You Can’t Go Home Again

Tom Friedman ventured into the wilds this week, to his home state of Minnesota:

I was debating whether to go to the Turkish-Syrian border this week or to visit my old high school in Minnesota. I decided to make the exotic foreign trip and go to Minnesota. I thought it might be useful to look at this election through the window of my hometown of St. Louis Park.

I wish I believed he is kidding. But this wasn’t just a routine visit home; Friedman was looking for insight into the national scene:

I found in this little suburb of 45,250 people outside of Minneapolis … all the key trends impacting America.

Which means that he found what he was looking for. Friedman is like a dog that can whistle but knows only one tune. When he whistles, he will repeat the tune he knows, whether it fits the facts or not. Friedman begins by describing how much more diverse St. Louis Park High School is today, compared with when he graduated in 1971. He thinks this is a great thing, but it is not clear what it has to do with the rest of his column, which promptly turns to politics:

Mayor Jeffrey Jacobs of St. Louis Park notes that 85 percent of residents here today don’t have kids in local public schools, yet they regularly vote to increase real estate taxes to improve these schools, because they understand that “you cannot cheapskate yourself to greatness” and “they see value for their money.” But that attitude is no longer held statewide.

Actually, levies for education in the St. Louis Park school district have increased at a rate below the state average, according to a liberal advocacy group. The Minnesota average:

The St. Louis Park school district:

It must be wonderful to be a New York Times columnist. You can say anything that fits your prejudices, and no one ever checks your facts. Friedman continues:

When I was growing up, my congressmen were liberal Republicans (there was no other kind in Minnesota back then) in a Democratic district. No one thought anything of it.

When Friedman was growing up, St. Louis Park was in Minnesota’s 3rd Congressional District. Far from being a “Democratic district,” it has been represented by Republicans for 53 of the 65 years since 1947. The 3rd District was represented from 1961 until 1971, Friedman’s senior in high school, by Clark MacGregor. MacGregor took over as Chairman of the Committee to Re-Elect the President (Nixon) in 1972 when John Mitchell was forced out. He was the Republican nominee for the Senate in 1970, when he ran against Hubert Humphrey. MacGregor, now deceased, would no doubt be surprised to hear himself described as a liberal.

Friedman’s suggestion that in the 1950s and 1960s Minnesota Republicans were all liberals is absurd. Minnesota Congressmen of the era included rock-ribbed conservative Al Quie, John Zwach, who headed the Conservative Caucus as a member of the Minnesota Senate, and others who, like MacGregor, would be astonished to hear themselves described retrospectively as liberals.

Friedman notes that St. Louis Park is now represented in Congress by the far-left Keith Ellison:

Today my congressman here would be Keith Ellison, an African-American Muslim and one of the most liberal Democrats in the House, while liberal Republicans in Minnesota today are as rare as a two-headed moose.

Ellison represents St. Louis Park not because of some seismic shift in Minnesota politics, but because St. Louis Park has been redistricted into Minnesota’s 5th District, which consists largely of the city of Minneapolis. The 3rd District, in which St. Louis Park was located when Friedman lived there, is now represented by Republican Erik Paulsen, a solid conservative to whose campaign I have contributed. Are liberal Republicans scarce today in Minnesota? Yes, almost as scarce as conservative Democrats. Friedman continues:

The State House and Senate Republican caucuses today are dominated by the Tea Party and libertarian followers of Ron Paul.

But here’s what’s telling. These G.O.P. hard-liners, while able to win their more conservative “exurbia” and rural districts, are not doing well when it comes to overall state politics.

Friedman’s problem is that he knows little or nothing about Minnesota politics. He implies that today’s Republican legislative candidates have only limited appeal because they are too extreme. But he fails to mention that in 2010, the GOP captured both houses of Minnesota’s legislature in a stunning sweep, winning the Senate for the first time since it became a partisan body some decades ago. So the idea that Republicans do well only in “exurbia” is a fantasy. Moreover, while it is true that quite a few Republican legislators can fairly be associated with the Tea Party–which is another way of saying they are concerned about the state’s budget–I am not aware of any who are Ron Paul disciples. Possibly there could be one or two. [UPDATE: A friend who is a member of the legislature tells me there is one.]

Minnesotans have not wanted to entrust them with the governorship or national Senate seats, which is another way of explaining why Mitt Romney only gained ground on Barack Obama when he started to market himself as a moderate ready to work with Democrats.

This is one of the most head-swiveling non sequiturs ever. First, what about the claim that Minnesotans have not wanted to entrust the GOP with the governorship or Senate seats in recent years? That was actually pretty true when Friedman lived here, back in the supposed golden era of liberal Republicanism. Between 1953, when Friedman was born, and 1971, when he graduated from high school, the Democrats held the governorship for 12 out of 18 years. More recently, it is the Democrats–not the Republicans–whom the voters have not wanted to trust with executive power. Mark Dayton was elected governor in 2010; he was the first Democrat to be elected to that office since Rudy Perpich in 1986.

As for the Senate, hey: Minnesota is a blue state. In the 18 years when Friedman lived in Minnesota, the state never had a Republican senator, with the exception of the first five years of Friedman’s life, when Edward Thye–I can’t recall having heard of him–represented Minnesota in Washington. Other than that, it was all Democrats. Those were the good old days, when Republicans weren’t so troublesome! More recently, Republicans have done better. Norm Coleman would still be representing Minnesota in the Senate if we had had, in 2008, the voter ID law that will pass next week.

As for the idea that Mitt Romney “only gained ground…when he started to market himself as a moderate ready to work with Democrats,” this is another Friedman fantasy. Romney has always touted his ability to get things done even when he has to deal with Democrats; he started gaining significant ground when he slaughtered Barack Obama in the first debate and, at about the same time, unleashed his advertising campaign.

Friedman holds up Amy Klobuchar as an ideal because, although a Democrat, she has the reputation of being pro-business. She is going to cruise to victory next week:

Many business-oriented Republicans here are not only voting for Klobuchar but are giving her money, because they’ve become frustrated by the far-right lurch of the state G.O.P., explained Lawrence Jacobs, a politics expert at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

Actually, they give her money because they know she is going to win, and they want to preserve access in case they need to protect themselves against adverse government action. Larry Jacobs is a DFL partisan, hardly an objective source.

“In Minnesota, for many years, we had a party structure that was dominated by leaders who wanted to win and problem-solve,” said Jacobs. Now, he added, the State Republican Party is dominated by Tea Party and libertarian insurgents, not the business community, and their attitude is “we play for principles and if we lose so be it.” So there is a fight here for the soul of the Republican Party.

Notice how the focus is always on the Republicans. While Jacobs talks about Republicans losing, the fact is that the Democrats just lost control over both houses of the state’s legislature for the first time within memory. So is there a fight going on for the soul of the Democratic Party? If not, why not? The Democrats went 24 years without electing a governor. Did that prompt a fight for the soul of the DFL party?

The Republican Party is, in fact, as unified as it has ever been. In recent years, Republicans have united behind top-notch candidates like Tim Pawlenty, Norm Coleman, John Kline, Erik Paulsen, Chip Cravaack and Michele Bachmann. The idea that there is a conflict between “Tea Party insurgents” and the business community is simply false. There are, of course, elements of the business community that have been co-opted because they depend on government spending, but that is true everywhere.

So, what is the point of all this? Friedman concludes:

In the 1990s, centrist Democrats, led by Bill Clinton, brought their party back from a similar ideological ledge; they and the country and my home state are better for it.

But haven’t the Democrats gone back over the ledge, with Barack Obama, trillion dollar deficits, hundreds of billions in crony payoffs, rampant class warfare, and record numbers of Americans in poverty and living on food stamps? And how about Minnesota politicians like Al Franken, Mark Dayton and Keith Ellison? Does Friedman mean to imply that they are moderates in the Clinton mold?

The Republicans have not had their “reformation,” but it’s brewing here in Minnesota, and I hope it goes national if Romney loses — and even more so if he wins.

But wait! What is the evidence that a Republican “reformation” is “brewing here in Minnesota?” Friedman cites none; and if by “reformation” he means Republicans becoming more liberal, there is no such evidence, because it isn’t happening. And what is it that Friedman wants to “go national”? A takeover of legislatures by “Tea Party” Republicans, as happened in Minnesota in 2010? Stunning electoral victories like Chip Cravaack’s 2010 win over entrenched Democrat Jim Oberstar in Minnesota’s 8th District? Twenty-four years between Democratic governors? Conservative firebrands like Michele Bachmann crushing Democratic opponents despite millions of dollars flowing into the state from Democratic Party fat cats? Solid conservatives like John Kline and Erik Paulsen being re-elected overwhelmingly because they reflect their constituents’ conservative principles?

There may indeed be trends here in Minnesota that the rest of the country would do well to heed, but Tom Friedman, despite having swung by the state for a day or two, has no idea what they are. Notwithstanding the fact that he attended high school here 40 years ago, Friedman knows little or nothing about politics in Minnesota.

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