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Gov. Arne Carlson Blog: Bedford Falls or Pottersville?

At this time of the year, many of us replay the marvelous Christmas film, It’s a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. It is a lovely and meaningful story about the impact of a community oriented focus versus the selfishness of accumulating personal wealth. The choice is between a vibrant inclusive community of Bedford Falls where everyone is important and realizes the value of the big “we” as opposed to “Pottersville” which represents a decadent and dying town ravaged by one individual’s greed. 

The choice is simple: everyone loves Bedford Falls and the wholesomeness of its community. In so many ways, it is the realization of the American Dream

The power of that message was not only appropriate for the 1930’s and 40’s when this country was rebuilding itself from a devastating depression while fighting World War II. No, this was the essence of the “Greatest Generation” that provided this nation with superb leadership well into the 1990’s.

Today, we must decide whether we want to build a Bedford Falls or a Pottersville. Increasingly, this is becoming the debate.

Here in Minnesota, we recently witnessed the decline and fall of Tony Sutton as the Republican Party chairman and the announcement that the party is broke and attempting to manage a massive debt approaching $600,000. Many people have asked me if I was delighted by this failure of the “new Right”.

My answer is an emphatic “no”. I would argue that the party has moved in the wrong direction and it is no surprise that the administrations of Governor Tim Pawlenty and Tony Sutton have left behind crushing financial messes. Yes, the Republican Party went from moderate to what I call “the new Right”. But it was more than a shift in political philosophy. Leaders like Sutton and Pawlenty and numerous others saw the party as representing not only a different and more narrow philosophy but also as having the power to rigidly enforce that philosophy on its elected members. Orthodoxy prevailed over representativeness and the result has been that cooperative governance with Democrats, Independents and Republican moderates is not possible. It is either the way of the “new Right” or not at all.

Politics is no longer a contest of competing ideas with respect for dissent but increasingly the imposition of an authoritarianism that all too often is cloaked in patriotism and religion. In this environment, the party and its beliefs are paramount and elected officials serve the party. Any deviation is defined as “traitor”, “Rhino”, “disloyal”, etc.

However, my memory of Republicanism in Minnesota goes back to a party that was always building a better community with leaders like George Thiss, Rhoda Lund, Bob Forsythe, Chuck Slocum, Nancy Brataas and others who clearly understood the role of parties in seeking candidates who represented the “best and brightest” and were committed to governing for the well being of the whole. So many of our leaders came out of the progressivism of Harold Stassen while still committed to the conservative virtues of prudent financial management. Policies ranging from consumer and environmental protection to human rights to metropolitan governance bore the fingerprints of an endless array of community oriented GOP Governors from Elmer Andersen to Harold LeVander through Al Quie and on.

In addition, Republicans produced an endless array of truly talented legislators from all over Minnesota who came to our capital city to govern and always with an eye to the future. Simply put, Republicans, like their counterparts, the Democrats, felt that good politics stemmed from the competition of good ideas that produced quality governance.

And in this mix, leaders from every walk of life and every profession from medicine to agriculture participated. There seemed to be a sense of obligation to give something of oneself in order to build a better community for our children.

In so many ways, the competition between Republicans and Democrats produced not only outstanding national leaders from both parties but it also drove our passion for a high quality of life. Excellence was always the goal.

Yes, there was ambition but advancement was based more on merit and that is the way it should be as opposed to the current climate that rewards raw ambition and a blind adherence to a confining party agenda.

The Republican Party both in Minnesota and nationally has a choice to make. Does it want to build a true Bedford Falls with a commitment to the well being of the whole or does it want to lead us to “Pottersville” where the quality of life rests with the privileged few?

This post was written by Arne Carlson and originally published on the Govenor Arne Carlson blog.

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Comments (24)

Arne Carlson is a Republican that I would happily vote for. Although I am generally a Democrat and come from Democrats on both sides of the family, his views are very closely aligned with mine--strong centrist and practical views, with innovation mixed in. He, and those like him, represent what Middle America is all about. Bring back the Arne Carlsons!

I liked Gov. Carlson's comments so much that I "previewed" them on my own blog last February:

Does "barf" have one "f" or two?

Nick Coleman apparently thinks Arne Carlson is ripping him off, despite that fact that his screed was about gambling, while Carlson's is about partisanship. Details are such a bother.

And why am I not surprised that certain commenters can't even consider anyone else's ideas without making some sort of snide and unhelpful comment. Such an approach simply affirms Carlson's argument.

Welcome to Pottersville.

Excellent article, Governor Carlson. And Nick.

Dennis Tester makes an appearance that helpfully demonstrates the level of rhetoric from the New Right.

The 2012 election should be interesting. The Trojan horse of the New Right has emptied out since the last election. Voters, hopefully, will be more skeptical of promises made and promises not kept.

Thanks to MinnPost for providing rational and varied political discourse.

Actually, the leaders of the "new right" in Minnesota and nationwide have ALREADY made that choice back in the days of Ronnie Raygun.

They chose Pottersville.

That's why they refused to endorse Arnie Carlson and have kicked him out of the party.

What remains to be seen is whether this "failure of the new right" will help lead the psychologically healthier, more moderate Republicans (who are, I believe, the majority) to wrest control out of their party away from those who took it over in the 1980s simply by virtue of being the nastiest, most belligerent people attending the average precinct caucus,...

and turn their party back toward the light.

"Politics is no longer a contest of competing ideas with respect for dissent but increasingly the imposition of an authoritarianism that all too often is cloaked in patriotism and religion. In this environment, the party and its beliefs are paramount and elected officials serve the party. Any deviation is defined as “traitor”, “Rhino”, “disloyal”, etc."

Thank you, Governor.

Mr Prescott: If I thought Arne Carlson was "ripping me off" you wouldn't have to think so hard to figure it out. I liked the governor's remarks, and filed them under GMTA.
You ain't in there.

Well Arne, you've delivered another delightful commentary for MinnPost's leftist readership.

I hope you won't mind a few observations?

You say that "Bedford Falls where everyone is important and realizes the value of the big “we” as opposed to “Pottersville” which represents a decadent and dying town ravaged by one individual’s greed." and I can certianly see where that view would appeal to a leftist, however I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that in Bedford Falls, "we" is "us", not the government.

As I recall, it is George's childhood pal, who has made a fortune in business, that comes to his's leftist Bedford would have been invaded by a cadre of bureaucrats and government paid social workers.

George's Building and Loan provides fair financing for working class people, *working* being an operative word here; it's loans are directed by the mandate of a "Community Reinvestment Act" to provide those loans to people that clearly have no means to repay them.

You're right though Arne.

Bedford Falls does still look like the American Dream to many Americans...We're mocked and hated by many of your new friends, but you can bet your DFL card that we'll keep working towards that dream.

Of course I meant to say "it's loans are [not] directed by the mandate of a "Community Reinvestment Act"

Similar observations in a must-read piece in New York Magazine by conservative David Frum: "When Did the GOP Lose Touch With Reality?"

Notable quote about the influence of Fox and right-wing media: "Conservatism has evolved from a political philosophy into a market segment."

Frum has been thrown under the bus by the GOP for voicing Disagreement Of Any Kind.

Gov. Carlson articulates a simple but eloquent point about how Beford Falls and Pottersville represent the best of what we can do and the worst of what we could do. He then points out how traditional Republicans along with most Democrats and independents viewed Bedford Falls as the vastly better model. Gov. Carlson generously allows that the "new Right" Republican Party must choose between Bedford Falls and Pottersville. Clearly, in my opinion, the Republican Party has already chosen and has embraced the Pottersville model - unashamedly I suspect. Then Mr. Swift thoroughly underscores Gov. Carlson's whole argument by missing the whole point. And that's why the "new Right" will ultimately fail - Americans would still rather look like Bedford Falls than Pottersville - but the "new Right" is quite content with Pottersville.

Arne Carlson is the only Republican I have ever voted for...albeit for state auditor.

"Americans would still rather look like Bedford Falls than Pottersville"

No argument there Jim. The devil is, as always, in the details.

Leftists want to move into subsidized Bailey Park homes, which will require a never ending stream of Potters from whom they will extract their comfort through government support paid for by confiscatory taxation (it's OK though, 'cause Potter's evil, see?).

Conservatives will build it, and pay for it themselves.

BTW, I wonder if anyone else has observed that most Democrat strongholds resemble Pottersville, while GOP areas look at least somewhat like Bedford Falls?

Coincidence? Probably not. There's a lesson for *you* Arne.

Mr. Coleman,

I apologize for misreading your comment. I hope you can see how that might have been possible.

And though maybe I had it coming, I also hope you can see how including two insults in a 36-word comment does not exactly raise the level of discourse. You may agree with Gov. Carlson, but you may have also missed a significant part of his point.

I'm afraid I don't see what you mean, Mr. Swift. Whatever resemblance there is is superficial. Therefore, it's probably not a coincidence, but a figment of your imagination.

Back in the day, Arne used to give everyone a little hell and didn't pull too many punches either while he was in office. But at the end of the day, Governor Carlson always reached out to get the job done. I believe a majority of folks would say the state benefited from his leadership.

Thank you Governor.

Do they? Once again, it seems you are again the victim of your own tendencies to oversimplify. My neighborhood is filled with immaculate beautiful old homes within easy walking or biking distance of what are mostly independently owned businesses.

I have the feeling, Mr. Swift, that you live in an area where one must drive from your cheaply constructed, over-priced home into a disoriented "center" filled with strip malls and Walmarts.

One neighborhood represents a thoughtful liberal approach to planning. The other, Mr. Smith, is your disheveled ideal.

But, if it makes you happy, I wish you the best.

"My neighborhood is filled with immaculate beautiful old homes within easy walking or biking distance of what are mostly independently owned businesses."

Well, clearly you don't live in Phillips, North or NE MPLS, Saint Paul's W 7th, Eastside or Frogtown.

To gauge how much value leftists put on "independently owned businesses" I suggest you talk to any owner on University Ave...but hurry, they're dropping like flies. LOL!

Kudos to Governor Carlson for his service to our state and ongoing contributions to the search for the virtues of balance and compromise and good government.

Mr. Swift says “the conservatives will build it and pay for it themselves.” Oh, surely.
As we’ve seen, the conservative formula of passing tax cuts for the "job creators” or refusing to tax them effectively to begin with has created a plethora of jobs. Obviously the problem lies with the middle class that just doesn't want to work and are not content with a $10/hr. wage. There is an assumption that most people are just lazy and prefer to be on unemployment and welfare – they lack the ambition to earn their share and consequently lack the means to pay for it, so they burden those few with the grit and tenacity to work harder and truly earn. The tax breaks and deductions that allow millionaires and corporations to pay no taxes are in place because, after all, they are the wealthy job creators. The assumption is that they are smarter, work harder, and have earned the right to these privileges. Despite having shown that mortgage lenders were dishonest in the tactics they used to get buyers to sign for loans, the blame is still with the little guy. They should have known better. No one is blaming Bernie Madoff’s victims for believing him; what is the difference?
Give me a break with your “we'll build it and pay for it ourselves” argument. It is simply a double standard. When the wealthy receive assistance from congress and our government, it is a ‘tax Break’, a ‘deduction’, or an ‘economic stimulus’. If you are not wealthy, it’s just a handout. One out of two people in this country is poor. What does it say about us, as a nation, that in these economic times we call the jobless lazy and irresponsible and call the people, who created the financial mess, responsible and hard working?

So much misinformation by the right it's astounding. I haven't lived in Minnesota since Arne was governor, and it's sad to see the state overrun by people spreading lies through ignorance.

Where to I start. First off CRA didn't have anything to do with the financial crisis. Zero, Zip, Nada. CRA was only affecting inner-city homes in areas that were red-lined. No McMansions in the 'burbs that were the primary cause of the collapse. Research shows CRA loans actually have a lower rate of default.

Next, the left is the champion of independent business. Surely it's not the left fighting to bring in another Walmart. When was the last time lefties were out trying to give some mega-corporation the right to bulldoze small businesses? Hmm?

No point discussing things with people that don't recognize facts. I voted for Arne, and I remember the "new right" people that kicked him out put up a candidate that went hot-tubbing with teenage girls to show his "family values". That exemplifies the moral code of the new right.

Gov. Arne Carlson Blog: Bedford Falls or Pottersville?

My response is a determined "no". I might contend that the gathering has moved in the wrong heading and it is no astonish that the organizations of Governor Tim Pawlenty and Tony Sutton have abandoned smashing budgetary wreckage heaps. Yes, the Republican Party went from moderate to what I call "the new Right". Anyhow it was more than a movement in political reasoning. Pioneers like Sutton and Pawlenty and various others saw the gathering as speaking to an alternate and more limited theory as well as having the ability to unbendingly uphold that logic on its chosen parts. Universality predominated over representativeness and the outcome has been that helpful administration with Democrats, Independents and Republican conservatives is not conceivable. It is either the method for the "new Right" or not in any way.

This part is superb, Thanks!