty air, dirty water, plundered forests and, ultimately, a budget gone bust will energize new waves of resistance—not just at home, but abroad. A democracy driven to its knees by corporate domination and an apathetic public may well rise again to fight for a better future.

Call me an optimist, but the trend by Montana’s voters away from one-party rule is reason to hope. What we have experienced from one-party rule in our state will soon be visited upon our nation. As we continue to suffer, so too, will the nation. As that suffering has driven us to reconsider one-party rule, so too will the widespread suffering from one-party control of the nation force a reconsideration of the wisdom of abandoning the checks and balances of two (or more) party rule. Change will come—but in the meantime, gird your loins fellow Montanans, and prepare to defend the freedoms, friends, and natural amenities you hold most dear.

When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Missoula Independent.


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