Weekly Posting of the Conservative Cow Doctor


A Quick Look Back

Nestled in Tongue River Canyon in Wyoming’s Big Horn Mountains is Tongue River Cave. Over the years, the access gate at the cave’s mouth has been periodically locked by authorities who know what is best for us little people. Their nanny-state efforts are temporary at best because locks and chains are no match to spelunkers with bolt cutters…regardless how heavy the dang things are to lug up the trail the half-mile from the parking lot. The cave is deep and twisting and can be directionally challenging to novice explorers—such as this veterinarian in training in 1978. Here is the story.

Several thousand yards inside the cave, well past the small sand rooms and mouse hole, is a boulder field called the “corkscrew.” After twisting over, under and around these massive boulders, you descend 100 feet to the river, which is the goal of most first-time explorers. It is the climb back through the corkscrew which screws the newbie as your surroundings look completely different when you stumble towards them from a different direction. Navigating by graffiti, and not the sun or north star, is not as easy as it sounds and during my first return from the river I made several wrong turns. (The fact I am writing this column is poof I am no longer trapped in the darkness of the Tongue River Cave…although there are those who would argue this point.)

The spelunking lesson I learned 33 years ago, was to periodically turn around and study where you came from so you know where you are headed. This habit served me well on several more expeditions into the cave and is equally applicable to politics—hence my mentioning it today. Let’s look back ten years and see where we were, so we know where we are headed.

On a personal level, in May of 2001, my trophy wife and I had just returned from our first trip to Mexico. My oldest progeny was in college, progeny #2 was just finishing high school and progeny #3 was in middle school. (Using the term “progeny” makes me sound more blue-blood than redneck and I am all about euphemisms.) One decade later, all three of my progeny are married and I have six mini-progeny on the ground with a seventh on the way. Rather than touring the sandy beaches of Mexico cradling fruity tequila drinks with little umbrellas, now I hibernate every other winter on the asphalt beaches of Helena consuming the proverbial fat steaks and whiskey. I like steaks, but I don’t much care for whiskey, so I may be headed in the wrong direction.

On a state level, in May of 2001 our Treasure State spent 5.4 billion taxpayer dollars to function for two years. One decade passed and now it takes 10.1 billion dollars to provide state services to Montana’s 990,000 residents. While our population only grew by 9.6 percent over ten years, government spending increased 86 percent. Popular sound bites brag Montana is “one of only two states in the black”, but such claims ignore the fact over 50 percent of our spending is from the federal government. Let’s take off our rose colored spelunker’s head lamp and examine a decade of federal spending to see if we are charging into another dead-end.

In 2001 our national debt was 5.8 trillion dollars and by 2011 it has grown to an insurmountable $14.3 trillion. In 2010 alone, Uncle Sam spent 3.82 trillion while only receiving 2.17 trillion in revenues, thereby adding 1.65 trillion dollars to our debt load in one single year. As a point of reference, it took from 1791 to 1984 for our accumulated national debt to pass $1.5 trillion and in 2010 we did it in just 365 days. Think about that. America economically survived the Civil War, the Great Depression and two World Wars and still hadn’t accumulated as much debt as we did in the single year of 2010. Obviously, this too is another dead end, and is completely unsustainable. Ironically, if Montana continues to spend federal dollars like there is no tomorrow, there will be no tomorrow. The route out of our debt cave cannot be lit by simply burning more federal dollars.

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