Archive for September 1st, 2007

by Rebecca Schmitz

The furor over Rep. John Sinrud’s “Why not just let them burn?” comment shows what happens when Republicans get into a head-on collision with reality. They constantly have to walk a fine line. On the one hand, this member of the party of private property rights, less government spending, and self-reliance has a point: if people are going to build homes in the wildland-urban interface, they have to accept the inevitable. Their house might be destroyed by wildfire and, according to Sinrud, it’s up to homeowners to buck up, deal with the loss, and learn from their mistake by building somewhere else in future. It’s not unlike federal assistance for people who continually rebuild their homes in Tornado Alley or the Mississippi River floodplain; at what point do we as a society stop subsidizing bad decision-making skills? On the other hand, there’s reality. People want that assistance, and rightly so. When push comes to shove and a fire is just over the ridge, few Republican homeowners in its path stand up and say “Hey! Our state and national budget can’t support these firefighters! Let it burn!”

There’s a reason why President Bush never vetoed a single budget-busting bill while the Republicans were in power in Congress: he knows we the people want earmarks, pork barrel projects, and, yes, firefighters to arrive at that log home located in a thick grove of lodgepole there at the top of Mill Creek. Alaskan Republican Representative Don Young was able to include the infamous Bridge to Nowhere in the 2005 transportation bill without having a crisis of conscience because his constituents wanted it, despite his party’s philosophical commitment to ending government waste. Did anyone read the Missoulian this morning? There’s an article in the Montana section listing all the projects in this state that will receive federal funds this year, thanks to the money Baucus, Tester, and Rehberg have brought back home to us. Are Missoula Republicans going to stand up and say, “No thanks, we don’t want any cash going to the Missoula Food Bank, the University of Montana, St. Patrick Hospital, Community Medical Center, Missoula Area Youth Hockey Association, and the Missoula International Airport because our budget can’t support these projects!” Of course not. Reality will always trump party philosophy. Representative Sinrud might talk tough now, but he knows “letting it burn” means only one thing: less votes at election time.

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