Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Dark Side of Minnesota Politics

I tried to write about the dark side of Minnesota earlier, in the post titled "Politics." But I wasn't happy with what I wrote and have deleted it. I said the dark side was embodied in the current Republican Party. The Republicans do represent the more conservative elements within the state; and being a science fiction writer, I am all for the future. But it sounds too much like partisan politics to say DFL = good; Republicans = bad.

Let's talk about the dark side as movements that may or may not adhere to a specific political party.

Abortion is a huge issue here, made so by the Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life and national anti-abortion organizations. When you get outstate in Minnesota, you see one "pro life" billboard after another. The billboards always show a human baby old enough to focus its eyes and smile. I'd say six months plus, though I am not an expert on babies. 99% are white. The hidden message, it seems to me, is "We are losing America to colored people. We need more white babies."

Minnesota has a long history of prejudice against Native Americans. There is also a fair amount of amount of anti-semitism. The prejudice against Native Americans surfaces periodically, mostly in complaints over treaty rights. The anti-semitism is more deeply buried, thanks to the Nazis, who gave anti-semitism a bad name; but I have heard a fair amount of it over time. (People think that someone named Arnason is not likely to be Jewish, which is true. So they figure it's safe to say what they really think.)

Other forms of racism used to be less common, because Minnesota did not have a significant nonwhite population, except for Indians. In the past 20 or so years, African Americans have moved here from Chicago, Detroit, Gary and other Rust Belt cities. Immigrants have been moving into the state in the same period. We now have a number of good-sized immigrant communities, Vietnamese, Hmong, Somalian and Hispanic, among others. Members of these new communities have opened restaurants and stores and made the core cities more colorful and fun. Is there anything brighter than a bright orange or lime green Mexican market building? Or lovelier than Somalian women in their long, graceful dresses? The school systems in Minneapolis and St. Paul are now majority nonwhite, with many kids whose first language is not English.

There are plenty of white Minnesotans who are uncomfortable with this situation. Because racism is not nice, their complaints are often coded.

Like the rest of the country, Minnesota has a fair number of right-wing Christians, who are extremely uncomfortable with religious beliefs different from their own.

Like the rest of the country, Minnesota has people (often right-wing Christians) who are extremely uncomfortable with the idea of gay marriage and gay rights.

And -- balancing the DFL's belief in community and cooperation -- there is also a well-established tradition that believes in limited government, low taxes and letting people solve their problems on their own, without help from the state and local communities. The huge growth in Twin Cities suburbs has made this tradition stronger. Suburbanites seem to believe in hardy independence, though there is nothing on earth less independent and self-reliant than a suburb.

Class conflicts were ferocious in Minnesota in the 1930s and earlier. After WWII, the state entered into a more benign period. But the detente between Minnesota working people and bosses -- the belief that Minnesotans can work together to solve the state's problems -- may be breaking down.

The current Republican governor, Tim Pawlenty, took a "no new taxes" pledge when he ran in 2002; and he has kept the pledge, even though the state's surplus turned into a deficit. He has balanced the state's budget by cutting money for education, health care, roads and local government, and by raiding restricted state funds.

Pawlenty was reelected in 2006, though every other statewide office was taken by the DFL. The DFL also took control of the Minnesota house and retained control of the state senate. We will see what he does next. Rumor has it that he is looking at the 2008 election and the chance to be president of the United States. He has a lot going for him -- reelection in a year when the Republicans got slaughtered, a base in a northern state, and a pleasant personality. He seems like a decent, reasonable guy, though his policies do harm to poor and working people, children and vulnerable adults.


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