Monday, July 6, 2009

Funny Fly-Over State

Many people on the coasts tend to think of my native state of Minnesota as just another fly-over state. Dull farmers stuck, not only in the middle of nowhere, but in the middle of cold nowhere.

Having lived in the East for more than 20 years, I've heard that message quite often. Of course, I know about its vibrant arts scene, high-quality educational institutions, natural beauty and Minnesota Nice people. My career has led me elsewhere, but my heart and soul have never left South Minneapolis.

Every time that supposedly-dull state makes an odd political move (and they have frequently done so), outsiders are caught off guard. Now, Al Franken is about to complete his transition from silly late-night comedy, to the often sillier, but rarely deliberately humorous, U.S. Senate. On Independence Day, David Carr put that event in historical perspective in The New York Times. I will add some further notes:

During the 1930s, Minnesota voters ceded near-complete control of state government to the socialist Farmer-Labor Party, which I described here.

They reversed that trend when they elected a 31-year-old Republican, Harold Stassen, as governor in 1938. Stassen was a major candidate for his party's presidential nomination in 1948. But, having lost that bid, he went on to declare presidential candidacies so often, that he became a national laughing-stock.

After the Democratic and Farmer-Labor parties merged in 1944, Hubert Humphrey emerged as the leading figure in the combined DFL. By the time of his death in 1978, Humphrey had come to be seen by many as a major statesman (although post-mortem revelations of just how beholden he was to international agribusiness interests somewhat tainted his reputation).

But, especially early on in his Senate career, Humphrey was widely perceived as somewhat of a buffoon. He needed to be told that his speeches did not need to be eternal to be immortal. Also, he was derided as someone who had more solutions than there were problems.

After a few years, Humphrey was joined in the Senate by a DFL colleague, Eugene McCarthy, a rather odd politician. He had briefly worked as a college professor, and was obviously more interested in big ideas, than in the tedium that constitutes so much of political work. McCarthy was so unable to concentrate on the things that bored him, that his opponent when he ran for reelection in 1964 unsuccessfully attempted to skewer him with the slogan "Minnesota needs a full-time senator!"

After McCarthy lost the Democratic president nomination to Humphrey in August of 1968, he abandoned the fall campaign, to instead briefly become a sports journalist, covering the World Series for Life magazine.

Carr describes some of the more eccentric characters in subsequent Minnesota politics. Although he omits the Republican gubernatorial candidate who had to drop out of the race in October, after he was accused of acting improperly toward underage girls among his daughter's friends.

In light of all that history, it's strange that some people are still surprised by an event such as Franken's election. It's a fun state! Some time when you're flying over, why don't you stop in for a while?

1 comment:

Terry L. Johnson said...

So, is the Bush-backlash now complete or will there be another election cycle before that is out of our political system?

On the positive side the Democrat party will have no excuse for the effects of their legislation. With a filabuster-proof majority in the Senate they are now free to enact whatever legislation they see fit. And, have 100% responsibility therefrom.

As for Mr. Franken: I wish him well and look forward to hearing his periodic whining on this subject or that.