Archive - Jun 2015

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June 25th

Politics in a new light

I have been reading some history lateliy, and am struck by how my views of the political world has changed since I ran for office myself. 

President Franklin Roosevelt once said to a person who presented him an idea: "You're absolutely right. Now go out and make me do it."

The statement means more now than it did before. 

Politics is more the art of the possible than the art of the ideal, and it is sheer folly for a politician to offer visionary ideas which are unlikely to be passed into law. A politician only has so much credibility, and has almost no latitude to offer ideas that are ahead of their time unless the whole country is at its wit's end in a major crisis.

People make much of Hillary Clinton and President Obama's "evolution" on gay marriage. "Well, he was was for it all along, he just waited for the polls to come around to his position before announcing it out loud," say the cynics. 

Of course! What else is a politician to do? 

I was told early on to keep my mouth shut and listen. It was good advice, and I adhered to it throughout the campaign––but I was unaware what listening really meant. Rather than merely gathering ideas (and I did gather many), I spent most of the listening time time while knocking doors absorbing frustration and rage––not at myself, but at all kinds of enemies, some real, most imagined. 

Instead of listening to actually learn, I found I was listening without comment in order to allow people to at least imagine I was sympathetic to views which I sometimes found abohorrent. I was not there to soberly discuss policy; I was there to allow people to vent their frustration.

When voters I talked to expressed authentic distress due to policy, such as when nursing home administrators described their difficulties finding help due to lack of funding, or people who work in group homes for the mentally disabled describe their cuts in pay and their struggles to get by on $9 per hour, I felt helpless, knowing what a mountain there was to climb to effect even the slightest change in their plight. 

We expect politicians to hold deep views on almost everything, but the fact is, the fewer views they actually hold, the better politician they will be. And I don't mean just that they will get re-elected––I mean they will actually have the capacity to get more done if they are not committed to a particular path.

The successful legislator, and I know of many, chooses a narrow band of interests. Agriculture, roads, aviation, whatever. In order to forge policy in those areas, he or she says what it takes in other areas to get elected. Eventually, the legislator starts bringing home the bacon for the home district––and although that solidifies them electorally, they still must honor the wishes of their district on other issues such as abortion, gay marriage, gun control and so on. 

A large plurality of politicians are trained lawyers. Lawyers are taught in law school the skill of advocating for any position without regard for their personal belief on the matter. They take pride in being able to argue both sides, of being able to move from the prosecution to the defense and back again. The public finds this sleazy––but they sure want a good lawyer to take their position when they get caught with their pants down. 

It is easy to see a trained lawyer making a further jump: If I am going to be able to do my work getting proper funding for nursing homes, I have to get elected first. To get elected, a politician in northern Minnesota might say, I will do whatever the National Rifle Association says. Or the Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. That is the price of getting something done in your area of expertise: you supress whatever beliefs you hold on the hot button issues. If you have no beliefs in those areas, there is nothing to suppress and life is much easier. 

Such duplicity offends the naive non-lawyers. For its part, the press is constantly on alert for contradictions in a politician's statements. They think it is their duty, not to talk about serious policy issues, but to torment the politicians as they squiggle and squirm on issues the politicians don't care about, won't work on if elected, and likely will not have a chance to vote on. 

The boring but more important issues––such as bank regulation––take a back seat (heck, they aren't even in the back seat, they had to get out and walk) to the silly obsessions of the moment like flags, Ebola and the like. Serious issues go utterly uncovered and completely misunderstood by both the public and the press. That leaves those issues to be decided in back hallways by competing bands of lobbyists. The actual public takes no interest, and thus has no say. 

The daily news––all of it––is a massive distraction machine designed, intentionally or not, to keep the eyes of the public diverted while their pockets are picked. In order for this to change, we don't need different politicians. We need to "go out and make them do it." The public has to lead, and the politicians will follow. Professional politicians have a talent for that, and it is not entirely to their discredit. 




June 18th

Trip to Target

(Better give Target Corporation their due, since they paid millions to have the new Twins' field named after them. US Bank just paid $220 million for naming rights to the new Vikings Stadium. One wonders how they measure return on their investment.)

On a whim, I drove down to see Byron Buxton's Minnesota debut Wednesday. I found a good seat online, and it was worth the trouble getting the ticket ahead of time rather than depending upon the integrity of a scalper outside the gates.

As I left home at noon, I had a nagging feeling that I was reneging on an obligation of some sort, but I couldn't pinpoint it and my calendar was blank. As I drove through Wadena, the activities director for an area nursing home called and said, are you still coming? Yes, I was scheduled to entertain, and I had failed to transfer the event from one calendar to the other. I hate to disappoint old people. I owe them one! 

As for the game, Buxton made a nice catch in center field, but was otherwise quiet. Milone pitched well, as did Fien and Perkins. Hitting was sparse, as it has been for most of the season.  

Despite the June swoon, the Twins have been playing a good brand of baseball. The starting pitching has been consistent. They continue to make the best of the other teams' mistakes. Every game seems to come down to the wire, which is good training for the young guys. 

Torii Hunter's "leadership" act wore thin for me a long time ago. Now, of course, he is saying his explosion at the umpires was to motivate the team. Oh, great leader, please realize that real leaders don't brag about their leadership after the fact. It ruins the effect.

TV announcer Dick Bremer contributes to the nausea-inducing psycho-spectacle by prattling on about the "mentorship" Hunter provides to Buxton, Hicks and others. Hunter reminds me of Chris Carter late in his career, when he viewed himself as a co-head coach of the Vikings. Just play, Torii. 

Announcers have absorbed just enough of the new baseball dogmas to sound really goofy. Yesterday, the radio guy--I am not going to look up his name because the fact that I don't know it says something right there--said that Byron Buxton "had a good at bat." That after Buxton struck out. 

A good at bat? Well, nowadays you are supposed to tire the opposing pitcher out. So, getting a hit after you run the count to full and foul off three pitches is a better that getting a hit on the first pitch, or so goes the argument. Also, apparently, if you use up eight pitches but still strike out, you have had a "good at bat." 

Silliness. The strikeout to which the announcer referred was earned by a reliever. Whether that reliever threw eight pitches or one pitch didn't make a bit of a difference. He was gone a few batters later. 

There's something wrong with Mauer--although just as I approached despair, he hits a game-tying home run. Only Bert Blyleven had the guts to point out that Mauer blew the game on Tuesday by fielding a hard grounder and not trying for a double play. Instead, Mauer plodded over to the first base bag and allowed the two base runners to advance to second and third. They scored on a single, giving the Cardinals a 3-2 win. Blyleven called it a mental error, but Bremer avoided criticizing St. Joe, as did everybody else. 

At the game Wednesday, I was the one you heard booing Mauer after he took two pitches down the middle and struck out swinging at the third. 

Thousands of Cardinal fans attended the series. I was surrounded by them. They were well-behaved and nicely-groomed. 

June 17th


The first shipment of my new book A Treasury of Old Souls arrived yesterday. It looks great. I will be promoting the book in about three weeks.

After the book arrived, I read it again. I think it makes sense, but I am not an impartial observer.

Once finished reading, I had a sense of dread. It took me a while to figure out from where it arose. I eventually figured out that promoting the book will be the first time I have submitted myself to public scrutiny of any sort since the election last fall. 

I'll get over it, but not without a fight. 

Those who used to check this weblog daily might wonder why I have been almost completely silent. I simply have no desire to make   pronouncements on the passing scene, save for a few commentaries on the Twins. I am not ill, or depressed.

However, I am more circumspect about putting anything out there. When you run for office, even an office as minor as a seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives, you put yourself out there. You cannot control what happens to your reputation, and you can be sure that whatever you say will be twisted. To withstand attacks on your character, motives and reputation takes a thicker skin, and perhaps a thicker head, than I wish to develop. 

The question becomes: of what use is it to throw my opinions and thoughts around when peoples' minds are already made up? Is it not an exercise in meglomania, or at least futility, to keep prattling on? Why needlessly inflame minds incapable of change? Why feed raw meat to the already rabid and angry? Alternately, what good is it to preach to the choir? 

My ten-year-old niece Champoo has provided our family with endless fun, and I have written about her on here a couple of times. But, she has made it clear she does not like being a source of entertainment for the general public, even the tiny slice of it reading this blog--and when Champoo makes something clear, she makes it clear!

And that is her right. I am proud of her, so I love to tell stories about her, but I can understand not wanting to have her valiant (and very successful) efforts to learn English exposed, even if I think I am merely showing off her brilliance.

Aunt Olla's passing at age 103 last February changed things, too. Unlike Champoo, Olla relished her celebrity status on this blog. No more Olla stories to tell now, however. 

Something new will arise--eventually. 






June 9th

Small town doctor

 Here is a great story about a doctor who came to North Dakota after the war.