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Monday, December 26, 2016
Politics ...

Politically speaking, Minnesota is one of those Democratic blue-states that really should be red, but for a major metro area (Minneapolis-St. Paul). West of Minneapolis, Minnesota is mostly just South and North Dakota, which are both solidly GOP states. OK, there’s also Iowa and Wisconsin, but both of them turned red this past November (Iowa has been the classic swing state; from 1980 to 2016, Iowa has gone Republican in 4 of 10 Presidential elections). Historically, Minnesota has been considered a “progressive” Democratic state; a variety of left-wing groups such as the Anti-Monopolist party of the 1870s, the Populists in the 1890s, the Non-Partisan League in the 1910s, and the Farmer–Labor party in the 1930s set the stage for that.

However, the GOP has been making gains in Minnesota in the past decade or two; this past November, riding the Trump wave, they unexpectedly took control of both the Minnesota state Senate and House (although the mid-term governor is still a Democrat). They had controlled the State Senate in 2011 and 2012, but the Democrats have otherwise controlled it since the early 1970s.

Minnesota is also interesting because you can lump their most famous nationally known politicians into two categories: lively and bland. On the lively side: former Governor and wrestling entertainer Jesse Ventura; former Democratic Congressman Eugene McCarthy, who foreshadowed Bernie Sanders back in the 1968 with his quixotic challenge against Vice President Hubert Humphrey and the Democratic establishment in the Democratic Presidential primary (p.s., Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Minnesota Democratic caucus in March); current Senator and former comedian Al Franken; and the current cause celebre of the Democratic left, Congressman Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress (he grew up as a Catholic and later converted to Islam). Quite a mix!

And yet, Minnesota has produced some of the most bland and moderate (and yet moderately successful) politicians on the national scene: on the GOP side, there was former Governor and 9-time GOP Presidential nomination candidate Harold Stassen; and also a more recent former Governor who also tried but couldn’t get any traction on the national GOP scene, Tim Pawlenty, who entered the GOP primaries in 2012 but dropped out early. On the Democratic side are two former Vice Presidents who ran for President but were sunk by Republican “waves”, i.e. Hubert H. Humprhey (who lost to Nixon in 1968), and Walter Mondale (who unsuccessfully challenged Ronald Reagan in 1984). Give Mondale credit for hosting the first major party female VP candidate, Geraldine Ferrarro.

In the wake of this past November’s “wave election” which unexpectedly brought Donald Trump into the White House and gave the GOP control of the Senate, House, and a majority of the state governorships and legislatures, the Democrats are obviously doing a lot of soul-searching about what they stand for, where they are headed, and who will lead them there. Some people say that an alliance of Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts is the way to go; the problem, according to these people, is that Hillary Clinton was too moderate and centrist, whereas the country is now in an anti-establishment populist mood. Sure, they were tricked by Donald Trump into casting their lot with the GOP, but what they really want is some good-old fashioned progressive / quasi-socialist big government to set their world aright.

Others think that Trump’s biggest feat was to exploit Hillary Clinton’s many weaknesses as a candidate, including her long manifest of ethical baggage and self-interested tactics. However, her main weakness, according to this view, was her inability to put forth an economic vision that appealed to the struggling mid-western states which tipped the electoral collage to Trump (despite Clinton’s clear overall voting majority). The progressives can talk about changing the Electoral College so that this won’t happen again, but given the Democrat’s on-going weakening trends at the state government level, this isn’t going to happen anytime soon, so long as our Constitution remains in place.

The best hope, according to this logic, is to look for leaders who could meld moderation with an enhanced appreciation for the lives and concerns of people in the mid-West, while not disregarding the needs of the Democrat’s various “identity” factions (LGBT, women, African Americans, Hispanics, the disabled, etc.). By 2020, it’s a good guess that a majority of Americans will have grown tired of Trumpian drama and improvisation (with much trial-and-error, including too much of the latter), and will be more sympathetic to a “return to normalcy” and stability. Some Democrats are already mentioning New Jersey Senator Cory Booker as a young-blooded leader who could fill this role. (Recall that Joe Biden would be 78, Bernie Sanders would be 79, and even Elizabeth Warren will be 71 in 2020).

In Minnesota terms, however, this would mean seeking someone from the bland tradition. Minnesota is a good lens to view the Democrat’s current plight, in my opinion. It lies on the fringes of the industrial Mid West and includes a lot of GOP-leaning rural territory. Successful state-wide politicians from Minnesota (which excludes Keith Ellison, who depends on a liberal-leaning suburban Congressional district) generally need to figure out how to balance the Democratic Party’s cosmopolitan concern for defending “diversity” (which are important in the Twin Cities, Rochester and Duluth) with the lives and concerns of non-minority rural and post-industrial communities. As one example of the latter, iron mining was once a big industry in northern Minnesota and created a lot of jobs, but in our post-industrial world, a lot of former iron mining communities struggle to get by. (Even way back in 1963, Bob Dylan wrote a song portraying hard times in the “Iron Range”, e.g. “so the mining gates locked and the red iron rotted, and the room smelled heavy from drinking”). So it’s not just the many former manufacturing communities in Ohio and Michigan who suffer from the under-employed white family blues.

With all due respect to Senator Booker (who was the former mayor of Newark NJ, the city where I work), Minnesota would seem to be a good place to concoct an anti-Trump antidote for the Democrats. I personally think that the Democrats need a highly-qualified person from the bland side, but who maintains his or her progressive chops. That obviously excludes Senator Franken, who probably depends a lot on his previous fame as a national comedian (in many ways, Franken paved the way for the current wave of liberal comedians such as Jon Stewart, John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee and Trevor Noah, given his work at Saturday Night Live way back in the late 1970’s).

But what about the other Senator from Minnesota? Amy Klobuchar, yes, of course! She is showing up on various early lists of 2020 hopefuls. She recently published an autobiography that attracted some attention as to her long-term plans, and she is #1 on the New Yorker’s recent list of 20 women who should think about running for President in 2020.

I heard Senator Klobuchar speaking recently on NPR, and I was impressed. She seems to know how to talk about mid-western economic concerns and social values (yes, which stem from a majority white traditionalist culture), while not forgetting the Democrat’s current focus on forwarding the progress made in bringing justice for the traditionally disenfranchised groups. She seemed intelligent and non-inflammatory, yet concerned and focused. Back to the age thing — Ms. Klobuchar will be 60 in 2020. Which is just the age that Hillary Clinton would have been in 2008, when I believe that she would have been most viable as a Presidential candidate (I did favor her over Barack Obama back then; I still think that the world would be a better place today had it been Clinton in 2008 and Obama in 2016).

So I’m getting on-board early for Amy Klobuchar. If the Democrats are going to stand a chance in 2020, they need to wrestle Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin back from Trump. I know that progressive faction talks about overtaking the Republicans in Georgia, Arizona and even Texas due to the Democrat’s long-expected “emerging non-white demographic wave“. But most of the political analysts that I have read say that those states are at least a decade away from Democratic competitiveness. Like it or not, 2020 is still going to be about the Mid-West.

Sorry, but despite all their fiery Tom Joad-sympathy talk, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are not mid-westerners. Nor are Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, Tom Perez, Julian Castro and Kamala Harris (Of course, neither is Trump! That’s why his VP pick of Mike Pence was so important). Tim Kaine and Sherrod Brown have mid-western roots, but I just don’t think that either one of them will get off the ground on a nation-wide basis (despite my initial enthusiasm about Kaine as Clinton’s running mate, his debate performance and various speeches did not appear to add much to the Democratic effort). From what I’ve seen so far, I believe that Senator Klobuchar should be taken very seriously by the Democratic Party over the next few years, as I think that she is one of the few who could pull off a run for the White House that would more-or-less satisfy the Democratic left while getting thru to the mid-western voters who Hillary Clinton failed to reach.

Four years goes fast. Democratic Party, please don’t blow it this time! Senator Amy Klobuchar isn’t the most telegenic of figures, her speeches aren’t terribly rousing, and even her name is a bit “quotidian” (somehow, “President Klobuchar” doesn’t come off as smoothly as “President Trump”). But she may well be just what you need to turn the tide, i.e. take back the White House and hopefully start making progress once again at the Congressional and state level.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:56 am      

  1. Jim, I think you missed another state that is mostly red but for the few, greatly populated — Illinois. I was stunned soon after the election in November when I saw a map of how Illinois had voted. I actually had trouble finding counties that were not red, except for Cook County (which consists of Chicago and a lot of other area surrounding Chgo), a few of its collar counties, and some few counties on the western border with Iowa with 2 or 3 counties in southern Illinois; the rest of the state was solid RED. Yet Illinois is considered a “blue” state, as you indicate with Minnesota. Of course, it’s Chicago that makes the difference; and again the same with Minnesota: The major metropolitan area making the difference between red and blue. But that is about where the comparison between MN and IL ends, I think. [You might want to think again, Mary — consider that Illinois turned out to be a good training ground for Barack Obama in his becoming a national leader.]

    I’m sorry but I do not see Hillary Clinton as you see her. I see her as no different from all the other politicians, except for the fact that she’s a woman. When men do the same thing as women, it’s seen as par for the course; when Clinton (or another woman) do the same thing as men, it’s awful, horrendous, sneaky, untrustworthy, etc. (A remaining, subtle prejudice against women that lies deep within our Nation.) I just have to say, “Please! Give me a break.” [Mary — the words and acts of all male politicians are called awful, horrendous, sneaky, untrustworthy, etc. by most everyone in the opposite party. They are called wonderful and masterful by most everyone in their own party, save during the primaries, when some rival members of their own party call them awful, horrendous, sneaky, untrustworty, etc. This is called ‘hard-ball politics.’ How much different was it for Hilary Clinton?]

    I would hope that Americans grow tired of “Trumpian drama and improvisation” sooner rather than later. (And I would like to add here: Trump’s “improvisation” especially with the truth needs a good “comeuppance”.) While I may not be around for 2020, I’d like to see in my time that’s left the “return to normalcy and stability” you mention.

    I don’t think anyone from Minnesota bodes well for president as too many very good men (who I was very sorry lost) did lose when they ran for prez. Seems Minnesota’s good men can not win. But now that I think of it, maybe a woman could; but I don’t know many women in politics that are well known from Minnesota. [So why not help the cause and get to know more about Amy Klobuchar yourself? You could have said the same thing about men in politics from Arkansas in 1992.]

    Your mention of the iron industry going bust in Minnesota reminds me of something I learned thru some genealogy study I did. Even farther back than the 1960s, during the early 1900s, I had extended family that settled in Duluth, Minnesota, where the railroad industry had cut down all the trees available for use as RR ties; it then sold the land to immigrants at very inexpensive rates, leading them to think it was a good deal where they could farm and have lives similar to what they had led before coming to America. However, the immigrants at the time didn’t realize that as farm land it had many tree stumps that had to be removed and the growing season was much shorter than most crops need. Thus, it was not a good deal at all. Thus, it seems Minnesota and its northern parts do not bode well for the person willing to work hard for a living; it’s just plain cold. [Interesting memory!! — Thanks for sharing this.]

    I might comment re Senator Franken: [Oh please — we will soon have a clown in the White House, do we need another to follow him?] I’ve heard him say that he is very serious about his work as senator and any work he did for SNL or people connected thru that program is in the past has no connection to his work as senator. [Are you willing to say the same thing about Trump’s work in the past?]

    Rather than count electoral votes, I am of the opinion that what needs “to be retired” (as Illinois’ Senator Durbin has said) is the electoral college. If the electoral college were retired at this point, not only would Clinton would be president (Gore would have been prez instead of GWB). Donald Trump would not be giving Christmas messages that consisted of a picture of him with his fist in the air and his slogan. Not even a “Merry Christmas” or a “Happy Holidays”. (He had to be reminded and then came out with a tweet of “Happy New Year”.) [A complex question, but a debate that the nation needs to have.]

    Another problem I see with Trump is that he’s already talking “nuclear buildup”; I wonder how many others in the country had the same reaction as I had, a kind of quiet panic about that. Does not bode well for the Nation; and it may not bode well for Trump either. And his noting this on Twitter? I find myself wondering to whom exactly Trump is speaking when he “tweets”. I think he leaves out a large percentage of the population that actually votes and communicates generally with the young people, many of whom do not vote yet.

    Frankly, I think that Mike Pence is counting on Trump getting in some deep trouble as president; viz., being impeached for some conflict of interest or problem with his taxes that remains yet to be exposed, or his dealings with Russia, etc. [Sounds plausible.] Mike Pence may have accepted the VP position for just that reason: Hopeful that Trump would not last too long as prez, and he, Pence, would take over; so 2020 may end up being GOP Pence vs. Democrat (who????). [Who???? Amy Klobuchar, of course! If Trump goes down for corruption, America would no doubt appreciate a former prosecutor in the White House.]


    Comment by Mary S. — December 27, 2016 @ 3:06 pm

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