Minnesota Has Seen This Movie

rotten_tomatoes_8290As I watched the dramatic collapse of Trumpcare today, I was reminded that Minnesotans have seen this Happy Gilmoresque movie before: Before there was “Trump: The President” there was “Ventura: The Governor.”

For those younger than me – approximately all of you – you might not remember that in 1998, sober, sane, proud-of-our-good-government-instincts Minnesota elected a former professional wrestler – surely the forerunners of today’s reality stars – and bit-player actor (“I ain’t got time to bleed.”) as its governor. While this decision looks positively brilliant next to Mr. Trump’s election – Ventura had at least served in the military and had held elective office – it was an electoral exercise in “what-the-fuck” voting as two uninspiring mainstream candidates drove down their turnout and allowed a third party candidate to eke out a narrow victory.

Two things saved Mr. Ventura’s tenure from immediately becoming the smoldering crater that is the Trump Administration after just 64 days. First, and most obviously, is the fact that we elected a buffoon to the Governor’s Office instead of the Oval Office thus limiting the damage that even the most inept office holder can do (though one should never underestimate what a motivated governor can do – I’m looking at you Scott Lets-Gut-Public-Unions Walker and you Rick Let-Them-Drink-Lead Snyder). Second, as MPR notes, Jesse “The Body” Ventura was lucky enough to come into office with a $4 billion tax surplus (which it also notes he turned into a $4.5 billion deficit) and a blessedly quiet period in Minnesota when the most difficult public policy questions consisted of everyone asking, “What should we do with all this extra money?” Even Jesse Ventura – who had the not-very-original-or-smart- but-defensible position of rebating the surplus to taxpayers – could manage not to screw things up too bad in a political environment that marshmallowly.

As an aside, while I was reading the MPR story mentioned above to refresh my memory of what happened – and didn’t – during The Body’s time in office, I was struck by this passage:

Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum says Ventura’s relationship with key lawmakers was hot and cold.

“There are times he just charmed you tremendously. You know, just very, very charming,” Sviggum said. “And in the next minute, you’ll be shaking your head and saying, ‘you know, I don’t want anything to do with the individual.'”

Gee, who does that remind me of? Wait, wait…it’ll come to me.

Unfortunately, shit got real for Minnesota in the last year or so of Governor Ventura’s term when the money ran out and actually governing and legislating had to be done. Mr. Ventura, after making some nominal efforts to participate in the process, checked out and left it to the legislature to work it out. I seem to recall he spent his time – while in office – being the MC for something called the XFL, junketing to China and Cuba and feuding with the media (the more things change…).

This trip down memory lane is more than just an old fart’s reminiscences; it bears on today’s debacle – and that’s an insult to the other debacles – in terms of what happened today and – more importantly – what’s going to happen next.

Today, Mr. Trump’s efforts at playing the role of President were exposed as the fraud many of us have believed it would be and is. The master negotiator got rolled by two dozen guys in $200 Men’s Wearhouse poly-blend suits. The “closer” discovered he’s a “c” short. The Great Leader turned around and discovered the parade was a bit shorter than he’d promised and that nobody seems terribly worried about crossing him. In short, he got the shit kicked out of him and even if he can’t admit it, looked hopelessly out his depth.

Who knew health care was so complicated? I mean, gee Wally, I guess being a grown up is harder than it looks.

My prediction is that Mr. Trump – who is so thin-skinned he makes Mr. Ventura look positively indifferent to criticism – will do exactly what the governor did back in 2001; he’ll pull back from all this “governing stuff” and leave it to the Congress – and maybe his cabinet members – to deal with. Having suffered a body-blow of a loss, Mr. Trump will retreat to what he likes best – ceremonial photo ops with truckers, bikers, CEOs who announce jobs (real or not), rallies (though I’ll be interested to see how those crowds hold up for a guy who lent his name to a bill supported by 17 percent of voters), Mar-a-Lago and Twitter. The billionaire president is going to be positively cheap when it comes to spending whatever political capital he has left.

We’ll be able to assess the accuracy of my prediction in short order because in just a few weeks Congress will have to vote to increase the debt limit or risk a default by the U.S. government. The adults in the room – reported to be Mnuchin and Cohn when it comes to economics – will start issuing warnings. Speaker Ryan, cindered up to his well-toned biceps from the last 18 days, will be as firm as Jello and mostly ignored. Mitch McConnell will say…something. The Freedom Caucus will announce its unalterable opposition to raising the debt limit (but will back-channel that it can be bought for some draconian price), the Democrats will take the understandable (albeit not very grown up) position that since it’s the Republicans who control both both houses and the White House, it’s their responsibility to lead on the issue.

My guess – based on what I know of Mr. Trump and what the lesson of Jesse Ventura tells me – is  that while the risk of default builds, President Trump will hit the links, meet with Bill Gates (again), Kanye, the border patrol union, seventeen guys in the construction business and a collection of country-and-western stars. He’ll Tweet out stream-of-consciousness thoughts as he watches Fox & Friends and let Congress and his surrogates work it out (though he will never, ever again own their actions). If they’re able to work out a deal, then – and only then – will he show up for work. I suspect he’ll re-create the boardroom set from The Apprentice and make Ryan, McConnell and a player to be named later have to come pitch him to save the country’s credit rating. He’ll do it live. Steve Bannon will get a producer’s credit. The other Steve – the one with the bulging eyes and the spittle – will do the script.

What a profile in courage. What a change agent.  And it’s only two months in. Forty-six more to go.

  • Austin



Corporate Consensus-Think and Scott Walker.

Conventional wisdom says Scott Walker will survive is recall election today by about four points. And that … this will have a momentary energizing effect on Republican hyper-partisans from coast to coast …and create in Scott Walker another of the party’s instant ideological heroes — along the lines of Herman Cain. Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, Rick Perry and a handful of others who appeared at first glance to embody everything the new conservative movement regards as right, just and fiscally prudent.

The post-mortem on the union/Democrat loss of this election will focus on the weaker turn out among the anti-Walker forces, the lack of a full-bodied commitment on the part of the national Democrats, Barack Obama’s distance from the fray and … I can hope … the puzzling attitude among certain institutions who viewed the whole recall idea as misguided and inappropriate. Nothing represents this attitude better than the Star Tribune’s Sunday editorial, titled, “Wrongheaded recall divides Wisconsin”. And yes, please note the phrasing of the headline.

It was the recall, not Scott Walker’s policies that divided Wisconsin. I wish I could laugh.

The cliche at moments like this is to huff that, “No one reads papers anymore. Who cares what editorials say.” But that “no one” doesn’t include most people who care enough about important, relevant issues … and therefore read newspapers and blogs and involve themselves in the debates of the day.

The Strib says at one point, “Although we disagree with Walker on bargaining rights and other issues, this is not an endorsement of either candidate in the Wisconsin race. Rather, it’s a rejection of a recall system that should be used to remove corrupt officeholders — not to protest legislation passed by elected representatives.

Except of course in Wisconsin “should be used” is actually “can be used”, which means that if you do something that so royally pisses off 930,000 eligible voters you do run the risk of a recall election. What both the Strib and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which endorsed Walker in 2010 and again here in 2012 prefer to gloss over is that Walker never mentioned his intention of moving on collective bargaining rights at any time in his campaign. He has flat-out lied that he did, but has never produced a record of doing so in public, where a voter might hear him.

Imagine for a moment a scenario where a liberal candidate spends a year or more running for election, chatting up editorial boards and slapping backs at main street cafes and then upon winning election announces — out of the blue – a full court press for hefty tax increases on upper income voters. He never mentioned anything about it during the campaign … but he has the votes and rams it through. Would the editorial board be as sanguine? Would the phrase “gross abuse of power” be in regular, prominent use once the parties most effected staged their uprising?

The sad fact with most editorial boards is that their default position is something close to corporate-consensus libertarian. Their business model, and the bubble culture they live in, must be inordinately responsive to established business interests, very few of whom care much about collective bargaining or $8000/year pay cuts for middle class government employees. If those employees, most with college educations and professional training, are reduced to the level of less educated/trained private sector workers … all the better. A libertarian world is by definition a Darwinian place.

Also, and this is one of my favorite perspectives, the tweedy world of middle-brow newspaper editorial boards requires a mindset that only recognizes radical behavior among the unwashed — the Occupy kids and your occasional neo-Nazi. Everything else is politics as normal. There are no alarming insurgencies in American politics. Hence the institutional reluctance to describe a phenomenon like Michele Bachmann as “radical”, or “reckless”, or “absurd”. Ditto just about any manifestation of the Tea Party.

To a mainstream, corporate consensus editorial board there is no upside to acknowledging anything radical –much less taking a principled stand against — a major party politician gaming the election process (lack of disclosure of a primary legislative goal) that favorably impacts vested interests.

With Walker safely reaffirmed, we’ll be interested in the consensus attitude toward his nagging “John Doe” scandal.


When Will Democrats Get Pissed Off Enough to Be Effective?

“Republicans are trying to keep you from voting. They’re trying to keep you from having any power. The people who have the most money and power in America want to keep it, and they want to keep you from screwing up the rigged game they’re running and winning.”

Where are the Democrats crying out to high heaven with words like this?

“Republicans are trying to take away your vote. There’s no big vote-fraud problem. The problem Republicans are trying to correct is that black people are voting, the problem is Hispanic people are voting, the problem is you are voting and they don’t want you to. The problem is there’s a black liberal in the White House and he got there with your legal votes. That’s the problem the people with power in this country are trying to correct. And don’t let them do it!”

Come on, spit it out, tell it like it is. Enough political round-about talk. Get angry, stand up and holler, wake people up!

In my benighted state of Florida, our corporate-criminal governor Rick Scott and the Republican legislature are trying to suppress the vote three ways — by purging 50,000 and more names from existing voting rolls, by making it harder to register new voters, and by shortening the voting period. Thank God for federal courts and the Justice Department, which, from the Civil Rights movement to Watergate, have often been the only check on executive and legislative crooks.

A federal judge just struck down much of the Florida vote-restricting law, saying blocking that law would not “in any way” damage Florida. More directly, the judge wrote,”Before the adoption of the 2011 statute, the state was operating under provisions that, at least insofar as shown by this record, were working well.”

So what problem were the Republicans in Florida trying to correct? Not voter fraud, but voting.

In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker says those opposing him don’t like him standing up to the special interests.

Democrats should be standing on the rooftops hollering to the public — “The special interests are YOU! Walker is trying to screw YOU. Wake the hell up, Wisconsin. This isn’t just about unions, it’s about people who are well off trying to keep the people who have less in their place. It’s about keeping those with less power from getting more — through unions, through environmental and financial regulations that keep the powerful from doing whatever the hell they want. Don’t let them do it!”

The only Democrat I see who has fire on this issue is John Lewis of Georgia, who was beaten on the Edmund Pettus bridge and who now says with righteous fire that people died for the right to vote, his friends died for the right to vote, and we can’t let people’s right to vote be taken away.

Where’s Willie Stark when we need him? Listen to this scene from All The Kings Men, when the candidate says the powerful are treating the voters like hicks. “Well I’m a hick just like you,” he yells, and we can’t let them keep us down.

— Bruce Benidt
(I was ranting to Lisa about this stuff so loudly that I scared the cat — so I thought I’d purge myself by writing it down.)

Dirty Job Dayton

So far in his tenure, Governor Mark Dayton has scarely met a controversial issue that he has not embraced. Think about the hallmarks of his tenure so far:

• He is attempting to sell the extremely unpopular taxpayer subsidies for professional sports owners, in the middle of a difficult economy.

• He has tenaciously advocated for an income tax increase on the state’s most powerful individuals.

• He has cut billions of dollars in safety net programs that are near and dear to him and his political base.

• He crossed the environmentalists on environmental permit streamlining and the teacher’s union on alternative teacher licensure, and these are both very powerful constituencies in his own party.

• He has taken on Native American gaming interests, perhaps the most financially powerful interest group that supports his party, by supporting a variety of ideas for expanding gambling.

• He has very aggressively championed the implementation of the much vilified Obamacare.

Nobody could ever accuse this guy of only choosing issues that are politically easy. Dayton’s tenure so far reminds me of a marathon showing of the Discovery Channel show Dirty Jobs, where the host engages in a variety of revolting vocations that very few of us are willing to enter.

But maybe he’s on to something. After all, today we learned in the Star Tribune’s poll that Dirty Job Dayton’s approval rating is a respectable 52%, much higher than midwest GOP Governors in Wisconsin (37% approve) and Ohio (36% approve). Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty had a 42% approval rating in his last year of office.

How does Dayton do it? He is not considered particularly glib or politically skilled. He has almost no electoral mandate. He certainly hasn’t been able to ride an economic boom to popularity. Continue reading “Dirty Job Dayton”

A Rising Tide of “Extremism”.

Last week, Scott Gillespie, the Star Tribune’s editor … of the editorial page, which is I guess kind of like being chief custodial engineer of the custodians’ locker room … wrote a commentary comparing and contrasting events and Governors in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Maybe you read it … or maybe, you didn’t. Well, trust me,  it was a minor classic of its kind. It was a paean to that largely mythical middle where people of deep convictions and good intentions only register tempered disapproval of the loudness and messiness of  people … who aren’t too pleased with the status quo.

Here’s its essence:

The gubernatorial battle cries in these two neighboring Midwestern states could hardly be more different. And yet, in another sense, they’re similar. Both leaders are steadfastly appeasing one end of the political spectrum while infuriating the other.

More moderate Minnesotans and Wisconsinites might be wondering where it will all end. The Minnesotans have more reason to be hopeful.

The direct suggestion that a call for “taxing the rich” is out there at “one end” of the spectrum where extreme ideas foment is kind of amazing … if you stop and think about it. “Tax the rich” after all is merely a call for readjusting progressive taxation. A readjustment in the midst of an already deep and long-running recession. Moreover it comes with a renewed awareness among a growing chunk of the middle class of the dramatic shift of wealth from the them upwards to the richest of the very rich over the last generation. Gillespie paints this concept as  “appeasing” to “one end” of the political spectrum and just as radical a notion as union-busting and  the unilateral abrogation of lawful contracts is on the other end of the dial.

So okay, you shrug. What else do you expect, really? This is the kind of heavily rationalized thinking we’ve come to expect from the so-called “mainstream media”, certainly since newsrooms  began being treated like just another division of some manufacturing firm.

I was pleased to see my MinnPost colleague, David Brauer, go after Gillespie for that remarkably insulated logic. Ditto a number of acid-tongued commenters to the piece itself.

Gillespie’s grasp of a sea change in public thinking on what is truly extreme and intolerable  really doesn’t matter much. But it’s another powerful example of how badly commercial news organizations like the Strib are trailing the curve of events in Wisconsin and now elsewhere. (It also explains, I believe, why the Strib, which has deep conflicts of interest over a new Vikings stadium, will never recognize or take seriously resistance to taxpayer support for the thing.)

The thing is, if Gillespie really wanted to talk “extremism”, he could have wandered into a discussion comparing and contrasting his two opposing examples. There’s great grist and juice there.

The “extremism” of the Tea Party movement, embodied now by Scott Walker in Wisconsin, is kind of known entity. What exactly they would do with power if they got it was always the mystery. Now we know. but as I said in my last post, based on their campaign of scattershot, inchoate rage and anger, there was no way anyone could explain in detail what Tea Party-logic would mean …  in practice. Therefore, union-busting came as a big surprise. Likewise the vigorous and focused reaction to it. (And, you gotta love Walker trying to backfill the idea that he ever mentioned collective bargaining on the campaign trail.)

An irony here is how often the Tea Party, which I suspect Gillespie would call “extreme” or at “one end”, is portrayed as a grassroots movement swelling up spontaneously all across the country. (Coordination and exploitation of all that rage by powerful, monied benefactors isn’t mentioned nearly so often.) By contrast, the “tax the rich” notion is left mostly unexamined, like someone’s feral stepchild. To the Gillespies and most other news organizations, enterprises committed to their “mainstream-ness”, re-dressing revenue imbalance by restoring the tax brackets of the Eighties is an idea with no “grassroots” foundations, no legitimate constituency and therefore something best quarantined off with the loonies yabbering about birth certificates, “death panels”, “socialized medicine” and keeping your government hands off my Medicare.

What if anything Gillespie thinks of polls that routinely show the public — which includes the mainstream, not just the “ends” — consistently supporting higher tax brackets for the wealthy, I don’t know. But if you need a refresher here’s this and this and this … and oh hell, this, too.

Point being, the belief that the wealthy should pay more is about as mainstream, or to use Gillespie’s preferred nomenclature, as “moderate”, as it gets. Name me three other ideas, besides motherhood, being nice to animals and hating the Yankees that regularly gets a 60%-70% consensus in this country?

The trouble is that mainstream news organization opinion leaders like Gillespie, other big city papers, and any of the broadcast news outlets are very much cogs in the “stewardship” fraternity of large-scale American business. Each plays a vital role in sustaining the other. And the conventional wisdom of that fraternity is that any plan to redress flaws in the rate of taxation that negatively impacts them is radical, extreme and out there on “one end” of the spectrum.

One other facet of Gillespie/the Strib’s blindered view is that you can also bet they will be among the last to recognize that what we’re watching in Wisconsin is a tide of “extremism” more politically potent than the Tea Party we have all followed so avidly. Why? Because with “one end” having showed and played its hand the other “end”, which is actually the middle that tolerated this nonsense in the abstract, has been slapped awake, and rapidly educated to what is actually going on. That “end” of the spectrum is now on high alert for everything else the “grassroots” Tea Party crowd may try to pull.

So yeah, extremism is on the rise in America. Except that this latest swelling tide is made up of bona fide, out there fringe radicals like teachers and nurses and cops and construction workers.

When Strutting Becomes Overstepping

The Washington Times recently reported that a recent Public Policy Polling survey looked at whether Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) could get reelected today (he won the Wisconsin gubernatorial contest by 6 percentage points just four months ago):

The Republican Party’s most celebrated sitting Governor would be drummed out of office by a margin of 52-45 if the election were held today.

Meanwhile, a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll finds:

Continue reading “When Strutting Becomes Overstepping”

On, Wisconsin! And Indiana … and Ohio.

One of the more reliable truisms is that “the zealots will always overreach”. It’s the question of “when” that gets funky. But pretty obviously the crowd that rode into office on a wave of inchoate, anti-tax, anti-spending, anti-government rage last November is getting slapped upside the head with something they did not expect. It goes without saying that it couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch.

As Wisconsin’s well-coordinated populist uprising spreads around the country the prospects that it’ll stop Tea Party-style revolutionaries in their tracks is not good. They do have the votes, which makes a near-term victory likely, but also Pyrrhic over a longer run of time. Like the 2012 election cycle, for example. I suspect Scott Walker and his crowd probably can figure a way to lure the AWOL Democrats back into Madison — most likely by employing the most tried-and-true gimmick of careerist ideologues … kicking the can down the road. Watch Walker shift the hot-button collective bargaining issue on to Wisconsin’s next budget bill. (Remember, this fight, like the national GOP in DC,  is over gutting the current budget). That “other budget”  has to be fought out by the end of the session this spring. Walker might be able to make the drum-banging protesters go away for a few weeks by playing faux-reasonable and leaving the emotional stuff for … six weeks from now.

But with the maelstrom they’ve created with their ham-fisted maneuvers to date, the national attention that has poured in on them, and the re-vitalized connection of the unions to the Democrats and the Democrats’ organizational machinery, there’s no way for Walker et al to sell one of their classic revisionist histories of what’s going on. Way too many people are paying attention, and just as facts have a liberal bias, a lot of focused attention on the details and the direct, “reality-based” effects of ideological jargon is never a good thing for anti-government zealots. Also, as regards the can-kicking strategy, several observers have noted that (much) better spring weather, in May as Wisconsin’s legislative session is supposed to end, only makes it more likely that more protesters will show up to get in the fun.

So did Walker and his team, with their Koch Brothers support, not see this coming? I mean, their message was “cut spending”. They repeated it ad nauseam, like those raspy audio greeting cards. Everybody knew, right? So what did they miss?

What they “missed” is that since their winning message has no specifics, no details and therefore no honest discussion of the consequences of gutting middle class programs by fiat, there was no way they could have made an informed calculation of the public response. Hell, the public really didn’t know what Walker/every other rote Tea Party-pandering conservative was talking about, other than of course that they were going to wave a sceptre and cut taxes, stop spending, reduce the deficit and provide jobs, jobs, jobs. (Third Rule of Conservative Campaigning: Once you’ve got ’em mad as hell, don’t confuse ’em with details.) Now that the public is getting the cold water wake up to what these guys are really all about, and is getting a 24/7 education in how exactly collective bargaining works, the appeal of the usual conservative bumper sticker logic is, shall we say, somewhat muted. Reality, damn it it’s a pisser.

What is also delicious, in terms of the Tea Party-ites blundering into a situation with a very high-profile scrutiny of their motivations and behind-the-scenes players is the now near universal understanding of the Wisconsin … Indiana … Ohio … Colorado  … Michigan … fight as a thoroughly political brawl, largely unrelated to the righteous claims of fiscal propriety. One analyst quite correctly explained the conflict as the Republicans over-playing their hand in a blitzkrieg attack on the primary sources of Democratic campaign funding … a scenario that could only be counter-balanced if liberals somehow made a similar assault on conservatives’ mega-church constituency, which for them is an equally reliable source of cash and organizing power. The one difference being that there are actual laws on the book — you know, in the Constitution — guaranteeing one while prohibiting the other.

But as we know, the reality of the Constitution is another one of those things the new-conservatives routinely over-talk and wildly under-think.