In their one and only debate, on the day before Tuesday's election, Walter Mondale addressed Norm Coleman as "Norman." That didn't work. On the next day the voters made Norm Senator-elect Coleman. At that point, Minnesota's Democrat "humorist," Garrison Keillor, made an ammo run to T.S. Eliot, and as Coleman walked away with his new title, Keillor squeezed off a burst, attacking Coleman as a soulless, passionless, joyless, slick, glib, hollow man. Keillor then flipped his gun into spray mode and called Minnesotans "low-rent" and "dumb" for electing Coleman.
Over the years Minnesota conservatives have frequently had reason to reflect that Minnesota's state bird is the loon, and that Minnesota is the home of the loony left. However, the loon gives off a hauntingly beautiful call, and on November 5 the loon gave a beautiful call of victory out to George W. Bush, the Minnesota Taxpayers' League, and Brian Sullivan.
Garrison Keillor grew up in small-town Minnesota. In the column he wrote for Salon (the one in which he shot those insults at Coleman and Minnesotans) Keillor engaged in a small-town practice he professes to hate. Keillor treated gossip as political commentary: "St. Paul is a small town and anybody who hangs around the St. Paul Grill knows about Norm's habits. Everyone knows that his family situation is, shall we say, very interesting, but nobody bothered to ask about it, least of all the religious people in the Republican Party. They made their peace with hypocrisy long ago."
In more than one way, Keillor's gossip is hypocritical, and his behavior may well bother Minnesotans and fair-minded Democrats. Keillor also asserted Coleman won his Senate seat "because he was well-financed and well-packaged." To be sure, in his debate with Mondale, Coleman had President Bush's arguments down pat. Against the backdrop of the Democrats' jumbotron political frenzy at the memorial rally for Paul Wellstone, Coleman delivered those arguments impressively and respectfully, as Mondale presented the Democrats' forcefully and a bit patronizingly.
In the voting booth, Minnesotans defied years of voting the liberal-progressive line. They declined to elect Walter Mondale, long-time keeper of the progressive flame — acolyte of Hubert Humphrey, vice president under Jimmy Carter, and janissary for Bill Clinton. Minnesotans voted for Coleman both because they liked Bush's positions and liked Coleman's presentation of them in the final week. Minnesotans further confirmed they liked Bush's positions by voting into Congress Bush Republican John Kline over incumbent Democrat Bill Luther, and by reelecting Bush Republican Rep. Mark Kennedy. For the first time in a long time, Minnesota's congressional delegation is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.
Bush clearly is attractive to many Americans, even though liberal-progressive intellectuals spent a lot of time trying to paint President Bush as being way dumb. Among other things, they have been posting "Bushisms" on the Internet. For instance, under the heading "The Moron in Chief," an email making the rounds this week quotes Bush saying, "I am a pit bull on the pant-leg of opportunity."
I myself would not deny that I'm dumb and would admit I love that line. It sounds like something P.G. Wodehouse might have written (maybe the "W" in George W. Bush stands for Wodehouse). In any event, on election day W. Bush got a grip on the pant-leg of opportunity in Minnesota. On the other hand (let's call it, the fat hand of liberal progressivism), Minnesota Democrats missed the pant-leg of opportunity. Seeking Bush-Wodehousian status, a fellow might say: on Tuesday the voters slapped the fat hand of liberal progressivism for trying to treat constitutional government as if it were a cookie jar.
On the campaign trail this fall in Minnesota, Democrat-progressive Alec Baldwin of Hollywood explained "what an American really is." According to Baldwin, it's someone who believes the government should "do the most for the most it can" — someone, then, who favors unlimited government. The Minneapolis Star Tribune's editorialist Lori Sturdevant herself campaigned in the paper for Minnesota's "high tax/high service tradition" and specifically targeted the Minnesota Taxpayers' League as unworthy of that tradition.
As "Powerline" blogger Scott Johnson has pointed out, the Star Tribune hates the Minnesota Taxpayers' League nearly as much as it hates the Republican Party. The Taxpayers' League stands for limited, constitutional government instituted to secure the rights declared in the Declaration of Independence.
Of the opinion that Big Government is bad, the Taxpayers' League took to the radio, billboards, and prints, making the case that Minnesota — a state like many with a substantial projected budget deficit — does not have a revenue (tax) problem. It has a spending problem. Minnesota is the fourth highest taxed state in the nation. Twenty years ago the top two employers in Minnesota were private businesses; today they are the state and federal government. State spending under Jesse Ventura (since 1999) has grown 32%.
First-time candidate Brian Sullivan, who sought, and missed winning-by a bulldog's whisker — the Republican endorsement for governor this summer, was an able advocate of the Taxpayers' League analysis of the issues. In his race Sullivan showed what James Madison called "the vigilant and manly spirit which actuates the people of America — a spirit which nourishes freedom and in return is nourished by it." Sullivan promised not to raise any new taxes and signed the Taxpayers' League's no-new-taxes pledge. Following Sullivan's lead, his intra-party rival Tim Pawlenty, the capable state house majority leader, signed on to the pledge shortly before the party convention. From then on, Pawlenty took heat for doing so from all the left places, such as the Star Tribune.
Nonetheless, his tax pledge distinguished Pawlenty from the other parties' candidates and made him governor on November 5. Jesse's Ventura's hand-picked successor, former Democrat Tim Penny, won only 16% of the vote. As a result, the Independence Party now slips into the discarded yogurt-tub of irrelevance (only one Independent won any elective office in Minnesota). Democrat Roger Moe, the senate majority leader and decades-long friend of the "high tax/high service tradition" of government in Minnesota, won 36%, trailing Pawlenty by almost ten points.
For an off-year election, Minnesota's voter turnout was its highest in fifty years. As a fan of President Bush's verbal concoctions, I would put it this way: On Tuesday, the Mississippi river of civic spirit overflowed its Minnesota banks, as word just keeps spreading that the pant-leg of opportunity is on the right leg.