Speak When Spoken To, Peasants!

I joined the Minnesota Libertarian Party back in 1994.  I’d been a conservative – ergo a Republican – for something like ten years at that point.  But I was disgusted with what I saw as the pusillanimity of the GOP Congress in the face of Bill Clinton’s power grab.  Not just Hillarycare; it was the widespread caving-in on the 1994 Crime Bill, with its noxious gun control provisions, that disgusted me with the GOP.

So I joined the Libertarian Party of Minnesota (LPM).  Not as a super-active member, of course – my kids were one and three years old, at the time, so there was little enough chance of me being a full-time firebrand. 

But I was hardly alone.  The mid-nineties may have been the high-water mark for the Libertarian Party – the LPM and nationally.  I don’t have the figures in front of me (and I don’t really care to look it up at the moment), but the Libertarian Party reached something of a high-water mark in the mid-nineties.  The party was endorsing candidates for offices, from city councils all the way up to President, like it hadn’t at any time before or since. 

The thing that appealed to many newly-minted Libertarians, myself included, was the absolute purity of Libetarian Party dogma.  There was no compromise on personal liberty!  Freedom ruled!  Liberty was the Law!

Our enthusiasm had the advantage of being utterly unfettered by any sense of having to make any of the compromises that come from actually having to govern anything.  The number of big-L Libertarians that had been elected to significant office, ever, was vanishingly tiny.  Outside of ornery, contrarian environs like the rural West, New Hampshire and Alaska, it was rarer still.

The LPM – and the LPUSA – were a haven for a lot of people, like me, who were very, very clear on what they wanted.  They – and I – were very very unclear on how the sausage was made.   Politics is a two-stage process;  Stage 1 is pulling like hell to get your beliefs – wrapped up in the form of a candidate – into the election.  It’s the part that takes place within a “party”, usually – and includes all the various roots of the term “Party”; one is “particular” about which candidate ones’ “party” endorses,  one exhibits “partisanship”. 

 Stage 2 is when that candidate is (hopefully) elected, and has to actually try to govern, either by sitting on a deliberative body like a city council, a county commission, a Legislature or a Congress, with people with whom you may disagree, to actually make the sausage.   It’s when the various forms of the word “politics” start to apply; one must “politely” (by the standards of the governing body) work with other “politicians” to achieve enough “polity” to enact your beliefs as “policy”.

My fellow Libertarians and I had the Phase 1 bit down cold.  We knew how to agitate!

We – I – were a little less clear on Phase 2, at least at the time.

It took me about four years to realize the LPM was never going to get to Phase 2, and that the GOP was my best bet for working for a party that would, someday, reflect enough of my beliefs to let me get behind it. 

And today – 12 years later, on the eve of swearing in a new, conservative-with-tinges-of-small-“l”-libertarian legislature – I feel pretty well vindicated. 

But some of the same dynamic I saw in the big-L Libertarian Party – the enthusiasm for the “Phase 1” process, the agitation and enthusiasm and the pulling like hell for ones core beliefs – is very much at play among the hordes of newly-minted conservative activists.  We saw it in spades a couple of years ago, when GOP caucuses were inundated with Ron Paul supporters.  They stormed the caucuses, full of piddle and vinegar, all fired up to enact “Dr. Paul’s” policies.  Many got discouraged when the GOP – those who’d in the party for years, doing all that boring “Phase 2” stuff – didn’t embrace them with open arms.  Some stuck around, long enough to see the Tea Party – a tidal wave of new activists that dwarved even the Ron Paul tide – sweep the GOP into power in a wave of “Phase 1” fervor. 

Now we’re into Phase 2. 

And some of the people who’ve had to do all that tiresome Phase 2 stuff – all the words that share their roots with “politics”, the ones that require persuasion rather than ardor, and even occasionally compromise rather than absolutism – are nervous.  

And much as the Phase 1 firebrand in me hates to say it, some of them have a point.

Lori Sturdevant isn’t one of them – but she at least troubles herself to talk with some people who do:

U.S. Rep. John Kline, soon to be Minnesota’s most potent gavel-wielder in Congress, shared his take on the Minnesota mood when he paid the Star Tribune Editorial Board a visit last week.

“I don’t know the last time when we saw a mood like this. It’s amazing,” said the Second District Republican, who’s soon to chair the House Education and Labor Committee. People are frustrated, scared, angry, impatient, confused — “all, I would argue, with justification,” he said.

That’s the sound of lots and lots of people who are doing the “Phase 1” stuff, many of them for the first time in their lives.

About that last sentiment: Kline said he regularly hears mixed messages from his south-suburban constituents.

“On the one hand, people want Congress to get things done, to make things better, to get the economy going again, to do something about jobs,” he said.

But let him profess support for something favored by a Democrat — say, the Obama-Republican tax deal that took a bipartisan pounding on its way to enactment last week — and Kline is deluged with a different message: “I didn’t elect you to compromise.”

The wave that swept all those newly-minted Republicans into office is heavily made up of people who are new to caring about politics at all, much less about all the inside-baseball “Phase 2” stuff. 

Maybe “you” individually didn’t. But “you” collectively did. Collectively, U.S. and Minnesota voters have elected divided governments.

So far.

 It’s the will of the collective “you” that’s supposed to count in running a democracy. When voters put the levers of power into the hands of more than one party, governing isn’t Burger King. You can’t have it your way — not if you expect to get anything done.

Sturdevant displays a certain amount of wonky provincialism here; shutting down a tax-and-spend orgy, whether in St. Paul or in Washington, is “getting stuff done”.

From my perch in the Capitol basement, I’ll be watching to see whether the new crowd in charge of state government will be similarly devoted to accomplishment, rather than intent on keeping their respective bases satisfied.

Well, no.  I mean, it sounds nice and all, but  if you’ve been following Lori Sturdevant any length of time, you the only “accomplishment” she cares about is “enacting the DFL’s agenda”. 

But what the heck, it’s the holidays.

They have ample reason to be. The statehouse gang lacks Congress’s opportunity to do relatively little immediate harm if they do relatively little. In state government, the constitutional requirement that the budget be balanced every two years presents an unyielding choice to DFL Gov.-elect Mark Dayton and the Republican majorities-elect in the Legislature: Make a deal, or shut down government operations come July.

Sturdevant makes that sound like a bad thing.

Kline correctly pointed out that in both parties, activists are “exceptionally vocal right now, and more engaged than they have been over time.” The Internet has given them all spyglasses and megaphones, which they train as eagerly on their allies as their opponents. Those tools leave a false impression with some elected officials about the activists’ political strength.

I”m going to suspect that this past November’s elections may have left a very, very accurate impression of that strength.

Dayton and the new GOP legislative leaders put on a fine show of bipartisan comity last week after their first private meeting. They said all the right words about searching earnestly for common ground on job creation and government streamlining.

But, on other occasions, they’ve also said they plan to stick to the policy guns they fired during the fall campaign. Dayton will assemble a budget proposal that emphasizes an income tax increase for the wealthy. Republicans will counter with budget bills built on “no new taxes.”

Quick side note here; watch that “no new taxes” talk.  Sturdevant is going to be doing her usual job – the DFL’s bidding – in trying to make the GOP’s stance seem like an extension of the Pawlenty years.  In fact, the GOP was sent to Saint Paul with an even clearer mandate; cut the spending.

If those base-pleasing, no-new-compromise exercises consume every legislative day from January until early May, my sense is that the mood of the Minnesota electorate is going to be quite sour.

Stuck as she is in her wretched ink-stained ivory tower at 425 Portland, perhaps it’s understandable that Sturdevant missed the news between Christmas Eve of 2009 and November of 2010; the mood is already sour.  That’s how Barack Obama and the DFL both squandered overwhelming advantages in Congress and the Legislature in two short years.  The  peasants are pissed!

Last week, the Civic Caucus, a bipartisan group of seasoned policy wonks, began preparing a formal call for a change in the Legislature’s usual calendar.

And as a general rule, anything coming from “bipartisan” groups of “seasoned wonks” should go in the kill file immediately.

By law, Dayton must offer his budget proposal on or before Feb. 15. The Civic Caucus wants the Legislature to follow suit a few weeks later with at least its revenue and spending targets, said the group’s coordinator, Paul Gilje.

“Every session, everybody is so frustrated with the way everything comes out at the last minute,” Gilje said. “This time, the divide is so well-understood early on. Why not get the options on the table early? Why not open the way for an intelligent statewide discussion for how to reconcile the differences, rather than waiting till the end?”

Oh, I have a sneaking hunch you won’t have to wait all that long for the GOP’s proposal.

As it stands, the draft statement the Civic Caucus is circulating doesn’t specify a deadline for the Legislature to produce its budget. I have what may be a fitting suggestion: How does April Fools’ Day sound?

It sounds like someone had to dig into the cliche bag to find an ending for their column.

Look – the political establishment in this state – and Sturdevant is nothing if not their dutiful scribe – has been barbering for years about how badly they want more people to get involved, to be stakeholders, in their government.

Now they got it. 

We just must all be the wrong kind of people.

8 thoughts on “Speak When Spoken To, Peasants!

  1. I hate to piss in Lori’s Wheaties, well no, that’s not true, but anyway she seems to have forgotten what happened the last time the GOP shut down MN government…..


    That’s right, nothing. No dead bodies in the street; no fifty car pile ups; no earthquakes; no plague, nothing but the blissful, sweet melody made by thousands of public union hacks gnashing their teeth.

    Makes me all warm and fuzzy, just thinking about it again.

    So I’m hoping against hope that Governor JimBeam veto’s us right out of business again.

  2. It’s true, “phase II” trips up libertarians and conservatives. It’s like a man who enjoys a quiet neighborhood. The noisy neighbors are quiet when it suits them, and they enjoy loud parties when it suits them. They get the best of both worlds. But a quiet person can hardly shame the noisy neighbors into silence by not talking to them or leading by a quiet example.

    The man who wants to abolish the Department of Education won’t make much headway by learning the ins and outs of the department protocol. Having witnessed the failure of the Gingrich revolution, I’ve concluded that the best libertarian/conservative course is to stand athwart all hope for change and yell “stop.” Once a program or department is established, it will endure until the end of the nation. I believe we still employ a federal tea-tasting board.

    That’s why it’s crucial to stop Obamacare before it becomes a bigger entitlement than social security.

    But it also explains why libertarians and conservatives seem stuck on phase I. It’s usually all they have outside of a revolution.

  3. I caucused with the DFL. Then I caucused with the Libertarians. Now I caucus with the GOP. It seems to be a natural progression for those capable of critical thought.

  4. The mid-nineties may have been the high-water mark for the Libertarian Party – the LPM and nationally. I don’t have the figures in front of me (and I don’t really care to look it up at the moment), but the Libertarian Party reached something of a high-water mark in the mid-nineties.

    So, you’re saying the mid-90’s was a high-water mark for the Libertarian Party? 🙂

    Merry X-Mas, Mitch and Mitch-kateers!

  5. Capital -L Libertarianism makes me think of one of the themes of the Coen brothers film A Serious Man.
    Not sure if you’ve seen it — not many have, apparently — but the protagonist is a Jewish physics professor. He faces a number of personal issues. His wife is leaving him, he is involved in a property line dispute with his gentile neighbor, he is in lust with another neighbor, and he has health problems.
    He’s a physics guy. He is rational. Yet his attempts to resolve any of his personal issues pits him against the irrational. He wants to know if he should give his soon-to-be-ex the get she wants as part of the divorce package, and as he works his way up the hierarchy of Rabbi’s with his question the rabbi’s get less rational as they grow more authoritative. Ditto the law firm that is handling the property line dispute.

    This is why Libertarians have a problem moving from Stage 1 to Stage 2. Libertarians mistake the Rational for the Good. Like the Marxists, Libertarians believe that if people would act rationally they would also be acting “Good”.
    The real world, however, is not a rational place. Reason cannot penetrate it. Political systems need to embrace this “unreason” or they will fail.

  6. There are tons of good ideas put forth by people like Reason Magazine, etc. but I’d have to say that the Minnesota variety of big “L” Libertarianism is alternately creepy and stupid.

    For example: I myself can support legalization of marijuana and oppose the TSA, DEA, CIA, the Dept. of Homeland Security, the Patriot Act, and/or the Director of National Intelligence, etc., but I will not Jew-bait, become a troofer, and/or reminisce about the good old days of Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy.

    Plus their Cold War strategy was like sitting around waiting for Jeffrey Dahmer to die of old age. “Criminally stupid” is being charitable . . .

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