The death wish of Minnesota Republicans is quite beyond me. At their Rochester Convention last weekend, it seems to me that they just re-elected DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Sen. Al Franken.
By framing the election as the 1 percent against the people with the Republicans on the side of the 1 percent, they have set up the November election as a referendum on economic and social inequality that Dayton and Franken can’t lose.
In selecting Mike McFadden as their candidate for U.S. Senate, Republican convention delegates decided to put before the people of Minnesota a man whose career and experiences to date have revolved around financial intermediation. He can’t run against crony capitalism and the 1 percent because he is one of the cronies.
He must run on some other platform, most likely the tried and true jeremiad of the professional Republican establishment — which rails away at high taxes, big government, and the cultural evils of liberalism.
First, this leaves the issue of the moment — anger over economic distress — to be exploited and demagogued by the Democrats.
My friend, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Hedrick Smith, who wrote “Who Stole the American Dream?,” just sent me an email summarizing his sense of the American people’s state of mind:
“Unfortunately, and improperly, I think, government is in bad odor among many, many Americans who quite accurately see a career in public office as a venture that is affordable only to the wealthy. Not only does that make politics and public service inaccessible but distasteful.
“Sadly, the public is right about part of its judgment — because today more than half of our senators and members of Congress are millionaires. Think how many of our candidates in the past 15 years, especially candidates for U.S. Senator or Governor, have been self-financed, both because of Supreme Court rulings (Buckley vs Valeo) and because campaigns have become so expensive and fundraising is so exhausting and time-and-spirit consuming.
“Yes, of course, we do have some public-spirited officials of modest means, but their number is dwindling, and realistically I don’t think we can inspire and recruit enough more until we have changed the political playing field.
“So that means Step #1 is campaign reform — fixing Money Politics and gerrymandering. We as a nation cannot deal with any significant problem — whether it’s the national debt, climate change, creating jobs and making American more competitive, student debt, Social Security and Medicare, a livable wage, making the corporate tax rate fairer and more sensible, pick your issue — until we fix our broken political system.
“We cannot wait for Washington to do that. It is our turn. We the People have to take the initiative. People have to finds ways to re-energize civic action at the local, state level. Too many Americans have become cynical and passive complainers — pointing fingers at the system and then shrugging their shoulders.
“Fortunately, they are so passionately upset about the state and direction of the country that we don’t have to persuade them there is a problem. We just have to show them there are ways to fix the problems, starting right at home in their own states and cities.”
We are nearly six years past the onset of a great recession, one caused not by government but by crass bungling on the part of the most highly paid and highly educated members of the 1 percent. To be sure, government regulations and policies created an environment ripe for the picking — but government did not do the picking, the private sector did.
As Tammany Hall stalwart George Washington Plunkett once famously noted: “They seen their opportunities and they took ’em.”
Americans noticed who took what in the run-up to 2008 and have not forgotten. Somebody else is to blame for their continuing anxieties and vulnerabilities, and it is not government.
The economy is not really growing: GDP was down last month as was consumer spending. Jobs and wages have not really recovered pre-recession levels.
You can’t blame big government for all this, as the Minnesota Republican establishment is wont to do, and still win the hearts and minds of a majority of Minnesotans.
Americans know that big government has let them down and that crony capitalism is no friend of theirs either.
Hardcore Republican true believers make up about 25 percent of Minnesotans. In general elections, another 10 percent are likely to vote with them, but the combined total is far short of the votes needed to win.
If Republican candidates like Mike McFadden and Scott Honour, the other millionaire running for statewide office, hide behind the simplistic bromide of the old Republican preachings, they won’t be able to attract even a winning plurality, much less a majority of voters.
Used over and over again for the last 35 years, the Republican mantra has yet to win over a solid and stable majority of Minnesotans.
The old-time Republican religion is tired and has lost its verve. It is stale. The country has moved on due to the crash of 2008 and rising support for gay marriage among millennials.
It is the middle class that is in agony, but what plans do wealthy Republicans have to save it?
Right now libertarianism is more in tune with many people’s fears than support for millionaires.
When the country was last fixated on the role of plutocrats, at the end of the 19th century when the robber barons were the 1 percenters, the Republican machine then campaigned again and again against Democrats with the accusation of support for “Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion.” It worked for a while.
Many Republicans do in fact enjoy the perks of crony capitalism. They love money as a validation of personhood, saying that you can never have too much money.
In Minnesota, such wealthy Republicans control the party though money. Wealthy businessmen like Mike McFadden and Scott Honour are their preferred kind of candidates, men of their kind and inclinations, without much independence of mind or strength of character, team players who won’t rock any boats and will keep the good times rolling for insiders.
The best odds of becoming a Republican statewide candidate go to those whom former Congressman Vin Weber, now a Washington, D.C., power mogul and very wealthy as a result of his career in politics, and his allies choose to fund.
But these candidates, so beholden to power brokers, only infrequently win the big elections in Minnesota.
If small and limited government means mostly hands off those who already have more than their fair share, without delivering opportunity for others, then many voters will not get so excited when fed conventional Republican wisdom.
Unfortunately for the Republican plutocrats and crony capitalists, the American people still carry forward from our Revolution, Civil War, New Deal and Great Society the demand that public office is to be a service, not a personal opportunity for getting wealthy or simply taking care of those who already have it made or who demand favoritism for a special interest.
Politics is not supposed to be about politicians making it for themselves.
Julianne Ortman was the Republican candidate for Senate who was not from or for the 1 percent. I felt that she would have made the most successful candidate to oppose Al Franken. Julianne was self-made and — what I liked — drove a Ford F150. She would have picked up the banner of the 99 percent as her own, denying Sen. Franken that privileged role of serving as tribune for the people.
But, from my vantage point, she did not strategically build alliances and thus was left vulnerable to the allure of big money to finance an expensive statewide race placed before the delegates by other candidates.
In the governor’s race, the Republicans have ended up with a four-way primary competition before they have a candidate to oppose Mark Dayton in November.
Pretty simple common sense points out the negative implications of this development for the Republican cause. Much money will be spent over the next two months exploiting divisions among Republicans and ignoring the independents who will determine the election winner.
Mark Dayton will have time in which to fill the public mind with his views and talking points. He will define himself positively early in the campaign. His late emergent Republican opponent will not be able to undermine this advantage in the minds of many voters with negative accusations.
Republican optimism that they can run against Dayton’s having raised taxes is misplaced. Yes, he raised taxes, but the roof did not fall in on Minnesota’s economy.
The tax issue will play well with the Republican hard core as it always does, but will it play at all with independents? They, after all, determine who wins and who loses on Election Day.