Year of the Lame Duck 

If it limps and quacks like one, can we put a fork in it?

The Chinese name their years after animals. The Years of the Tiger, Monkey, Goat, Horse, Rooster, Dog, Pig, Rat, Ox, Dragon and Snake are repeated in 12-year cycles. Perhaps this would be a good time to follow that centuries-old tradition in the United States and kick if off with 2012. Let's call it the Year of the Lame Duck, since our political system is chock full of lame ducks as well as lame policies and lame excuses for the lack of leadership.

Perhaps the largest collection of lame ducks in the country is the U.S. House of Representatives. All 435 members, plus six non-voting members, are up for election in 2012. It's pretty well known that a lame duck can't fly straight and the House sure proves that. All year they've been going around in circles and, since the Republicans took over the majority two years ago and disabled their left wing, they can only turn further and further to the right.

Montana's race for our lone House seat has been underwhelming so far. What candidates there are, either Democrat or Republican, have yet to put out much of anything that resonates with the public or arouses the kind of energy you would hope for in a congressional race. Perhaps that's because we've basically heard almost all their campaign promises before. And if we haven't, the opportunities for a single representative to change much with his or her one vote are doubtful. Denny Rehberg has spent 10 years in the House without a single accomplishment that I find worth lauding.

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Speaking of Denny, let's not overlook the Senate race where incumbent Jon Tester is facing off against Rehberg. We're told that this is a nationally important race that will garner vast attention and unimaginable amounts of money to determine "who controls the Senate." That's funny. Montana only has a million people, so it's a mystery how so much money can be spent on so few people to influence the election of one person. Maybe they'd be better off just sending checks to all voters instead of filling the airwaves and internet with their campaign promises, although that would be illegal. So heads-up for the coming flood of lame, lamer and lamest campaign propaganda that continues the Republican-versus-Democrat football game that politicians love so much.

And then there's the race for Montana's next governor, since Brian Schweitzer is now a full-fledged lame duck. Schweitzer is well practiced at being lame. When he came into office, he was full of sturm und drang about how his administration would bring "a new day in Montana." This was supposed to herald Schweitzer's independence from corporate influence that has plagued the state since its inception. "The real treasure of Montana is the land, not what's under it," he said during his campaign. During his early days as governor, he claimed his dog could "smell out an oil lobbyist."

Boy, did we get fooled again. Schweitzer has virtually single-handedly refitted Montana with a version of the Coal Collar we tossed off in the '70s. Under his leadership, we leased the massive Otter Creek coal tracts to Arch Coal for 15 cents a ton, a price so low even the Bureau of Land Management refused to lease its coal to Signal Peak Mining at that rate.

Ironically, that coal will largely be going to China to be burned in power plants that will vastly increase the amount of greenhouse gases going into the Earth's atmosphere. At the end of Schweitzer's first year in office, he closed his Energy Symposium in Bozeman with a rousing speech about how our future was most endangered by India and China burning coal and how we needed to lead them into the future with "clean coal" technologies.

And how about Schweitzer's big success in getting an "on ramp" for Bakken oil in the highly controversial Keystone XL pipeline, now awaiting federal approval? The deal, according to Schweitzer, is about the money Montana will get for its oil if we can get it to Gulf Coast refineries, and about how Canadian tar sands oil is "conflict free" and will make us more energy independent. The reality is that whatever oil is in the Keystone pipeline will likely be going to China, too. Add to that the just announced approval of a pipeline for Enbridge, Inc., a Canadian firm that would carry Bakken crude to Canada.

Last but certainly not least, there's President Obama. After tossing away his opportunity to lead the nation to his "change and hope" campaign promises while Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, Obama is reinventing himself for the 2012 campaign as the Obama from the 2008 campaign—and his lame Republican challengers just may wind up giving him another four years in the White House.

So there it is, fellow Montanans. Pop those champagne corks, toast the New Year, eat dim sum and hope for better times, because we're entering the Year of the Lame Duck and the November elections are a tediously long way off.

Helena's George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at opinion@missoulanews.com.

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