We all have these moments, these realizations. If only I had known! Globally we collectively know that our lives would have been different, if only — if President John Kennedy had not been assassinated. If his brother Robert Kennedy has not suffered the same fate and instead had been elected President. If only Lyndon Johnson had not confronted the struggle in Vietnam and would have been able to focus only on the War on Poverty in America. Who knows how Gerald Ford’s administration would have been had there not been a Nixon pardon. If only.
The national scene is too replete with these examples since 2016 forward to list them all. So I will restrict myself to the local and state scene since we are having another of those "if only" moments right now.
We can start with the observation that if only we had taken COVID-19 more seriously, a good number of Montanans who died over the past two years would still be alive. Yes some people who passed away were in the 80s and 90s and some had other existing health conditions, which made their life otherwise compromised. Some however were still in their prime of life, in their 40s, 50s and 60s, capable of living a full life and able to continuing to contribute to society. Their lives were lost as well, however, by our government not taking COVID-19 more seriously.
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If only our Legislature has not prevented COVID-19 restrictions by prohibiting mask mandates, prohibiting vaccine status from being used as a requirement for employment, for services or even for entry into buildings, then perhaps the recent surge in Montana, which continues even now, would likely have abated months ago as it has done throughout the rest of the United States. And our rural hospitals and care centers which rely on federal aid would not have to consider how to deal with a federal mandate for vaccinations which is contradicted by state law. Of course the state law is unenforceable in the face of a federal mandate but these contradictory requirements add confusion to an already stressful time.
There are more if only moments of course. If only our governor had stayed home rather than going to Texas to gather and offer “advice” about immigration at the southern border, thousands of miles away and instead stayed in Montana and worked on COVID preparations, perhaps businesses in Montana might have enjoyed the ability to be continually open to healthier shoppers, ready and willing to enter the work force and also become consumers anxious and ready to make purchases.
If only the governor had looked at what the Legislature had done, passing laws which violate the constitutional rights of women to choose and used his veto pen, then perhaps there would be some pause in this politicalized debate about abortion.
We face a spate of teen suicides throughout the state. Perhaps if only either the Legislature or the governor had rejected the tactic of demeaning transgender individuals as meaningless and acting hatefully towards our youngest and most vulnerable of citizens, then perhaps some of these suicides, these cries for help might well have been avoided.
If only, if only. If there was only some element of respect for the wildlife biologists who managed the wolf population in the state, Montana would not now be a pariah, one of two states whose actions against wolves has caused a pushback. Look what we have done to our state’s reputation as a steward of our wildlife heritage, forcing the federal government to return to its management of our wolf population to protect wolves against the ill conceived policies of the State of Montana.
Those “if only” moments always come after the fact, after something occurs which could have been avoided had precautions been taken, had some reflection been applied to situations. If the decisions were based upon science, upon facts and reason and not upon political expediency. We are left with having to ponder how the present might have been different if only those in power had thought beyond their popularity with their base and instead focused upon the needs and the positions of all Montanans. If only.