Showdown in Montana


After sitting on its story for a year and after consultation with the Bush Administration, The New York Times published its report on NSA warrantless spying, and in his December 19, 2005 press conference, President Bush denounced release of the report. "My personal opinion is it was a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war. The fact that we’re discussing this program is helping the enemy."

Jump forward to June 2006 after the New York Times exposed the Bush Administration’s gathering of financial data. The Washington Post interviewed administration spokesmen who "expressed concern that public disclosure of the program could undermine their terror-tracking efforts."

Following those bank-spying disclosures, Vice President Cheney told a Chicago audience, "[W}hat I find most disturbing about these stories is the fact that some of the news media take it upon themselves to disclose vital national security programs, thereby making it more difficult for us to prevent future attacks against the American people. That offends me."

Other defenders of administration policy have joined this chorus to excoriate any who shine a light on Bush programs conducted in secret, claiming the revelations give aid and comfort to the enemy and put the nation in greater danger from terrorists.

By now these reactions are so predictable one might suspect that at least some so-called "shameful" disclosures have been orchestrated by the Bush Administration just so its spokespeople could then denounce the press and ring alarm bells to frighten Americans over the supposed increased prospect of attacks on the homeland. The strategy dates back to such remarks as Ari Fleischer’s infamous 2001 caution that Americans "need to watch what they say, watch what they do," especially when it comes to criticizing Bush Administration policy or exposing possible Republican malfeasance.

"Fear" is the most potent ally of Bush White House policy, whether it concerns the continued occupation of Iraq or hyped-up allegations showing future failure of the Social Security system. As the Senate was about to vote on amendments to begin military withdrawal from Iraq, Senators Santorum and Hoekstra waved a red flag to announce that many weapons of mass destruction had been discovered In Iraq. Close behind that disprovable "fact", the Department of Justice arrested several young Florida men, claiming they are a terrorist cell linked to al Qaeda, although to date the supposed "cell’s" overt behavior seems comic and juvenile rather than truly dangerous.

Republican election-year strategy is clear: keep the populace in a state of anxiety, and heighten that anxiety as the November election draws near. Will September and October be filled with "surprises" such as a symbolic troop withdrawal from Iraq, the closure of Guantanamo’s notorious prison camp, the capture of Usama bin Laden, unconstitutional homeland spying that supposedly leads to more arrests of home-based terrorists groups, discovery of viable WMD in Iraq? Will Dick Cheney finally declare a state of national emergency and proclaim Republicans the permanent conservators of the United States?

At the local level, Republican candidates for House and Senate will continue to trot out the votes of Democrats who opposed doomed-to-fail amendments on flag burning, same-sex marriage, immigration, "cut and run" withdrawal from Iraq, the estate tax repeal and tax-welfare policies to benefit American’s wealthiest citizens.

As an early example of things to come, the current Montana race for U.S. Senate is a worthy harbinger. Out here in Big Sky Country, Democratic businessman-farmer Jon Tester is challenging the folksy Republican Senator Conrad Burns. For the first time, Burns is vulnerable, primarily because of his association with convicted felon Jack Abramoff. Any scandal attached to Burns has not seemed to diminish the cash flowing into his re-election coffers, but one suspects that deep pockets from outside Montana will give Tester a financial boost as the campaign heats up.

Already Republican tactics are clear: smear the opponent, no holds barred. The first anti-Tester television commercial for Burns is not officially sponsored by the Burns committee, but has been funded instead by the Republican Senatorial Committee. Thus Burns can angelically rise above politics and distance himself from its content at any convenient time, although such a prospect seems doubtful.

The spot shows a barber (portrayed by an actor) cutting a customer’s hair and claiming he also cut Tester’s hair. The barber/actor tells viewers Tester wants more taxes, supports flag burning, opposes traditional marriage and family values and is besides a lousy tipper. The dark underbelly of this spot suggests that the Democrat is weak on defense, is unpatriotic, is chummy with the gay community and is a skinflint: obviously not a man devoted to real Montana values.

The Montana Democrats countered the ad with one featuring Tester’s real barber and claiming that Tester is against raising taxes, against flag burning and for traditional marriage. Because Tester has advocated withdrawing from Iraq, it remains to be seen how ugly the attack on his patriotism will become as the race nears November.

On Sunday, June 26, Senator Burns and challenger Jon Tester held their first televised debate, sponsored by the Montana Press Association and carried nationally over C-SPAN. During the low-key affair, both men demonstrated flashes of wit. Tester, however, must have surprised many both in and out of state with his articulate and positive performance, proving he can so far hold his own when debating the savvy Burns.

Republicans could not have been pleased by Tester’s self-assurance as he confidently took on three-time U.S. Senator Burns, scarred by his Abnamoff connection. If Tester’s ratings shoot up in the polls, voters can surely expect the Rovian mow-em-down machine to rev its engines and go for Tester’s . . . jugular.

From now until November, remote Montana, whose scenery and lonesome spaces usually garner the most outside attention, will provide a wide-open stage where political junkies can get their kicks watching Republican strategists try to take a small-town country boy to the woodshed of history.

DOUG GIEBEL is a Montana writer and analyst who coincidentally happens to live in the same town that Democratic candidate Jon Tester calls home. Giebel is an independent observer with no ties to the Tester campaign. He welcomes comment at dougcatz@ttc-net


Weekend Edition
October 9-11, 2015
Cesar Chelala
The Perverse Rise of Killer Robots
Halyna Mokrushyna
On Ukraine’s ‘Incorrect’ Past
Walter Brasch
Mass Murders are Good for Business
William Hadfield
Sophistry Rising: the Refugee Debate in Germany
Christopher Brauchli
Why the NRA Profits From Mass Shootings
Pete Dolack
There is Still Time to Defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership
Andre Vltchek
Stop Millions of Western Immigrants!
Dave Lindorff
America’s Latest War Crime
Ann Garrison
Sankarist Spirit Resurges in Burkina Faso
Cesar Chelala
The Perverse Rise of Killer Robots
Franklin Lamb
Official Investigation Needed After Afghan Hospital Bombing
Linn Washington Jr.
Wrongs In Wine-Land
Charles R. Larson
Prelude to the Spanish Civil War: Eduard Mendoza’s “An Englishman in Madrid”
October 08, 2015
Michael Horton
Why is the US Aiding and Enabling Saudi Arabia’s Genocidal War in Yemen?
Ben Debney
Guns, Trump and Mental Illness
Pepe Escobar
The NATO-Russia Face Off in Syria
Yoav Litvin
Israeli Occupation for Dummies
Lawrence Davidson
Deep Poverty in America: the On-Going Tradition of Not Caring
Thomas Knapp
War Party’s New Line: Vladimir Putin is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
Brandon Jordan
Sowing the Seeds of War in Uruguay
Binoy Kampmark
Imperilled by Unfree Trade: the TPP on Environment and Labor
John McMurtry
The Canadian Elections: Cover-Up and Steal (Again)
Anthony Papa
Coming Home: an Open Letter to 6,000 Soon-to-be-Released Drug War Prisoners From an Ex-Con
Ramzy Baroud
Listen to Syrians: The Media Jackals and the People’s Narrative
Norman Pollack
Heart of Darkness: A Two-Way Street
Gilbert Mercier
Will Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite Militias Defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq?
John Stanton
Vietnam 2.0 and California Dreamin’ in Ukraine
William John Cox
The Pornography of Hatred
October 07, 2015
Nancy Scheper-Hughes
Witness to a Troubled Saint-Making: Junipero Serra and the Theology of Failure
Luciana Bohne
The Double-Speak of American Civilian Humanitarianism
Joyce Nelson
TPP: Big Pharma’s Big Deal
Jonathan Cook
Israel Lights the Touchpaper at Al-Aqsa Again
Joseph Natoli
The Wreckage in Sight We Fail To See
Piero Gleijeses
Cuba’s Jorge Risquet: the Brother I Never Had
Andrew Stewart
Do #BlackLivesMatter to Dunkin’ Donuts?
Rajesh Makwana
#GlobalGoals? The Truth About Poverty and How to Address It
Joan Berezin
Elections 2016: A New Opening or Business as Usual?
Dave Randle
The Man Who Sold Motown to the World
Adam Bartley
“Shameless”: Hillary Clinton, Human Rights and China
Binoy Kampmark
The Killings in Oregon: Business as Usual
Harvey Wasserman
Why Bernie and Hillary Must Address America’s Dying Nuke Reactors
Tom H. Hastings
Unarmed Cops and a Can-do Culture of Nonviolence
October 06, 2015
Vijay Prashad
Afghanistan, the Terrible War: Money for Nothing
Mike Whitney
How Putin will Win in Syria
Paul Street
Yes, There is an Imperialist Ruling Class