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Postelection thoughts on politics, governing and greased pigs

Those who claim “victory” in this environment are left holding a slippery pig.

Growing up in western Minnesota, I attended picnics where one of the festivities was a contest to see who could catch a greased pig. There was running, pushing, elbows flying, and people doing whatever it took to catch the pig. The old saying “to the winner goes the spoils” seems appropriate here. More on that later.

Jim Meffert
Jim Meffert

I was particularly interested in the professional analysis of the 2014 election results. Both sides did their best to put their spin on the message voters sent. I was listening for a sign that anyone received the message sent by voters. I heard leaders say things like we will work together in places we agree — meaningless buzzwords with no change in real dynamic. 

The one clear message

The only clear message coming out of this election is the public’s growing and deepening disdain for politics. This message only feeds the growing and deepening separation between campaigns and governing. 

The arguments over the size and role of government go back to the beginning of our nation. Go back to Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Burr, Madison, et al., for examples. There are examples throughout our history to add to this list. 

While the battles in the past were brutal, even deadly, there was still a recognition of a need to move forward and govern. Deals were made behind the scenes. While personal relationships created the space for people to achieve some amazing things, there was a great sense of mission that connected every leader. 

A slower pace and the ability to take time to discern information may have contributed to different governing realities. Let’s take that on another day.

Inspired to hate — or turned off

Our public discourse is reinforcing a politics where we are either inspired to hate or so turned off that we disengage (stay home). The attack ad is a prime example. Another is the limited time and energy spent by campaigns at any level to inspire those who are not already true believers. The day after, the discussion turns to governing. The space to govern continues to deteriorate with every election cycle. 

Here is the lesson from 2014 that everyone should take to heart. Nobody won.

Close races from a low turnout do not create a mandate. It only means one side turned off more people than the other. The growing number of disenchanted voters should cause alarm to someone. Yes, midterm elections have historically low turnouts, but the mood and tenor of those who did turn out should be alarming. 

The undertone of compromise only on the terms of the person behind the microphone pervades every acceptance speech and comment. Listen for phrases like “areas we can find agreement” or desire from the other side to reach out. They are an undertone that does not create a framework for solving problems. 

How to move forward

So to get things started, here are a few suggestions for leaders in D.C.:

  • President Barack Obama should begin by offering a specific deal. It was clear that the GOP is focusing on approval of the Keystone Pipeline. (An aside: For all of the significant issues facing our nation, it is telling that this is a major issue). Obama should approve the pipeline. He should expect the GOP to approve a simple plan to stabilize Social Security: Raise the cap on taxable income in order to create long-term stability for the program. 
  • The GOP congressional leaders should be very tempered publicly and privately frightened for their political lives. After six years of running against Obama, they move into a new reality. Even a day after the election, Rand Paul was running against Hillary Clinton. With a volatile electorate and facing the pendulum swing ahead, 2016 is a daunting reality. 
  • GOP leaders need to figure out how to do something affirmative. They should create a series of policies to reshape the health-care system along with an incremental process to move toward immigration reform. A focused and targeted approach may demonstrate a seriousness to governing that may give them a chance to continue to lead the Senate beyond 2016. 
  • In Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton has a unique opportunity to reshape the way state government functions. The groundwork was prepared with the last legislative session. The relative stability of the budget situation, along with no need for major reform, a governor who has run in his last election, and a divided Legislature create a unique opportunity for rethinking operations. The GOP leaders in the House should be willing partners in this much-needed effort.

Back to the pig. I could never figure out the chase for the greased pig. It seemed to me a strange choice to run around the pig pen, in the muck and with the pushing and shoving when in the end, you get to hold a greased pig. Those who claim “victory” in this environment are left holding a slippery pig.

Jim Meffert is a senior consultant at Tecker International LLC. In 2010 he was the DFL challenger to U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen in Minnesota’s Third District.


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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/06/2014 - 09:41 am.

    Social Security

    I would like to note here that Social Security is stable. The debate we are having is whether to destabilize it, to turn bonds into IOU’s.

    • Submitted by Alex Seymour on 11/06/2014 - 04:30 pm.

      SS is not stable

      Errr….. Bonds are IOUs. Maybe you mean explicit and implicit?

      Social Security is not stable. This is how pension accounting works.

      SS has made promises on pension payouts. This is an obligation so consider it a debt. This is implicated.
      SS has money coming in from the payroll tax. It also has a trust fund filled with Treasury Bonds. This is an asset or a credit. It is explicit.

      The SS debt is much greater than its assets. If this was a normal pension fund the accounts would shut it down for being severely underfunded. (SS is not normal, but that is a slightly different topic.)

      As of today, even though SS is severely underfunded, it has cash on hand to pay out current obligations. That is until 2033 when the reserve fund is exhausted. After that – who knows what. SS is not stable.

  2. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 11/06/2014 - 12:17 pm.

    And Keystone Pipeline?

    Thank you, Mr. Foster.

    Mr. Meffert’s suggestion that the President offer the Republicans a deal is a reasonable and worthwhile one but purely for the cameras. I doubt that a Republican Senate which refused to allow even the most conciliatory of appointments to the judiciary or the cabinet is going to accept it.

    But I would also ask, why offer the Keystone Pipeline as such a deal? I know the Republicans supposedly have a “veto-proof” majority with the assistance of DINOs in the Senate. The Keystone Pipeline is not in the national public interest and that is the President’s call. If the Republicans want to politicize this issue, then let the President take it to the Courts. Win, lose or draw, the President and Progressive politics would not be harmed but would be galvanized by such a move. FDR lost a number of cases in the right wing, “horse and buggy” Supreme Court before 1937 which held his policies unconstitutional. These decisions were later overruled by a less activist, progressive judiciary. I hope the President rejects the Keystone Pipeline and the Presidential permit it needs and draws a line in the “tar sand” against any expansion of its importation or development.

  3. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 11/06/2014 - 12:59 pm.

    How optimistic

    As much as I’d like to believe the claim by both the President (or Governor) and the GOP that they’ll work together, the proof is in the pudding. The very first thing Obama did was reach to the Republicans with a Republican plan on health care. They refused to even show up to a meeting. Then, they claimed that they had no say when it passed and was signed into law. They’ve spent the last several years doing nothing but throwing tantrums about it. I don’t think the President or Governor should give up ANYTHING before the GOP PROVES that they’re looking to work IN the government FOR the people, including embracing compromise right out of the gate. That being said, the Keystone Pipeline is a no-go, as far as I’m concerned. Unless there is a demonstrable benefit to the vast majority of the people, there is no justification for the environmental risk. So far, I’ve seen no evidence of a benefit to the majority, only to a minority, and nothing that comes even close to outweighing the long term health and environmental risk of enabling increased petroleum use, on a local, national, or global level.

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