September 25th, 2008
07:26 PM ET

The bailout revolt

John King      
Chief National Correspondent

Across the road and up into the hills, you can see the cattle slowly streaming down – first a few, then dozens more.

It is roundup day on the Rieder ranch, a sign of the changing season as the cattle is moved from leased federal land to the corral on a 3,000 acre ranch that has been in Dave Rieder’s family since he was four years old. A couple hundred heads in all, and as Rieder closes a gate behind them, he knows many will soon be sold for slaughter, so that he can pay the bank.

“Every legitimate rancher has to borrow $50,000, $60,000 maybe a quarter million dollars just to be able to pay your bills,” Rieder told us during a noontime visit Thursday.

The 8 percent interest he is paying this year stings, especially when you add in the rising costs of diesel fuel and fertilizer and the fact Rieder says what he gets paid for the cattle is roughly the same per pound as 30 years ago.

But what stings more are dire warnings from Washington that credit here in the breathtaking hills of Montana and across Main Street America could dry up if Congress doesn’t quickly pass a $700 billion Wall Street bailout.

“We're responsible for our debts out here. We pay our debts,” Rieder says. “I think George Bush himself said they got drunk on Wall Street. Well, they ought to suffer the hangover like we have to every day out here.”

Rieder is hardly alone in making clear he was not swayed by the president’s prime time nationally televised address Wednesday night in which he appealed for public support and urgent congressional action.

At the Helena office of Republican Congressman Denny Rehberg, the phone calls kept coming in; 55 against the bailout and just one in favor.

Across town,  much the same at the office of Democratic Senator Max Baucus, where Holly Luck arrived to a message machine filled overnight with calls opposing the bailout, or voicing major concerns with it, and received more calls Thursday as she sat at her desk logging the messages from the night before.

Montana is a long way from Washington, a place where people say they are raised to trust their neighbors, keep their word, and be skeptical of power, especially in Washington.

“I was born in the days of FDR,” Rieder said. “FDR said the only thing we have to fear is fear. This is exactly the opposite. They are preying on our fears. If we don't bail them out, the rest of you are going to go down the tubes and we will have another Depression. I don't like the idea of fear tactics. Who knows what it is going to do to us. We don't know."

That uncertainty is unsettling; Rieder is skeptical of the dire warnings but also acknowledges perhaps they are right, and perhaps there will be a broader financial crisis if Washington doesn’t act fast. But his skepticism this time is exacerbated by the “’credibility gap” of the man calling for swift action.

“It is the same thing the president did in Iraq,” Rieder said. “’well if we don't watch out that will come in the form of a mushroom shaped cloud’. And there was no threat of that sort whatsoever. And for my part, I don't believe anything that is coming out of Washington, particularly from the Oval Office.”

The mistrust leaves Rieder feeling powerless and at the whim of the “lobbyists and special interests” he says hold too much sway in Washington. And it leaves him worried about what the interest rate will be – or whether there will be money to borrow – when it is time to herd the cattle back into the hills next spring and he needs a loan to keep the family ranch up and running.

Filed under: Economy • John King
soundoff (53 Responses)
  1. Lourdes

    They say that this bail out will cost around 7,000$ to 7,500$ per person, well, if I multiply that by 4 persons in my home it will cost my family a whole year's sallary since only my husband works.
    Wow! I don't think we can afford the bail out in my family



    September 26, 2008 at 8:38 am |
  2. Dianne

    I think that it is wise for the Senate and Congress to take a good long hard look at this issue. There was no deal that was going to be passed before John McCain arrived to help solve the problem – that was pure media speculation and hype. The true stunt here is that the media is trying to cover up that their chosen one is not ready to be a leader. Instead, of offering hard work and solutions, once again he tried to use just his beautiful words.

    September 26, 2008 at 6:02 am |
  3. Nathan V.


    I hear the tie breaking final must-have stipulation by the worst performing Republicans ever on Earth for the 'so-called' TRILLION DOLLAR big bailout just added to page three paragraph two (thats the whole proposal) calls for a Mount Rushmoresque full lunar surface eclipsed silhouette of our 43rd President. Lucky U.S. to be so fortunate with such insight into their final ekphrasis. What else must we clean from our collective conscience...

    Nathan V.
    Chicago, IL

    September 26, 2008 at 3:48 am |
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