Our political Quote of the Day comes from The New Republic’s Walter Shapiro, who notes how the ongoig Minnesota government shutdown underscores the sad, dreadful state of America’s mega-partisan politics. Here’s the beginning and the end of his piece:
It is not the kind of statistic commemorated on a brass plaque at baseball’s Cooperstown or certified by the exacting taskmasters from Guinness. But Minnesota appears to have set a modern-day record for deadlocked state government, with its eleven-day shutdown of all but essential services. In fact, with budget negotiations stalled in St. Paul, Minnesota will soon surpass the epic 15-day federal stand-off between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich in 1995 and 1996. When the history of the twenty-first-century breakdown in faith in government is written, Minnesota will deserve its own chapter.
In theory, nothing could be more politically self-destructive than for elected public officials to stubbornly allow Minnesota’s 66 state parks—not to mention the capitol building—to remain padlocked through two successive summer weekends. Especially since the dispute between Democratic Governor Mark Dayton and the Republican legislature has been whittled down to a difference of about $1.4 billion, or just $264 for each of Minnesota’s 5.3 million residents. But the irrational has, alas, become commonplace in America in 2011. As Carleton College political scientist Steven Schier put it, “What we’re seeing in Minnesota is the AAA baseball version of the debt-ceiling negotiations in Washington.”
The breakdown seems an almost inevitable consequence of the 2010 elections, which made Dayton the state’s first Democratic governor in two decades but saddled him with a legislature in which Republicans hold comfortable majorities in both chambers. Throw in a $5 billion projected deficit bequeathed by Dayton’s two-term predecessor, Tim Pawlenty, and you have a formula for political disaster. For all of Minnesota’s smile-button reputation, the state’s politics are probably even more polarized that those on Capitol Hill. “Eight years ago we had just one Michele Bachmann in the Minnesota senate,” said veteran liberal Democratic state senator John Marty. “Now, we have maybe twenty or forty of them in the legislature.”
And his ending:
But, beyond the narrow implications for [former Gov. Tim] Pawlenty’s political fate, the broader national message from Minnesota is how easy it is for both parties to step off the cliff, heedless of the consequences. Already, there is talk that the government shutdown could last for months. Minnesota’s predicament underscores how difficult it is for politicians who willingly close down state parks over the Fourth of July to accept anything less than total victory. But this is what happens when political differences morph into moralistic struggles over unyielding principle. And, from the state that once gave the nation political figures like Hubert Humphrey, it is a chilling precedent for Washington, as the debt clock ticks towards its August 2 rendezvous with destiny.
As I’ve noted repeatedly here, American politics is now seemingly less about policy that one big, fat political athletic event where each side wants to win so they can do high fives and rub the other side’s face in their victory and the other “team’s” loss. And the cheerleaders are talk show hosts who profit from whipped-up partisan audiences who believe the words “compromise” and “consensus” are filthier than words used by Mel Gibson in phone calls. As they say, elections have consequences (although you’d never know it listening to liberal Democrats who say they’ll sit out 2012 and teach their party a lesson like they did before.)
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.