Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Unbearable Lightness Of Gov. Mark Dayton

Why is it some children of enormous inherited wealth react to their condition by inflicting themselves upon the greater public under the misnomer of public service? If quizzed, none of us would recall asking these strange creatures for any assistance that they, by chance, might possess in governing ourselves. No, we're good, thanks.

Were that it was so easy to stop them. Minnesota's misfortune is to have had Mark Dayton insist that his destiny lay in such oppressive public service on our behalf. First he acted out on the national stage as a senator and failed as only such a hot house creature could. After his single term of absolutely no consequence (hint: that's called waste) some of us had hoped he'd do the "I want my own vineyard" bored wealthy thing or perhaps gotten involved in artisanal chocolate production. For those who main goal in life because of wealth is not to feel irrelevant, the possibilities were endless. Could he not have glommed on to Bill & Melinda's feel good social experiments? Surely from among the panoply of useless United Nations programs and causes there was one he could internalize? If it were sheer ego, why not freshen up a salad dressing line with his mug on the bottle and give Paul Newman a run for his money? He could have meetings and everything!

No, not our luck. In what had unavoidable masochistic overtones, Dayton decided he wanted to act out on the state level (again) by insisting he was governor material. That he won the office is no proof whatsoever of that premise and to date his performance is irrefutable evidence of its lack. He jammed his own party by running in the primary and using his own money. Either or both of these conditions usually elicits the loudest of clucking from democrats but, after Dayton beat Tom Emmer by a 8,000 vote whisker, they soon enough fell in line. The governor could be managed, they were told.

Gov. Dayton's first two years have been abysmal. What was it he wanted to do as governor anyway? Wouldn't a house and senate controlled by republicans offer him the perfect opportunity to lead? To show compromise? To get things done as these political types like to pretend they can? If one was a real leader instead of a lost soul looking for external housing to shore up the inner, yes. But a leader is not who Gov. Dayton is and it is not who he will be in the coming two years, either.

Last week the Governor, sounding like a vaguely fascist mandarin, simply insisted without any intellectual depth or sustained engagement that taxes must increase because of his perceived need of all that government must do. His idea of the size & scope of government is not open to discussion. There is no opting out from it because he knows best. What's that called again?

He made his statement at what, until just yesterday, I had been led to believe was simply a speech reported on by the press. Instead, as MinnPost reported the day before (as did the Pioneer Press), it was a University Lecture. MinnPost polished the knob by saying that the title "university lecturer" could be added to Mark Dayton's resume. No, really.

Yet what shocked is that this was a lecture grandly titled: "Minnesota's Future: Challenges and Opportunities" given to the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs Policy Fellows (there's more intellectual diversity among supporters of Ron Paul by orders of magnitude; the Fellows are the stuff of David Mamet's nightmares). This was a liberal/progressive/left confab with Little Lord Fauntleroy in attendance.

But wait there's more! The event was closed to the public.

Pardon? Is this possible? Is Common Cause Minnesota on it? From whence shall our help come? Surely the event was taped and surely I will get my hands on it. Try making it private. The entire speech and question and answer session should be posted on the Humphrey School's website without delay. This event was not a private function.

Why would the press acquiesce in this? Access? Or just the usual hot dish politics? Both?

I listened to the audio of the Governor's 25 minute speech. It is appallingly bad. To learn only after the fact that it was a university lecture proper for a set of fellows was mind boggling. He spoke from notes as best from what I could tell. Meandering, at times pointless, at others a non-sequitur minefield, his speech revealed that there is serious trouble with our Chief Executive.

Our Governor's visual performance at this public event is what is being deliberately withheld from the public. What an odd thing to say about Minnesota politics.

But if the visual matches the audio, voters may well be in for a shock. Listening to several bizarre passages on the audio, none intrigued me more in wanting the visual as when Gov. Dayton spoke about his family's annual gathering to discuss wealth management. He reminisced about advice concerning the public good from his father and uncles. He's still executing orders from childhood! I wanted to clap my hands together loudly to snap him out of it while listening to this psychological excursion.

MPR and the StarTribune failed to note that this was a resume enhancing "university lecture" before the Humphrey School Policy Fellows with the President of the University of Minnesota in attendance. MinnPost stated that "Some media may attend, but it's not open to the public."

Do you see? People like us are not allowed in. Media, who are liberals by another name, "may attend." In other words, no one here but us squishes and we squishes will report on it. Media criticism can't possibly be this easy in this town, can it? Because I'll become quickly bored.

It's telling that media do not consider themselves the public. Has this ever been said before? Remember, these people think exceptionally highly of themselves and as having a combative posture toward power. What a laugh! In fact, if power flows from their favored party, they are eager to be co-opted and, as their publishing shows, used to advance that party's interests.

The StarTribune reported only that Dayton spoke "at the University of Minnesota." Not untrue and therefore meets the StarTribune's low threshold for accuracy and completeness.

MPR reported that he spoke "to a group" at the University of Minnesota. Also not untrue and apparently reported this way less any MPR listener assume that the Governor was walking around campus talking to himself.

The Pioneer Press was fuller, saying that the Governor gave "a speech at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs." Even that, however, was insufficient to convey the importance of the event to its own participants. Minnesota University President Eric Kaler attended the Governor's Lecture to the Humphrey School Policy Fellows. Indeed he should have: it was a very big deal.

"Some media may attend, but it's not open to the public." Remember that phrase.

In his so-called lecture, the Governor proclaimed that the failure to raise taxes would be the death of this country. Failure to raise taxes would be the death of this country. I swear you can hear the sounds of bobble heads on the audiotape. Revenue or death!

How is this relic our Chief Executive? He called raising taxes an acid test of his. Could anyone in the press appreciate how astonishing that truly is?

Not really. The introduction to the story in the Pioneer Press started out: "Count on Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton to swim against the tide."

Really? That wet a kiss?

The StarTribune wrote that Dayton had come back from a summer of silence "roaring." There's a neutral term. Fact check, please. It also wrote that the Dayton-responsible statewide government shutdown last year was "bruising." Actually, no one noticed the shut down very much (myself I felt filled with more liberty) which led to Dayton's capitulation 20 days later to the republican legislature's budget. But it is "bruising" now because an election is upcoming and that's how democrats want the issue colored. Consider it done!

"Some media may attend, but it's not open to the public."

Dayton is wildly out of touch with the times across this country. Where has he been since 2008 for him to have said that "public investments do create jobs." Is there even a flicker of a brain wave there? They create jobs but the wrong kinds of ones and even then frequently they don't last. Public investment does not equate to economic growth. This fundamental economic principle is exceedingly difficult for liberals to grasp because spending makes them feel like they are doing something. That their policies fail so routinely and disastrously without another thought also keeps liberals from holding themselves to account. Detroit is the physical manifestation of liberalism. Imagine if that city came to the end it has under republican governance. Democrats with a byline, as Rush Limbaugh called the media, would be all over that important story.

Did anyone get the chance to ask Gov. Dayton if he'd chatted up fellow democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo about his work in New York state? It's an open question whether he'd take Dayton's call but that's another matter altogether. Has our governor heard of reformist democrat governors? We seem to have a leader who is intellectually uncurious about whether anything on the policy side may have changed since he first got into politics just yesterday in 1975. Are his handlers equally thick? Perhaps it's all one encompassing bubble? I hadn't considered that before.

Besides taking money from you in the amounts that he knows best in order to spend it on your own good, Gov. Dayton last week also disassociatively proclaimed he'd like to open trade with Cuba.

What? No, just no Governor. What are you thinking? You're aware you're in 2012, aren't you sir? Minnesota is surrounded by vastly more economically vibrant states. You may have heard of something called a boom (but not a firework so relax) in North Dakota. South Dakota has been siphoning jobs and businesses from Minnesota for decades now. Wisconsin? You know, Gov. Scott Walker who you are so very not?

How does our Governor bring nothing to the table of ideas but stale, failed ones? The laziest of postures are being struck. This begs the question just who are the Governor's current handlers? Who actually is part of the process that informs him as to what he thinks is good governance? We don't really get much coverage of that important and interesting subject. The lecture to the Humphrey School Fellows was just such an opportunity and therefore went largely unreported.

There was, fortunately, a ukulele player on Almanac last week so our media didn't let us down completely.

Eric Ostermeir, blogging at Smart Politics, had a fascinating overview of the dark, strange, paranoid, apocalyptic words the Governor used in his speech. Is this how liberals make themselves feel alive? More alive? Purposeful? (I feel assaulted when that word is used.)

The article is not lengthy but it is extremely observant in distilling Gov. Dayton and his performance last week. To read it click here.  It's almost as if Eric is onto something. Like a story.

It's telling that Gov. Dayton has nothing but exaggeration and the gloomiest of language with which to go into this fall's election. Grounded optimism requires a leader. General "can do" attitude usually works wonders with people. But this strangest of all Minnesota governors has no capacity whatsoever for that which smacks of the positive. To the contrary, his internalized conflicts leave him continuously searching for solutions which he then projects onto us by way of out of touch, top down, diktats whose implementation gives him psychological satisfaction. Of course that last bit was sheer psychoanalysis but wasn't it fun?

The reporting, as it were, suggests that democrats will increasingly use Gov. Dayton as legislative races heat up. I hope they're correct about the upside offsetting the down because this governor is the best reason why the DFL shouldn't get the legislature. Making him your poster child is fine with me. But having Gov. Dayton urge voters to increase taxes by voting democrat may not be the best way to get said votes.

Perhaps democrats didn't notice there's no shortage of issues with which to run against Minnesota republican legislators. But the lemming instinct is strong among progressives; when your ideas are weak continuous mutual reassurance they are strong is essential. What cliff? Forward.

If the Governor wants to make raising taxes the "acid test" of this election, it's an open question whether democrats can deflect that mistaken approach with something more likely to bring them to a majority in either chamber or, God forbid, both. I don't pretend to know the inner workings of the DFL, its legislators or activists and so can't hazard a guess as to which is more likely to win out.

I do know if it's a battle over raising taxes to fund more useless government, republicans will have the upper hand consistently across all legislative races. Why Dayton is channelling Walter Mondale's 1984 convention promise to raise taxes I've no idea.

I do know that it didn't work then and it won't work now.