Last year the whacky world of politics taught us that anything can happen, even if it's not what you had hoped or expected would happen. So, just to be optimistic about the first year of the new decade, here are some projections of political actions that could happen in the coming year. And if you think they're just fantasies, well, they just might be.
In the fantasy future, Montana's senior U.S. senator, Max Baucus, will suddenly come out of the emotionally induced haze that has enveloped him during his illicit affair with a top staffer and realize that he has totally blown it on health care reform. He will realize that he has been little more than a pawn for the insurance and medical industries that have so generously larded his campaign war chest with donations and seek to make amends.
First, he'll swear off taking another dime from the rascals, saying that just because those mega-wealthy industries can buy whatever influence they need in Washington, D.C., it's simply unfair to elevate their concerns over those of the people who actually voted to send him to the Senate. Baucus will then donate the millions those industries have given him to open several free community health care centers in Montana, announcing he won't need the money because he isn't running again.
Next, he'll use the unorthodox method the Democrats intend to employ to iron out the differences between the Senate and House versions of the health bill by getting rid of about three-fourths of the 2,000-page legislation and replacing it with a much simpler and effective single-payer plan that basically ensures Medicare for all Americans. The same plan he earlier declared "off the table" will, now that the fog has cleared from his mind, be the obvious solution to the health care crisis.
Baucus' colleague, Sen. Jon Tester, will have his own awakening when he realizes his behavior at the Senate hearing on his logging bill was totally out of line and based on the false assumption that the bill he sponsored was inclusive, rather than the secretive, exclusive backroom deal it really is. This revelation will be bolstered when he recalls the testimony of the head of the Forest Service, warning that the mandated logging levels in the bill are "unreasonable," as are the taxpayer-funded subsidies required to carry out those mandates. The epiphany will be complete when he finally understands that, contrary to his statements that he is seeking input from Montanans, he can't really change the bill without blowing the so-called "collaborative" deal upon which it was based. Dispirited, but not defeated, he will pull the bill and turn to a truly open and inclusive process to put together a new bill which, unlike this one, will include the word "wilderness" in the title.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer, meanwhile, will suffer severe depression after no one bids on the Otter Creek coal leases for which he and his fellow Democrats on the Land Board have already suffered national criticism. One night, he'll accidentally mix up his little vials of coal-derived liquid fuel with the pre-bed shot of Jack Daniels he keeps on the nightstand. Falling into a deep dream, he'll see his big idea for mining and burning those millions of tons of coal is, literally, going up in smoke. When he wakes the next morning, he'll have diesel breath, but go forth and make the announcement that he is done with his stint as the Coal Cowboy, reject coal, and dedicate his considerable energy to taking care of Montanans in his last two years in office. His first actions will include implementing massive state-wide conservation and weatherization efforts and supporting a plan to force companies deriving their energy from Montana's resources to deliver that energy to Montanans on a cost-plus basis rather than the deregulation rip-off former Gov. Marc Racicot spawned. Montanans will cheer like it was 2004.
Then there's Rep. Denny Rehberg, Montana's lone Republican congressman. The year will see a return to Kazakhstan for Rehberg where, thanks to another bout with the ubiquitous vodka of the region, he will fall off another horse. This time, however, it'll knock some sense into him. Shaking his head, he'll suddenly understand that the Republicans have done nothing for the country except obfuscate the issues and obstruct the process and will literally see the light. He'll introduce his own wilderness bill, which will designate all the existing Wilderness Study Areas as wilderness in honor of former Sen. Lee Metcalf and give permanent protection to millions of acres of currently roadless lands from further abuse. When Tester reads the bill, he'll fall off his own horse.
On a higher plane, President Obama will find his Buddha moment while reading Uncle Remus' Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby to an elementary school class. As he tells the students about how Brer Rabbit got one paw, then another, then all of them totally stuck in the Tar Baby, he'll understand that he has done the same thing with the War on Terror, realizing he's been duped by the military-industrial complex. Enveloped in an aura of enlightenment, he'll promise to veto any future military spending for Bush's wars, request Congress to cut the bloated $636 billion military budget in half and declare the rest will be spent to pay for universal health care instead of forcing citizens to buy insurance or raising taxes.
The response from the populace will be so overwhelming that Obama will remember those dreams of hope and change of which he spoke so eloquently on the campaign trail, realizing they can become reality. Sensing a greater purpose, he'll move to lower, not raise, the debt ceiling, redirect any remaining or future Wall Street bailout funds to ensuring more citizens don't lose homes and jobs, and fire all of the Goldman Sachs advisers and Democrat strategists who have been steering him so wrong.
Fantasy? You bet. But it can't hurt to hope.
Helena's George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at firstname.lastname@example.org.