My vaunted sense of fairness that compels me to give the Star Tribune’s editorial page credit for trying — not valiantly, mind you — but trying to cover all points of the ideological spectrum with this past Sunday’s quartet of pieces on Minnesota’s governmental gridlock. In an age long past the point where big city newspapers made much if any difference in candidate endorsements, I kinda doubt the mind of anyone anywhere was nudged, much less changed, by what they read. If they read it.
In old school journalism jargon, Sunday’s pieces, by commentary editor D.J. Tice (thoughtful, cautious Libertarian-esque), Lori Sturdevant (earnestly maternal but lately increasingly indignant mainstream pro-government), ex-Strib political reporter Dane Smith (informed and puckish think tank liberal) and talk radio host Jason Lewis (superficially intellectual, rationalizing the irrational for Ayn Rand-validated personal gain) , were a perfect “package”, designed to address all the significant, vital issues in the “deadlock”. Except of course they left out the most profound issue of all. So in the end they really didn’t advance problem solving in the only direction it can go. if the point is effective government for five million people. (If the point is just academic bonhomie … well, they knocked themselves out.)
The missing element in each and every piece, and the most significant element in the state (and much of the country’s retrograde political dynamic) is the devolution of the Republican party from something like rational conservatism — minimal government, lower taxes, yadda yadda — to its current state, populated and itself gridlocked by lock-stepping, dime-deep, anti-tax, anti-government, anti-science ideologues whose “ideology” is as flagrantly ill-informed as their projections for how their financial solutions are supposed to actually work. I suspect the Strib editorialists decided they as a paper have covered this devolution so thoroughly in the past there was no point burdening their “package” with repetitious dogma and partisanship. As a broadly-directed, “mainstream” entity the paper lives in a perpetual fear of the latter. Story after editorial after commentary pushes the plea for “compromise” and “coming together” in the “best interests of all”, which would be a fine, wonderful and heart-warming thing if only one side had any interest in “compromise”.
Here’s a shocker. The two pieces I have the most problems with are Tice’s and Lewis’s.
Tice is a writer/thinker I’ve always admired. (He was my boss briefly way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.) If not Noam Chomsky or Bill Maher, Tice would be my choice for The Least Likely Guy to Enjoy a Tea Party Gun Show Pro-Family Picnic. His style of conservatism is coherent, with clear appreciation for historical precedents. But oh does Doug — as an outlier to contemporary conservative “thinking” — love the “both sides are equally at fault” rhetorical position.
Dayton has also talked incessantly about his willingness to compromise, his heartbreaking longing to compromise — thus skillfully winning credit as the flexible one in the situation without the disagreeable necessity of actually doing much compromising. Consider: Dayton is now claiming the meek middle ground for a proposal that would leave Minnesota essentially tied with Hawaii and Oregon for the highest top income tax rate in the country. This is a descent from the vertigo-inducing rates Dayton first proposed (the textbook negotiating ploy), but it’s not exactly a wrenching sacrifice of his beloved tax-the-rich vision.
Okay, so Dayton’s original “tax the rich” numbers were “textbook negotiating”. But in textbook negotiating fashion Dayton has moved/compromised in pursuit of the great historical concept of giving something to get something.
Tice’s distillation of the GOP position is that:
GOP leaders have been so adamant that state government must get along on existing revenues that they’ve left themselves no obvious route for graceful retreat. Almost any accommodation could look like a surrender, if not a betrayal of principle. They have burned their boats and can only go forward.
I would strongly suggest there’s room in that paragraph for an explicit reminder of how far off the beam this GOP is from the GOP of Tice’s youth and that therein lies the foremost impediment to effective governance.
As for Lewis. Well look, he’s in the Strib because like every American paper of any size, the Strib believes it is so inherently liberal and therefore anathema to modern conservatives, they must have someone who speaks to the talk-radio informed mentality of their readership. So who better than a talk radio jock? Again, in fairness, Lewis is a world apart in terms of rhetorical ability and marketing savvy from the Bradlee Dean, AM 1280 Patriot lunkheads. (Much like Tice, I can only imagine Lewis gritting his teeth while — only rarely — enduring their company). Lewis’s greatest talent is lubricating — I don’t think there’s a better word for it — bullshit — in away that makes it digestible among a brighter class of people. His arguments amount to a spun candy confection with an appealing appearance and no nutritional value.
After artfully glossing past how the state avoided actually paying bills amid all that “deferment” and “unallotting” voodoo, (short answer — the DFL let Pawlenty get away with it), Lewis writes:
… disproportionately relying on income taxes from the “wealthy” is a recipe for budgetary chaos. Incomes at the top tend to ebb and flow with the economy, so once the downturn hits, you see massive drops in revenue streams. It’s no coincidence that the high-income tax states of California, New York and Illinois are those with the biggest budget problems.
Point being of course that the truly, deeply, madly wealthy are so vulnerable to economic fluctuation and chaos … why, there must be numbers somewhere that prove this … that their tax status must be protected above all others (like their customers, for example). Later, he quotes Reason magazine, every ’60s era Libertarian’s fanzine of choice, which notes with some alarm that after a similar “tax the rich” plan “a third of the millionaires had disappeared from Maryland tax rolls.”
Lewis of course glosses, talk radio host-style, over the actual years involved in this terrible “disappearance”. Says Neil Bergsman of the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute:
What about the 30 percent drop in millionaires cited in media stories? Here again, some claim it means millionaires left Maryland because of the tax increase. Again, the evidence says otherwise. Almost certainly, these taxpayers suffered in the poor economy to the point that their income declined from over $1 million to under $1 million. That also happens every year. The comptroller reported that over the past seven years, between 31 percent and 52 percent of millionaires failed to repeat. In 2008, reductions in investment income, business income and real estate proceeds very likely brought several hundred former millionaires under the million-dollar level in 2008. A 30 percent drop this year isn’t exceptional. In fact, it’s a trend seen nationwide.
But, you know, “whatever”. It’s his schtick, it sells on the radio and the Strib believes they need it for balance.
The essential point is that the Strib, as its Op-Ed habit, chose to avoid the unraveling of one of the state/country’s two political parties in its “packaged” analysis of what is causing “deadlock”.
IMHO? You can not exclude the obdurate radicalizing of the contemporary GOP from any discussion of governmental breakdown. It is the PRIMARY issue, not a peripheral issue.