Put Out a Contract on These Campaigns

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterGood lord. This one can’t end soon enough, and I’m tempted to say “badly enough’. There really should be penalties and pain for political campaigns as time and attention-sucking and uninvolving as the one we’re enduring right now.

I freely confess to jaded-induced boredom. I’ve seen too many campaigns. I really should slink away to the Yukon with a faithful dog, a store of hardtack and jerky and let this ceaseless barrage of boilerplate bluster and by-the-numbers attack advertising run its course, which of course would mean killing off the last critical synapses in the last sentient voter walking the land. When (or if) I re-emerged the world might resemble the aftermath of some zombie plague, with the brain-eaters being political consultants and messaging experts.

We all know it’s bad, as in dull, monotonous, predictable and off-putting. Need a fresh example? How about GOP Senate candidate Mike McFadden devoting one day to announcing his “contract with Minnesota” and then another day to signing it? Inspiring stuff. Imaginative, too. Another “contract”. The latest in a 20-plus year run of “contracts” thrown up by imagination-free political candidates who don’t dare, and/or are advised not to dare ever saying anything that might engage the mental machinery of what I refer to as the “actively informed voter.”

Obviously, if you’re one of those people you fully understand that these campaigns, which thanks to the epic flow of money unleashed by Citizens United never actually end any longer, are targeted on a sliver of the population that rarely exceeds 15%. These would be your “persuadable voters”, the folks who, put another way, mostly ignore political/government function, get a lot of their news from headlines they see walking past the few newspaper racks still remaining, overhear at the plant or see on some cable channel in the dentist’s office. That’s who all the money is being spent on. And who knows, a couple of them might even be persuaded to vote … against the other guy.

Meanwhile, it is worse than a Newton Minow “wasteland” for everyone else. If you care enough to follow these processes daily, instead of just for a couple weeks every other year, you’ve come to accept that there’s nothing here for you. You’ve heard every attack thousands of times, seen every grainy video of lock-stepping “ultra-liberals” and lapse into narcolepsy at the hint of yet another “debate”. Essentially you made your mind up months (if not years) ago and are enduring this siege of unrelenting blandness as you might a stand-up comic suitable for your mother’s nursing home.

Obviously, if this were Kentucky or even Iowa, or as Joe has been following, South Dakota, it might a little different. There’d at least be a pulse. But here in Minnesota there’s never been any serious doubt that either Al Franken or Mark Dayton was going to be reelected. If there was it vanished with the nominations of Mike McFadden and Jeff Johnson, two guys with all the inspirational ability of a couple corporate trainers who forgot their PowerPoint.

So what to do? Well nothing, if like Franken your handlers, advisers and kitchen cabinet have wrung every last ounce of wit and risk out of you. (Dayton will always and only do what Dayton wants to do.)

But in (my) ideal world here’s something I’d like some genuinely “courageous” candidate “fighting” for the middle-class and “hard working” Americans everywhere to give a try.

Screw these ritualized debates, which long ago degenerated into a trench warfare of pre-digested catch phrases and attack slogans hurled back and forth like mustard gas.

I’d like to see a (formerly) witty, daring guy like Franken agree to a serious of “thesis candidate” interviews with bona fide experts on a series of issues. Tell the League of Women Voters to go find three acknowledged experts each on economics, public ethics, communications, whatever and you’ll agree to sit, by yourself, not with your opponent, and be cross-examined by them for 90 minutes. No horse-race obsessed professional journalists allowed. Instead, a conversation rewarding actual brainpower, intellectual resourcefulness and humility.

To be revealed: What you do and don’t know about the reality of what you’re selling to the persuadables on primetime TV, in between episodes of “Honey Boo Boo” and Thursday Night Football.

Suicide for the fool who agrees to such a concept? I’m not so sure. If Franken agreed to do it, what’s the predicament for McFadden?

Bottom line question: Does any politician dare talk to adults like adults? I’ve decided the answer is “no.”

Hmmm … must check Expedia for packages to Whitehorse.

And the Stiffs Just Keep on Comin’

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterLacking anything resembling a passionate issue, this year’s political campaigns, certainly here in Minnesota, have acquired a common theme by default. Put one way it is: “How did we end up with this pack of stiffs and maroons?”

Colleague Joe has been lucid about one aspect of this. But then us fringy blogger types aren’t required to stick a sock in what we really think in the interests of, you know, “promoting a civil discourse”.

Translation: If you’re getting paid for what you write, never publish anything that might upset your mega-church going maiden aunt.

Today though, Strib columnist Jon Tevlin ventures about as far out on the institutional branch as he can get when he surveys the recent Tom Hagedorn/Michelle MacDonald/Keith Downey/Al Franken news cycle, and, after five paragraphs of promising never to sully himself with such gutter talk ever again, declares the lot of ‘em … “a bunch of idiots”.

Jon is a quality guy and a talented writer. (I.e. I’d really rip him if he were a putz.) But his first obligation is to play within the parameters of a mainstream commercial news organization, a business enterprise determined to maintain credibility across the entire spectrum of modern American, uh, “discourse”. Within that business plan, calling aspiring/elected officials “idiots” is a journalistic “no fly zone”.

No matter how ill-informed, craven, hypocritical and reckless, respectable/moderated journalism does not go to … “idiot”. Not even if there’s a clinical diagnosis involved. Juvenile name-calling is left to spittle-flecked bloggers with no advertising base to endanger.

These moments always reminds me of a lunch interview I had with the author Paul Theroux years ago. Theroux occasionally wrote for The New York Times, and struggled with the grand institution’s rules of order. Like the time he was assigned a piece on the physical experience of The Big Apple’s 1980s subway system. This naturally involved describing smelly piles of what the Times copy desk insisted he refer to as  “fecal material” polluting stations and platforms.

Said Theroux in essence, “It was classic Times. Struggling not to describe in language everyone understands what everyone sees under foot every day of their lives.”

The essential point here is to ask (again) how much better our political “discourse” might be if the “real media” described characters and events in terms all of us understand instantly and use every day? How much less of Michele Bachmann’s ludicrous circus act would we have had to endure if words like “lying”, “reckless” and “self-serving” had been deployed with near-daily regularity by the Strib, the PiPress, MPR, and the local TV outlets … instead of just the bed-head rabble of dyspeptic bloggers?

Given the appetite of today’s “movement conservatives” for “idiot discourse” and self-serving demagoguery, the media alone won’t be able to nudge that ship/garbage scowl into a channel of sanity. But let me argue that a professional reporting class permitted a vernacular beyond that which doesn’t induce indigestion in devout Mormons might loosen up some of the “stiffs” smelling up our public offices.

Mar(k) Dayton is probably beyond “loosening”. But how much more effective might Al Franken be if he felt comfortable melding both his innate satirical wit with his policy smarts? How much larger a public platform would he have, with benefits both to Minnesotans and national progressives, if he routinely spoke in a language everyone (other than Mormons and churchy aunts) immediately understands and uses every day? Would he, after applying a little comic lubricant, be more or less influential than the glaze-inducing grey cardboard character he’s playing today? A caricature acceptable enough for Times copy editors.

The commercial media’s role in a renaissance of public “discourse” would be, as it is now, to fairly assess the claims of partisan critics who will inevitably shriek and froth for their base any time Franken or any other politician talks and acts like a human being, as opposed to some committee-neutered corporate spokesman in permanent crisis management mode.

I don’t know if any of this would make me walk a block to listen to a stump speech. But it might at least convince me there’s some blood in their veins.


Still Waiting for the State GOP’s “Winning Strategy”

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterJust a crazy, hysterical notion here … .

I’m not sure Minnesota’s Republicans have quite figured out the winning strategy for this November’s elections. The national crowd isn’t much better, but they’ve got games going in places like Kentucky and Mississippi and Georgia, hotbeds of 21st century conservative zealotry and deep-thinking, so they have an advantage.

Minnesota is a little different. The whole Kenyan Muslim Socialist selling the country out to terrorists while destroying our best-in-the-world medical system thing doesn’t play quite as well around here as in South Bogaloosa. Or at least it needs to be dressed up quite a bit to be presentable in public.

In part, that explains the four GOP contenders dialing back on the social issue pandering. But the recent assertion that the miserable state of the local economy, in particular Mark Dayton’s steering of said economy into a sludge-filled ditch will be the focus of the campaign also leaves me a bit skeptical in terms of efficacy.

Now, granted we are in the final weeks of primary season, when the game is all about rallying every registered Republican who listens to six hours a day or more of AM 1280 The Patriot. But still, the economy? That’s what they see as their best shot?

Again, the targeted primary voter would rip Dayton even if he cut their taxes to Medtronic levels, brought in the reincarnation of Ayn Rand to home school their kids, re-paved their driveway and gassed up the family Yukon — the one with the star-spangled license plate and the waving flag sticker that says, “Fear This.” But what then for the general election, back in the pesky world of the “reality-based”? What does the GOP have for that rather crucial slice of the electorate?

There probably aren’t five people of any persuasion who don’t think “the economy” should be better. Every “corporate inversion”-minded CEO, every hardware store operator and Caribou barista will tell you they’d like more money — i.e, a better economy — in their pockets. But given a choice between the party who many will remember wasted its recent majority at the local legislature on tone deaf notions like Voter ID, opposing gay marriage and multiple votes to suppress or rollback abortion rights and the guy who had to restore some order and discipline after the godawful fiscal mess left from Tim Pawlenty’s careerist reign, the choice is pretty easy.

And it remains fairly easy even when the various candidates try to roll “the horror” of Obamacare, or (gasp!) the MNsure website, into their economic message. Where for example do they get a credible metric that says Obamacare isn’t considered an asset by the majority of Minnesotans? Moreover, when “shrewd” businessmen like Mike McFadden wander off the empirical ranch and start talking about replacing Obamacare with something else … something “market-based” and “patient-oriented” — a Minnesotan who actually intends to vote is by now familiar enough with Mitt Romney-style boardroom gobbledygook and corporate-speak to dismiss him as yet another political variant of Gertrude Stein’s Oakland. You know: “There’s no there there.”

And speaking of tone-deaf out past the barbed wire … . Where do you even begin with a guy like Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson promising to “go all Scott Walker” on Minnesota if he can just, A. Get elected himself, and B. Get that dang majority of anti-abortionists, homophobes and election fraud conspiracists back at work?

Scott [bleeping] Walker !? I have to assume that a self-proclaimed smart guy like Johnson has, again, some credible metric showing how much better Wisconsin’s economy is performing than Minnesota’s, because it sure as hell hasn’t appeared in any study or survey produced anywhere other than low-power talk radio.

As I mentioned after Romney cratered two years ago and the national GOP began its extensive soul-searching, (okay they issued a press release and then roared back to tin foil hat business-as-usual), the GOP has a future if it can talk coherently and credibly about some issue, any issue, presumably economic, that has direct positive effect on the middle-class. Screw all the trickle down blather. At this point the public is hip to how little reducing corporate taxes benefits them.

It’s loony, I admit, but let me repeat my advice. Find something that gives the middle-class something they truly want — better schools, better roads, better/cheaper health care — and apply actual brainpower, not glaze-inducing messaging, to constructing such legislation and demand the DFL cooperate in passing it.

In other words: Try credibility for a change.


Really, Pioneer Press?

When South Dakota Governor Bill Janklow and Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich were taking verbal shots at each other in the early 1980s about business climate, that was news, mostly because Janklow and Perpich were the highest ranking elected officials of their respective states, and because in those days neighboring Governors  were typically genteel with each other.  This was something new.

But today the St. Paul Pioneer Press ran a breathless piece on its front page, above the fold, about a relatively obscure Tea Party-backed state legislator, Wisconsin State Rep. Erik Serverson (R-Osceola), who wrote a little letter taking a shot at Minnesota about taxes.

A Tea Partier griping about taxes.  Gee, I’ve never heard that before.  Seriously, this is news, Pioneer Press?  It would have been news if this Tea Partier wasn’t opposing Dayton’s tax reform plan. Continue reading

Minnesota Health System Needs Obamacare Too

On a weekly basis, Garrison Keillor reminds Minnesotans that we are above average.  But we didn’t need him to tell us that.  We’re a pretty innately smug bunch when it comes to our state.  Call it “Minnesota Exceptionalism.”

We’re especially smug about our health care system.  Therefore, some of us were not all that sure we needed Obamacare’s private health insurance mandate, which is presently the only politically feasible way of improving health insurance coverage and banning pre-existing condition restrictions.

But we do.

It is true that Minnesota is better off than the rest of the nation. Nine percent of Minnesotans lack health insurance coverage, and that’s much better than the nation as a whole, where 16% are uninsured.

We can rest assured that we aren’t suffering nearly as much as many other states, such as Texas (27% uninsured), Mississippi (24% uninsured), Louisiana (22% uninsured), Nevada (22% uninsured), and Oklahoma (22% uninsured). These GOP strongholds are suffering more at the hand of the GOP’s shameless health reform stonewalling than we are.

But let’s not delude our exceptional selves.  Minnesota needs the private insurance mandate too.   After all, using the same kind of health insurance mandate the Supreme Court just upheld, Massachusets has a much better record than Minnesota.  Under ArneCare in Minnesota, we have 9% uninsured, which is better than average.   But under ObamneyCare in Massachusetts, they have only 5% uninsured.

Moreover, we self-congratulatory Minnesotans should never forget that in the shadows of Minnesota’s overall 9% uninsured rate are pockets of much deeper health care despair. For instance, more than a quarter (27%) of low income adult Minnesotans are uninsured. That’s a little bit of Texas in our midst.

No, 9% is not good enough. That’s 463,100 of our Minnesota friends, neighbors, and coworkers who are just one metastasized cell or black ice sheet away from a mountain of medical bills, and the bankruptcy that so often goes with it.

That’s 463,100 Minnesotans delaying medical care until medical care becomes much more expensive, and often much less effective.

That’s 463,100 Minnesotans who obviously don’t stop getting hurt or ill, and therefore are forced to shift their enormous medical expenses to the rest of us, which in turn forces more of us to drop our own coverage.

That’s 463,100 Minnesotans — the population of Rochester, Duluth, St. Cloud, Eagan, Plymouth, Lino Lakes, Willmar and Ramsey, combined.

That can’t be ignored.  Minnesota needs the insurance mandate, and the rest of Obamacare too.  So thank you Heritage Foundation, Newt Gingrich, Don Nickles, Mitt Romney and, now, John Roberts for giving it to us.

– Loveland

Note:  This post also was featured as a “best of the best” on Minnpost’s Blog Cabin feature.

Why Tim Pawlenty Will Help Romney Win Minnesota

Dear Mitt Romney:

Whatever you do, please don’t pick Tim Pawlenty for your Vice Presidential nominee.  As an avid Obama supporter in Minnesota, I would HATE to see that.  It would guarantee that you would immediately erase Obama’s large lead in Minnesota, and shake up the nation’s electoral map.

Pay no attention to bitter bloggers who claim that Pawlenty is politically impotent in Minnesota.  It is true that he ended his tenure as Minnesota Governor with record low approval ratings from Minnesotans.  But that was a long time ago.

And, yes, Pawlenty campaigned night and day for months to try to win Minnesota for John McCain, only to get pasted by 10 points.  But that was just a fluke.

Sure the negative Nellies also point out that Minnesota’s bemulleted favorite son also was trailing President Obama in his own home state, before his premature evacuation from the GOP nomination fight.   But Governor Tim is right, you can’t believe polls any more than you can believe the climate scientists.

And it is true that, after Governor Pawlenty pulled out of the primaries, he threw all of his Minnesota political muscle behind you, only to see the Pawlenty-backed Romney campaign lose the Minnesota GOP caucus vote, by 28 points, to a protest candidate endorsing legalized hookers and heroin.  But this was clearly the media’s fault.

Finally, never you mind that Pawlenty currently would be getting pummeled by 15-points  by Minnesota’s freshman  Senator Amy Kloubachar.  Maybe the poll has a 15-point margin of error?

So Governor Romney, whatever you do, please DO NOT choose Minnesota’s favorite son as your running mate.  Such a stunningly brilliant move would ensure a Minnesota massacre for Barack Obama.

Three Myths About Minnesotans and Same Sex Marriage

A recent SurveyUSA poll of Minnesotans included this question:

“President Obama says that same sex couples should be able to get married.  Do you agree with the president? Or disagree?”

The poll findings bust three popular myths about Minnesotans and same sex marriage:

Myth #1:  “Over Greater Minnesota’s Dead Body.”   The political conventional wisdom goes like this:  “The purple haired hipsters in Uptown may be for gay marriage, but traditional Main Street folks in Greater Minnesota will never stand for it.”  That conventional wisdom is wrong.  There is very little regional difference in support for gay marriage.  Support is roughly the same in the Twin Cities (53%), southern Minnesota (54%), and western Minnesota (51%).  Those three regions all fall within the 4% margin of error.  Only northeastern Minnesota (49% support) falls below the majority threshold, and is statistically different from the Twin Cities, but just barely.   Republicans need to realize that Main Street is not Narrow Street.

Myth #2:  “Only Radical Liberal Extremists Want Gay Marriage.”   This has been the conservative line for years.  But it doesn’t stand up to the data.  A pretty solid majority (55%) of self-described “moderates” and “independents” (54%) in Minnesota agree with the President on gay marriage.  If a majority of moderates support something, it can hardly be considered radical.  Support for gay marriage is now a mainstream position in Minnesota.

Myth #3:  “Marriage ban amendments pass everywhere, so it can’t be defeated in Minnesota.”  This poll found that 52% of Minnesotans support the President’s position and 42% oppose it.  There is a long way to go before the November election, but if this isn’t a dead myth, it is surely a rapidly dying one.  Literally.  The biggest source of opposition comes from people over 65 years old (only 33% support) support, and as time marches on younger generations will hold more electoral sway.  The support among Minnesota’s 18-34 year olds is running at an overwhelming 68%.

It’s very clear where this issue is headed.  In 2012, gay Minnesotans are hardly the societal aberrations they’ve been portrayed to be my whole life.  Statistically speaking, the 82% of Tea Partiers who adamantly oppose Obama on gay marriage are now the societal aberrations.