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There’s an old saying in the political arena that people will always take a real Republican over a Democrat trying to sound like a Republican. That lesson seems to have been lost on the Democratic Party this year as their positions on critical policy issues drifted further and further into Republican ideology. The result? The Demos sold out their base, their base stayed home, and Republicans swept the elections in a red tide nationwide.

Here in Montana – and as pointed out in this column months ago – there were very minor differences between Republican candidates and the stances top-level Democrats took on far too many issues. While there certainly were differences between the political parties and their candidates on certain issues, such as a woman’s right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy, serious policy differences were few and far between.

Take the environment, for instance, which is an issue near and dear to many who consider themselves the Democrat base. Climate change is arguably the single greatest challenge now facing this state and nation. Yet, one would think the “climate change deniers,” generally pegged to be Republicans, had somehow mesmerized Montana’s Democratic candidates into supporting their non-recognition of the science and on-the-land effects of climate change now ravaging the globe.

How is it possible that all of Montana’s top tier Democratic candidates could support “all of the above” energy policies and claim to be anything but climate change deniers? If you ask the Demo’s so-called strategists, they’ll blithely tell you that “we have to take that position to get elected.” Really? Since they lost in record numbers, one might viably deduce that taking that position did just the opposite.

Why did Montana’s Democrats support the Keystone XL pipeline? It’s well known that the extraction of Canada’s tar sands is one of the most environmentally-destructive processes on the planet, making the bitumen produced the dirtiest energy in the world. Yet, all of the top-tier Democratic candidates supported Keystone XL, including Amanda Curtis, who tried to side-slip the issue by declaring that her support was contingent on keeping the petroleum products produced from the pipeline in the U.S., a position which does nothing to address the tar sands’ environmental destruction or the increased production of greenhouse gases.

Or how about Democratic candidates’ support for congressionally mandated logging levels on national forests? Once again, the latest science finds that the much-vaunted “healthy forests” call for “active management” – which just means increased commercial logging – does nothing to deter large wildfires, decreases wildlife habitat and diversity, and is largely simply a public relations ploy developed in the Bush administration to bolster timber industry profits. Did Democrats really think their base was going to rush to the polls to support candidates who want to cut down our national forests, even further reducing their ability to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere?

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The same goes for mining and shipping Montana coal to Asia. Why would any Democrat-leaning voter support such a position? Would it be because they like the continuous coal trains now bisecting our communities state-wide? Or because we want to get the mercury from China’s coal-burning generation plants back in our lands and waters? Why didn't even one top-tier Democrat face the reality that the era of burning coal is over – brought on by the fuel’s own pollution profile?

Or let’s say you are a young Montanan, a sector of the population that didn't vote in record numbers in this election. What did Montana’s top-tier Demos offer to give you hope for a better, cleaner, healthier environment in the future? Simply put, not a thing. So why vote for candidates who aren't taking the policy positions necessary to secure your future? I guess the pitiful turnout of that age group answered the question beyond doubt, despite the fact that Democrats were lauding their “young and energetic” candidates that were supposed to produce high turnouts among young voters.

The bottom line is that the Democrats had their heads handed to them on Election Day primarily because they refused to distinguish themselves from their Republican opponents by not supporting the positions and policies favored by their long-time voting base.

It’s time for a house-cleaning at the Democratic Party, starting with the belief that they have to emulate Republicans “to get elected.” Given that the Demo candidates for Congress only got 40 percent of the vote, it seems self-evident they couldn't have done worse had they actually stood up for -- instead of sold-out -- traditional Democratic ideals.

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George Ochenski writes a column for each Monday’s Opinion page of the Missoulian. He can be reached by email at oped@missoulian.com.

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