A Gay Day is a Good Day

NEW SLAUGHTERAny day 20% of the population has a basic right affirmed — otherwise known as a “freedom” by our conservative friends — is good day. So it’s easy to appreciate the enthusiasm and celebration taking place over a law putting to rest decades of legal prejudice against gay people in Minnesota.

But I have to confess to a certain emotional detachment. While this may be another symptom  my chronic, morbid, sociopathic tendencies, (I should probably drink more to modulate them), an easier explanation is that as a straight male I’ve never had a direct personal investment in the gay rights campaign.

As a squishy liberal it’s not like I had to be educated in the fundamental injustice at play in the treatment of gays. But since it wasn’t me, it was simple enough to consign gay prejudice to the sloshing bin of intractable cultural malignancies doing their rotting work on the American promise. The same applied, I guess, to the civil rights movement of the Sixties, when all I could do as a kid was watch from a small Minnesota town. (The highest pitch of anti-Semitism was before my time.)

Continue reading “A Gay Day is a Good Day”

This is One Mark Dayton Has to Win.

As a general rule, I’m OK with compromise. Give a little to get a little and make a little progress along the way. But when the other side’s idea of compromise is you giving up on your position entirely, just throwing in the towel and letting them have their way pretty much as though you never existed, it’s time to reevaluate the game you’re playing. Maybe you’re up against something irrational, something for which the normal rules aren’t applying. In that context, maybe a zero sum victory is the only option worth your time and energy.

It’s (sort of) reassuring to see heavyweight conservatives like David Brooks of The New York Times finally concede that today’s Republican party really is something qualitatively different from the one we’ve called “Republican” most of the years of its existence. Said Brooks this past weekend, “… the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative. The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms.”

I’m happy for Brook’s (very) late-dawning realization. Some of us have been saying this since the ascendancy of Bush 43, and screaming it since Barack Obama’s election and the strategy of seamless obstruction that has followed.

It is more than just ironical that Mark Dayton’s dilemma in Minnesota is a micro-foreshadowing of Obama’s in DC. I never thought the former would be in a position to lead the latter into essentially the same pitched battle. But so it is. Dayton of course has a personal immunity that Obama lacks, since he has stated he’s not much interested in reelection (or at least any other elected job after this one.) By this time next year, the country will need Obama in the White House (notice how I didn’t say “in charge”) even more than it does now. If the nation defaults as a result of the modern GOP’s nihilistic governance we’re in for a far worse episode of financial Armageddon than 23,000 unemployed state workers, battered women with nowhere to go, etc.

(Actually, “nihilism” is being generous. Elected Republicans do most definitely believe in something: Staying connected to the money lines that got them where they are.)

Dayton though is a unique moral situation. He is a guy with a conscience. He does grasp the connection between ethics and social liberalism. It is the anti-thesis of Ayn Rand for a reason. But he is also a guy who essentially bought himself this job. He ignored his party’s admittedly ossified candidate selection process, and (once again) invested millions out of his own checkbook, held up under a Tea Party wavelet and claimed victory all the while saying his plan for correcting the disastrous malfeasance of the Pawlenty era was to “tax the rich”.

Some of us found this implausible to the point of preposterous. A year ago any consumer of political news could tell you there was no way even one Tax Oath-signing Republican was going to support such a plan. Likewise, the chance of more than a handful of the DFL caucus showing spine enough to vote “yea” on new taxes, even on “just the wealthy”, was going to be exceedingly small. But that was Dayton’s bold promise.

So now he has to win this thing. A “compromise”, where the wealthy, the percentage of 1% who have not only not suffered since 2008 but greatly enhanced their fortunes via the “increased productivity” of their (fewer) employees, the canniness of their tax accountants and their access to the guys who ran the casinos that melted down, escape any additional sharing of their impressive good fortune is not going to cut it. A “compromise” built around expanding the sales tax, paid by unemployed bricklayer and Minnetonka hedge fund manager alike, is not going to cut it. A “compromise” that further “de-contents” schools of teachers and curriculum isn’t going to cut it.

Dayton’s campaign position was $4 billion in new revenue out of the wealthy. That number, via reevaluation and compromise is now down to around $1.4 or $1.2.

I accept that his strategy was to start at $4 billion and bargain down to something less, while lifting the base line definition of “wealthy” up higher and higher. (The bottom end has risen from $150,000/year — the GOP’s “every cop and nurse” scenario — to $1 million). That seemed fairly standard, except that everyone knew there was no way the GOP was going to accept … anything. The new GOP is imbued with religious authority. They hand out copies of the Constitution at 4th of July parades. God and Grover Norquist hear their prayers every evening, (and then Bradlee Dean leads them in new ones in the morning, before what they straight-facedly refer to as “work”.)

Dayton can not be “stunned” or “surprised” or “disappointed” by the situation he finds himself in. It is the only situation that was ever possible given an opponent for whom childlike (or religious, or alcoholic) delusion is the first, last and only response. Put another way, Dayton has had well over a year to contemplate a strategy to defeat this position. If it is an elegant, witty, cri de couer for sanity and respect for the common good slathered across every TV screen and billboard in the state … well, it’s a little on the late side, but I’d get that going tonight.

Improbably, Minnesota and Mark Dayton are, for a moment, the vanguard of a battle for the primary goal of our era — the protection and resurrection of the American middle class — the “customer class” to the wealthy if you prefer.

Losing this one is not an option.

“Completely unreasonable”.

Moments of truth are at hand. And while I don’t foresee the kind of “clarifying moments of truth” we need so badly, the sort of Hollywood-only moments where the unscrupulous villains are revealed for what they truly are, we are heading for some serious course corrections in modern American (and Minnesotan) political misguidance and psychosis.

First, here. The Minnesota legislature is supposed to conclude its business next Monday. But as you may have heard, the new GOP majority, all of whom are bound by interest group lobbyist Grover Norquist’s “no new taxes” pledge, steadfastly refuse to compromise … in any way … with Gov. Dayton on applying new revenue to that pesky $5.2 billion deficit. That would be the same GOP that made the unprecedented move of turning to an outside, pro-large business consulting firm for some customized budget formulas, is still noticeably light on specifics of who gets gored. Educators, social service directors and others have run the surreally fuzzy numbers they’ve seen and are shrieking, “Wolf!”. But the GOP leadership — best embodied by party chairman Tony Sutton, of the absurdist gambling conflicts of interest and comically mismanaged Baja Sol fast food chain, House Speaker Kurt Zellers, a careerist walking talking point who I’ve never heard say anything more deeply informed or detailed than “Minnesotans have spoken” and small-town police chief Tony Cornish who sees a critical void in our rights to open fire on anyone — paperboy, neighbor’s dog or cop in pursuit who crosses our yard — sees only value and upside to our state’s “jobs providers”.

Then, in D.C. we have the long-anticipated and now very soon to erupt cataclysm between what’s left of the Republican old guard — in this case Speaker John Boehner — and the party’s new heart and soul, the Tea Party freshmen, over lifting the U.S. debt ceiling. Again, while Boehner is regarded as having “blundered” by telling an Ohio group in late April that “we” will have to increase the country’s debt limit, “and we’ll have to do it again”, the revolutionary masses the party eagerly welcomed to its bed are adamant no such thing will ever be allowed to happen. They are so completely committed to this view that talk of voting Boehner out of his Speakers job (and replacing him with Kurt Zellers-like robo-rhetorician Eric Cantor) is reaching a boiling point.

If you need further proof of the GOP’s soon-to-be-self-destructive, lockstep zealotry at work, consider Newt Gingrich. I’m no fan of Gingrich’s, other than to say one time out of twenty he has a good idea and makes sense. Like he did on “Meet the Press” last week when he said he’s not in favor of “radical change” from either the left or the right. Personally, I’m down with radical change on health insurance reform. But the point here is that Gingrich was at least arguing from some kind of coherent position. Too coherent for the modern GOP’s “group think or die” mentality. As a consequence his presidential ambitions are dead-in-an-instant and he is being forced to both apologize for saying something contrary to the party’s (sole) anointed “big thinker” guru, Paul Ryan, and ask/beg Democrats not to use his line about “social engineering from the right” in attack ads. The spectacle of so utterly rigid a party orthodoxy is so stark and absurd you know for certain that the S.S. GOP has struck a tri-corner shaped iceberg and is heading bow-first into the briny deep (or “shallows” if you prefer analogies to the quality of their economic thinking.)

I’ve had several recent conversations with people about Mark Dayton’s performance as Governor. Most professing surprise that a guy who was an utter failure as U. S. Senator seems to have found his place as a chief executive. While I couldn’t in good conscience vote for the guy, based on his appalling performances in previous elected offices (and because he achieved this latest high office largely through writing himself large checks only one other candidate was capable of writing), I have to agree that Dayton has conducted himself in an all but entirely reasonable way. (The exception being the lack of sharp screws to the Wilfs over who pays how much for a Vikings stadium).

My only equivocation on Dayton is that he has never demonstrated that tenacity, especially end game/crunch time tenacity is his strong suit, and we are only now arriving at that point. Now is when he has to deliver a “win”, and by definition that will require a serious increase in revenues. And by “serious” i mean no less than the 50/50 split he is offering now. He has public support for exactly that. Now he has to use it to force a victory.

Much of Dayton’s stature and standing in the polls can be credited to the contrast with the cartoonish buffoonery of the state’s GOP, which has doubled down on guns, gays, God and gambling, after allegedly being elected to office to create “jobs, jobs, jobs”. The local GOP brain trust — Sutton, Zellers, Cornish and the new uber-zealot Steve Drazkowski — are required to say (as though they believed it) that Minnesotans fully support them. To which I say, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, TCF bank’s Bill Cooper and The Taxpayer’s League, yes. Everyday citizens, not so much.

On MPR the other day, after offering up his 50/50 plan, which would still require $1.8 billion in new taxes from the state’s upper end/Chamber of Commerce, Bill Cooper/Taxpayer’s League crowd, Dayton sounded exasperated, referring to his GOP negotiating mates as “completely unreasonable”.

In normal times “completely unreasonable” would be garden variety political hyperbole. Today it is not. The modern GOP, after achieving off-year election victories on the vague, plan-free, detail-free cry to “stop the spending” has set a course for a national come to Jesus moment. They’ve presumed that moment will only see the U.S. debt ceiling locked down and the country slashing hundreds of billions in spending (with no realistic plan about God knows where). Likewise, here in Minnesota, with a minority DFL and a “weak”, easily-rolled Governor, they see the enemy fully … fully … capitulating to their demands.

Neither is going to happen. Because it isn’t we are then presented with the alternate scenario. The one all those who have taken the Norquist pledge and suckled at the teat of easy Tea Party votes haven’t fully considered. The one where public reaction — even among the only generally-informed public — to the popular image of the new GOP, a party lacking any semblance of seriousness and constantly self-lampooning itself with intellectual silliness whips back and slaps them to the ground.

The natural response to “completely unreasonable” is nigh, I say unto ye!