09/05/2007 03:59 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Why Not Let Them Burn?

Helena, MT -- Montana has been suffering an enormously bad wildfire season -- the legacy of a century of timber industry-driven forest mismanagement and global warming. For the past five years, ever since President Bush flew to Portland, Oregon to announce his "Healthy Forests" initiative, the threat of fire has been used as the timber industry's chief argument for continuing to cut down fire-resistant old-growth forests. The Administration -- and Congress, which passed Healthy Forests -- have failed abysmally in their proclaimed mission of prioritizing the protection of homes and communities in the urban-wildland interface. This summer, when the Angora fire swept through the Tahoe Basin, we learned that the Forest Service had done only half as much thinning and brush clearing as it had promised a few years earlier.

The Montana legislature has been similarly irresponsible. When Governor Brian Schweitzer asked for $25 million to fund the state's fire-fighting needs, Republicans in the legislature blocked his request on a party-line vote. Now Schweitzer has called a special session of the legislature because Montana has had to spend the money fighting this summer's fires. In response, as David Sirota passes along, the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator John Sinrud, attacked the Administration for spending the money to defend people's houses, saying, literally (and you can hear it on YouTube), "Why not just let 'em burn?"

At the same time, the reactionaries claim that Schweitzer never asked for the money in the first place -- a claim the Helena Independent Record refutes. As Sirota says, Senator Sinrud's comments should remind us that the President's "compassionate conservatism" was always, in the hearts of his supporters, an oxymoron. Reactionaries don't want to use government to protect people -- never did. There's something to remember at election time: As the old aphorism puts it, "never give a man a job he doesn't want."