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Jack Zaleski, Published February 18 2012

Zaleski: Those politicians say darndest things

Most politicians are good people. It’s just that in the overheated atmosphere of a political campaign, they tend to do stuff that makes them look venal, opportunistic and, well, kind of dumb, occasionally.

It was that kind of week in North Dakota, beginning with what was dishonestly called a “debate” among Republican candidates for the U.S. House. Turned out the Monday night session in Fargo was little more than a recitation of party boilerplate that did little to distinguish among the six hopefuls.

But the reason the “debate” was anything but a debate was that the moderator, Rep. Tom Beadle, R-Fargo, sent the candidates a list of 50 prepared questions in advance of the debate. It was, in effect, a take-home test that all-but-guaranteed a scripted, almost rehearsed nondebate.

Probably most telling about the candidates’ reluctance to risk spontaneity was that only one of them raised a question about the take-home test. Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, took issue with the early revelation of the questions, but he proved to be a lone voice.

If that’s the way Republicans are going to conduct debates this season, they have a credibility problem.

Say what?

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum really wowed ’em (friendly crowds, that is) during his stops last week at Tioga, N.D., and Fargo. But, like all the Republican presidential candidates, he is so obsessed with demonizing President Barack Obama he sometimes stumbles into a contradiction.

In praising North Dakota’s oil boom, Santorum said the state is emerging “as one of the leading energy-producing states in the nation.” It’s nice to have one of those folks often derided as “East Coast elitists” say the obvious about North Dakota. But then he added this: “… there’s just no better place to contrast Barack Obama’s destructive energy policy …”

How’s that? How has a “destructive energy policy” translated into the biggest, fastest-growing oil play in the nation? How has the president, in office now for nearly four years, prevented either the state or the oil industry from exploring, drilling and extracting oil and natural gas in record-setting volumes?

Fact is, the acceleration of the Bakken boom in North Dakota has occurred on the Obama administration’s watch. Just look at production figures, oil revenues and overall economic activity in western North Dakota. If that’s been happening under a “destructive energy policy,” my guess is the oil companies and state tax collectors would love to have more of it.

As any honest observer of politics knows, politicians love to toss a bone to a mob of fawning partisans. And they, of course, love to gnaw on it. Everybody’s happy, and to hell with the facts.

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at jzaleski@forumcomm.com.