Weekend coverage emanating from Minnesota via Reuters and the Associated Press is doing its level best to run interference for Democratic Governor Mark Dayton, who has chosen to shut down the government rather than sign a budget which does not include tax increases.
One unbylined AP report is a softball Q&A which inadvertently gives away that Dayton's intransigence is, from his point of view, far more about party politics than the welfare of Minnesotans. In a longer AP profile by Patrick Condon with help from Martiga Lohn, Dayton abuses the Bible, in this case Luke 12:48 (as "progressives usually do), and reveals the all too typical liberal guilt found in born-wealthy liberals. In that second report, Condon provides another giveaway by drawing a parallel to President Obama and DC Democrats who are heading down a similar path on the national level. It's a pretty obvious reminder to Dayton that he can't afford to have a Democratic governor give in on the issue and set a problematic precedent for Washington.
But let's begin with the coverage at Reuters by Todd Melby, who decided to unnecessarily include "colorful" language (though with a warning) in his report:
Minnesotans frustrated, angry over state government shutdown
(Warning: Use of strong language in paragraph 3)
Tara and Jose Garcia wanted to spend the holiday weekend camping with their four children.
But a Minnesota government shutdown prevented them from pitching a tent at a state park. So they checked out county campgrounds, only to find those parks overflowing with people.
"It's bulls--t," said Tara Garcia of Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota. "I am just feeling, 'Are you kidding? C'mon!'"
So the Garcias parked their minivan at Ft. Snelling, a state historical site nestled on the edge of the Mississippi River, just outside Minneapolis. That too was closed. They wandered the desolate paths anyway, with nerf guns in hand and a gaggle of kids, all under age 8.
After Democratic Governor Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders failed to reach agreement on a $5 billion budget deficit Thursday, state offices, parks, highway rest areas and a state zoo were shuttered. In addition, 22,000 government workers were hit with layoff notices.
When negotiations broke down, the two sides were about $1.4 billion apart with Democrats insisting on a tax increase for the rich and Republicans strongly opposed. The partisan impasse angered many people.
"You have a job to do, figure out how to do your job," said Laura Sandquist, 27, of Bloomington, Minnesota, who was at Ft. Snelling with her husband. The pair were not there to visit, but to unload their bikes and go for a ride along the river.
Jeff Sandquist, also 27, did not think the shutdown would actually happen. "It's mean," he said. "I'm sure they are both to blame."
The "clever" Mr. Melby used Jeff Sandquist's response to avoid the fundamental point: If the legislature passes a law or indicates that it will do so to keep the government running and the governor either vetoes or refuses to consider it, it's the governor's action which has caused the government to shut down. Also, as is usually the case in the ignorant mainstream press, Melby characterized Dayton's desired income-tax increases as affecting "the rich," when they really affect high-income earners who may or may not be rich.
Dayton's answer to AP's softball question in the wire service's brief Q&A makes a mockery of his and Democrats' claim to the be the party of compassion:
On who loses politically in a shutdown: "I think the Republican majorities in the House and Senate and I will all suffer politically. I told them at the very beginning of session, I told their leaders, we can either make each other look good or we can make each other look bad. Our political fortunes are kind of inexplicably tied together here."
Sure, the question is (conveniently) about "political" suffering (if this were an interview of a GOP governor refusing to accept tax increases, it would be about "the people suffering"), but one benchmark dictating who suffers is who causes the suffering. It is because of Dayton alone that, as the longer AP report describes, "State parks and the Minnesota Zoo are closed, highway projects are stalled and thousands of government workers are at home without pay for the foreseeable future." If raising taxes is such a popular action in the Gopher state, a) tax increases could pass separately in an up-or-down vote without holding up the entire state budget, and b) the legislature wouldn't be in the GOP's control in the first place. Neither is the case, indicating that Dayton, with media help, is attempting to win the battle not on its merits, but instead by building a false sense of pressure.
Dayton's biblical reference reads as follows in Condon't item:
"My father's favorite quote was from the Bible: 'Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required,'" Dayton told The Associated Press on Friday afternoon in his Capitol office.
Two points: First, the Biblical admonition is a personal one, and second, having the state force you to "give" isn't "giving" at all, and does nothing towards meeting the Biblical requirement.
Dayton's born-to-wealth guilt is embodied in the following two paragraphs:
The political ideology underpinning Dayton's actions isn't limited to his experiences as a personally wealthy man. In Friday's interview, he described his years after graduating from college at Yale, which included a short time teaching in an inner-city school in New York City.
"All these kids in my classroom were just as wonderful creations as I, and through no choice of our own, I was born into this great good fortune and they were born into this abject poverty," Dayton said. "The injustice really seared my conscience."
Dayton's reaction to the inner-city classroom situation, contrary to Condon's assertion, is totally based on "his experiences as a (guilty-feeling) personally wealthy man." Dayton doesn't appreciate that in a properly structured education system with competitive schools, any kid can grow up to be a great person, do great things, and, if it's their chosen path, become wealthy by working hard and creating value for others. The tragedy is that the inner-city public school system he wishes to perpetuate -- "Dayton has said publicly that he opposes school voucher programs" -- will likely never do that for the vast majority of its students.
The following text from Condon's piece makes it clear that this is a critical moment for Dayton, who in Condon's eyes can't be a worthy carrier of the "courageous" liberal flame unless he wins this battle:
Last week, President Barack Obama echoed Dayton when he called for upper-bracket income tax increases as a means of shrinking the country's debt. Obama even used a term Dayton has repeated like a mantra: A "balanced approach" to describe a mix of tax increases and spending cuts they both have said is the surest way to restore stability to government budgeting.
"I do think Democrats around the country are looking for models of courage, and strong leaders they can use as a model," said Jeff Blodgett, a longtime friend who was an adviser to one of Dayton's closest allies, the late Sen. Paul Wellstone. "He isn't afraid to be honest and direct about his principles."
Dayton stands now as the heir to Minnesota's long line of successful liberal Democrats, a tree that includes Wellstone and former vice presidents Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale.
It's equally clear that this is a pivotal moment for Republican legislators in what has sometimes been called the Land of 10,000 Taxes. The nation will be watching to see who bends first.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.