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We’re in such a difficult spot with the pandemic that our ability to plan is more challenging than ever. Remember the old joke: “The difference between an optimist and a pessimist is that a pessimist is better informed”? The wonderful development of an effective vaccine for COVID-19 still means many, many months of thousands out of work, soaring death rates and economic pain.

The challenge for business and government leaders is to effectively plan around the current barriers and be nimble enough to accept that much is unpredictable at this point. No one has managed through our triple threat of a public health crisis, an economic crisis which leaves some well off and many out of work and a climate crisis which seems to grow by the week.

The pessimists can point to the early signs from Helena that help in Montana for the crises won’t happen. The standard party slogans of less government, and less taxes are already being trotted out, despite the unprecedented trouble we’re in. Of course, less government doesn’t mean less federal government these leaders tell us. We’re stuck with state leadership that can’t even put on a mask in public settings much less be trusted to develop difficult plans and programs to support public health, restore jobs lost and shore up a flagging economy.

For many folks around our part of the state things seem pretty good as long as you don’t look closely at our COVID numbers, hospitalization rates and growing numbers of families, including farm and ranch families, lining up at the food banks.

It’s a challenge for businesses to forecast and plan in normal times and doubly challenging now because no one has gone through a storm like this. Imagine owning a business last year at this time and planning for 2020. Now imagine the same business today (assuming it’s still going) and planning for the new year coming up. It’s fair to say that the successful businesses going forward will operate very differently next year and beyond than they did in the past.

One ray of optimism these days are the countless groups and individuals who have stepped up to help where they can. We’ve recently seen stories from hospice and hospital volunteers to folks who rescue abandoned and abused animals. There are hundreds more stories like these that we don’t see and it tells us that we’re not stuck with political posturing instead of helping out.

Think of the countless city and county citizen volunteers serving on public boards across the state who work hard to develop policies and plans. We may have reached the point where the state legislature, already limited to 90 days every other year, has become more of a barrier to planning effective solutions.

Perhaps we should hope that elected leaders will confine themselves to their goals of cutting public benefits, channeling tax money to private religious schools and looking down on the thankless public health leaders throughout the state. Perhaps our attorney general, who must have skipped classes in constitutional law and professional legal ethics, can find another state like Pennsylvania to waste Montana taxpayer resources.

Which side will you choose for the new year? The pessimists may have a stronger case, but there really is plenty of room for optimists. Certainly, the new vaccine, once it reaches most of us should begin a return to normalcy which means far less restrictions and hopefully a recovering economy. The climate crisis has finally been acknowledged by most of the Fortune 500 corporations including the oil and gas producers. The smart money from Wall Street investment banks is pouring into alternative energy which leaves dinosaurs like NorthWestern Energy and its rubber stamp Public Service Commission behind. It’s time for us to say “thanks for the memories” to the tired politics of the past. Let’s tackle 2021 with optimism.

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Joe McCarty lives in Bozeman.