MinnPost asked a number of Minnesota officials, political observers and public-policy experts to share their reactions to Election Day results and the 2008 election season. Here are a few of their responses:
Sen. Amy Klobuchar: ‘A triumph of hope and unity’
The 2008 presidential election was a triumph of hope and unity over fear and divisiveness. Barack Obama’s election reshapes America’s political landscape and wipes away the false geography of “red states” and “blue states.”
As president, Barack Obama has the potential to finally bring our country together to meet the enormous challenges ahead. This includes restoring economic prosperity, moving toward energy independence, delivering affordable health care for all and implementing a responsible, effective foreign policy.
We celebrate Barack’s historic victory. But now we must work together, with a new president at the helm, to move our country forward. We will reach across the aisle in Washington just as each of us must reach across the street to our neighbors. When our challenges are so large, our politics can no longer be small. The voters have spoken, and we’ve chosen Barack Obama to lead us forward.
Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate.
Bill Green: A great moment in our country, our city and our schools
Last night we crossed a threshold in history. I am moved by the heroism of the American people — to face old fears and look beyond them to a future of equity, change and hope. It is exciting that young people played a major role in leading our country out of the darkness of fear and into a new day and a bright future.
There’s a direct link between the larger election and the passage of the Strong Schools, Strong City referendum in Minneapolis. It is those young people: our future citizens. I’m especially proud of Minneapolis voters for passing the referendum. The “Yes” vote on this levy, especially in the midst of extreme economic hardship for many of our families, says something vitally important about the citizens of Minneapolis. Very few school districts and very few communities in this country, in this economy, could have made this happen right now. This is a great moment in our country, our city and our schools.
Bill Green is the superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools.
Mitch Pearlstein: Americans show fundamental decency, fairness
I’ve long been of the mind that the overwhelming majority of Americans are of bone-deep good will when it comes to respecting the religious devotions of their fellows. Similarly, in matters of race, I’ve long believed the overwhelming majority of citizens are fundamentally fair men and women and that we’ve made much more progress as a nation than obligatory and by-rote demurrals would suggest. I very much wanted John McCain to win. But the fact that Barack Obama did confirmed my faith in the fundamental decency of the American people. President-elect Obama is a remarkably compelling leader, and as with all new commanders in chief, I wish him Godspeed.
Mitch Pearlstein is founder and president of Center of the American Experiment in Minneapolis.
J. Brian Atwood: Obama has a keen ear for cross-cultural dialogue
The election of Barak Obama is historic, not only because it breaks a huge racial barrier that has plagued our nation, but also because the American people have chosen a leader with a multicultural background and deep intercultural understanding. Contrary to the campaign argument that Obama lacked international experience, he in fact has a feel for other cultures that few newly elected presidents have had. The president-elect is as familiar with Asian and African culture as he is with that of Kansas, where his mother was born of European stock.
American presidents since Roosevelt have had to acquire on-the-job the skills to communicate across cultures, and, because of their own limited international experience and our superpower status, most assumed that their interlocutors would accommodate to our American style. For the most part they did, but not entirely willingly. This may seem like a small point, but a one-way channel is limiting and administrations have sometimes been unaware when resentment crept in to thwart a diplomatic objective. We remain a superpower and foreign nations and peoples still want U.S. leadership on issues as far reaching as climate change, Middle East peace, the global financial crisis and terrorism. Barak Obama has said he is ready to engage and he will do so with energy, creativity and a keen ear for the nuances of cross-cultural dialogue. That is a tremendous advantage in pursuing the U.S. national interest in a world of nations who have their own agendas and communication styles.
J. Brian Atwood is the dean of the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota. Atwood served for six years as Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) during the Clinton administration and before that was Under Secretary of State for Management. Atwood received the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award in 1999.
Don Fraser: A giant step toward ‘a more perfect union’
The election was a tribute to America’s capacity to overcome our racial divide — a divide that has plagued this nation for centuries. The election of an African American as president is a giant step toward fulfilling the promise in our Constitution to form a “more perfect union, establish justice, (and) insure domestic tranquility.”
But we are not done. We are challenged now to end the educational divide in America that limits opportunity for too many of our children. For that “more perfect union” we must educate all children of every racial or ethnic heritage to their full potential.
Don Fraser is a former mayor of Minneapolis and member of the U.S. Congress. He is a director emeritus of Ready 4K, an early-childhood-education organization.
Michael Barnett: Obama understands what global challenges require
For the last eight years the rest of the world has watched America’s actions in the world with lots of shock and very little awe. Much of the world bitterly complained about American policies that seem to be not only self-destructive but also designed to take the rest of the world with it. Our international standing kept sinking, to the point that international polls ranked the United States as a greater menace to international society than Iran.
We have much to answer for. But, to steal from that trite phrase from the movie “Love Story,” Barack Obama means never having to say you’re sorry. By electing Obama the American people have acknowledged that for the last eight years we were not at our best. As atonement, we have elected a president who understands that the great global challenges that lie ahead will require imagination, smarts, grit, determination, a nuanced understanding of power, an ability to listen, and an ability to broker new kinds of coalitions. These were the qualities that enabled Barack Obama to make American history, and these are the qualities that are likely to inform a new style in American foreign policy. Obama makes it possible again to utter the words “American leadership.”
Michael Barnett is the Harold Stassen Chair of International Relations at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs and an adjunct professor of political science at the University of Minnesota. He teaches and does research on international relations, international organizations, humanitarian action, the United Nations and the politics of the Middle East.
Peter Bell: Republicans must offer more than ‘Democrat lite’
As the Republican Party sorts through the rubble of yesterday’s election, major questions confront the party, the state and nation. The Republican Party must decide if “playing to the base” is a better strategy than expanding the base. If it is the latter, and I hope it is, the party must reassess its positions and find its voice on key issues such as health care, immigration, income inequity, infrastructure development, climate change, and the role of the country in international affairs. We must offer something more to the state and nation than “Democrat lite” on these issues.
There also will be much discussion regarding if this is an election of realignment. Did the Democrats really win the election or did the Republicans lose it because they faced an uphill battle due to an unpopular president, the unquestioned press bias and the state of the economy. My personal view is we are seeing a major realignment given the number of new voters, and young voters in this election.
One of the most important things the Republican Party needs to do is develop an organization like The Democrat Leadership Council. This organization in the mid-90s had a moderating influence on the Democratic Party and provided many of the ideas that Bill Clinton used to get elected.
Many Republicans will argue that whatever we do we must stay true to our values. Some will interpret that to mean staying true to the conservative Christian agenda. I hope it means that we continue to insist that government can’t create wealth. It can only redistribute it. The road to a middle-class life is attained by valuing education, hard work, honesty, and perseverance. Adhering to these values is far more important to individual and national success than any government policy or program.
Peter Bell, a Republican, is chair of the Metropolitan Council.
Arvonne Fraser: Movements matter — it’s a dream come true
Movements matter. As does political courage. Think LBJ, Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil-rights movement. Think Kay Hagen defeating Sen. Elizabeth Dole, taking the seat once held by Jesse Helms, and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire defeating a Sununu.
It’s a new world with a half-black man, raised by grandparents, as our new president. With Iowa — a very white state — holding midwinter caucuses beginning this breath-taking endeavor. And those civic-minded election judges working long hours, and all the young people clutching their ballots lining up to vote. It’s a dream come true and the whole world is forever changed. Wonderful to have lived to see it!
Arvonne Fraser, a longtime DFL Party activist and a political appointee in the Carter and Clinton administrations, is the author of a recent memoir, “She’s No Lady: Politics, Family and International Feminism.”
Al McFarlane: ‘Neighbor by neighbor, vote by vote, a sea of change’
Neighbors streamed toward NorthPoint Social Services center at 1315 Penn Avenue North, like rivers and creeks making their way a larger body of water. Groups of two and sometimes three approaching from Queen Avenue at 14th mirrored individuals and other groups of two or three residents approaching from the Penn Avenue side of 14th Street. Drivers made patient smiling eye contact with other motorists, each chivalrously inviting the other to proceed to their polling-place parking space, each deferring to cars that were exiting the parking lot, having delivered voice and vision in the form of voters’ ballots. The parking lot was completely full.
These voters were walking from their residences in the neighborhood, or from a parking space they may have had to find on the street. But they flowed, quietly, confidently, brandishing a certain intensity, a keen focus, gliding through the perimeter gates, across the parking lot, up the stairs, through the double building doors to become, neighbor by neighbor, vote by vote, a sea of change.
Al McFarlane is Editor-In-Chief, Insight News.
R.T. Rybak: Through Obama’s mirror, we saw our better selves
An elderly African-American woman and her three grandchildren walked by me on Broadway Avenue Tuesday morning. I waved my Obama sign at her and asked: “Are you going to vote?” She said: “I’m going to make history.” I looked at that woman, and those boys, and knew that as much as Obama is about so much more than race, we crossed an enormous hurdle that many of us can’t even yet comprehend.
It would also be a mistake, though, to think this is all about race. In many ways, it was a triumph of a country with these deep scars finding a way to see them, and the move beyond them. I first saw that a year ago in Buffalo Corners, a little town in Iowa just across the border. A van full of U of M students and I drove into town on a freezing morning to knock on every door in town. We told them about this guy with this funny name that a couple said sounded like a terrorist, and with brochures showing someone who didn’t look like anyone in town. And in the end, none of that was as important as who he was and what he was going to do with a country in deep trouble. A couple weeks later I stood in a crowd in Des Moines on the night of the Iowa caucuses when the announcer said: “And now, the next first family of the United States.” When that beautiful family walked out onto the stage you could feel that mostly white audience take in what this meant, and then split all of us into every color and celebrate that we could move on.
You can almost imagine the Chris Rock routine this morning: “Oh sure, once they got two wars going, the economy in shambles and the planet melting down, they give the job to the black guy!”
Funny but not true. When we faced one of the toughest moments in our generation, a remarkable man and a remarkable campaign turned a mirror onto the American people and we saw our better selves.
R.T. Rybak is the mayor of Minneapolis.
Tim Penny: The race that wearied us won’t go away
Leading into Election Day, voter fatigue was palpable. More than in any other campaign, Minnesota voters were eagerly awaiting an end to the noisy and nasty race between Senate candidates Norm Coleman and Al Franken. Roughly $20 million apiece was spent by these competitors – most of it on attack ads. The Independence Party’s candidate, Dean Barkley, garnered a respectable 15 percent of the vote, in part driven by voter disgust with the Coleman-Franken fracas.
But now, sadly, voters will not get the respite they deserve. The razor thin margin of Coleman’s victory will cause an automatic recount. Franken hints at lawsuits and voter fraud. The election is over, but unfortunately, the race we were most wearied by won’t go away. I have a plea to these two contenders: Give it a rest, so we can get ours.
Tim Penny is a senior fellow at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, and is president and CEO of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. He represented Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District from 1982 through 1994.
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