Instances of Discovery

Since August 2007 I have been a monthly columnist for the St. Cloud Times. My theme, taken from the mission statement of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, is “the renewal of human community.” The columns are republished here with permission of the St. Cloud Times.

Column #035. First published in the St. Cloud Times June 22, 2010

Times columnists sometimes have to scrounge for the “news peg” the paper wants us to hang our writing on, but once in a while it simply screams at us.

In early June, two news reports and two columns converged to pose fundamental questions about what sort of society we are and want to be.

Two events in St. Cloud on June 4, reported in the Times the next day, posed a stark contrast. One was a tea party rally at Lake George attended by U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann; the other a seminar at the St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce at which U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar was the keynoter.

The basic political contest of 2010 is between those such as Bing Skelton of Clearwater, who attended the Lake George event and said what is frequently reported about the sentiments of tea partiers (“We want America back”) and those like me who believe we haven’t lost America and that the tea party ideology puts America at risk.

The tea party movement claims to speak for “the people.” Bachmann put it this way: “I can see normal as far as the eye can see.”

What I see, however, is different. A Gallup Poll in March found only 28 percent of Americans support the tea party movement. And I see a different normal when I’m out door knocking. (I’m an associate chair of Senate District 15 for the DFL.)

Hundreds of people I’ve talked to — and most of them are not Democrats — are upset about many things, but suspicious of anyone, whether right or left, who has a prepackaged answer to complex questions. They don’t see government as the entire problem or the entire solution. And even the tea partiers themselves aren’t as monolithic as fellow columnist Barbara Banaian would have you believe in her June 4 column, “Tea party brewing for change.”

A Winston Group (Republican-leaning) poll uncovered a disconnect between the core tea party dogmas of cutting spending and cutting taxes on the one hand and actual policy alternatives on the other: “61 percent of tea party members believe infrastructure spending creates jobs. Moreover, given the choice, tea party members favor 63-32
reducing unemployment to 5 percent over balancing the budget.”

The Chamber of Commerce seminar was called “A World of Opportunity: Promoting Export Success for Small and Mid-Sized Businesses.” Klobuchar discussed the Export Promotion Act she has co-sponsored that will help such businesses promote products and find markets overseas. The bill would restore staffing levels for a Department of Commerce program that connects small businesses with potential export markets, demonstrating, as Klobuchar said, that “government can give businesses a push forward.”

Now, you might expect the Chamber to wince at the prospect of undoing a cut to government, but smart businesses know that public goods can be of immense private value. Chamber President Teresa Bohnen praised Klobuchar for showing how taxes are not necessarily a drag, but can work for the benefit of business.

Balance is what we need more of, a recognition that things are seldom, if ever, all one way or all the other way.

Banaian complains about “putting more restrictions on Wall Street.” Given the pain that Wall Street’s unfettered excesses have inflicted on all of us, I don’t see how anyone can believe that the government, which is we the people acting for the good of “normal” folks, should not impose more restrictions to correct a dangerous imbalance.

In a June 5 Star Tribune column, E.J. Dionne quotes former Supreme Court Justice David Souter’s grounding of the need for balance in the Constitution itself.

Souter, criticizing the view that the Constitution has only one “original” meaning, notes that the document “contains values that may very well exist in tension with each other, not in harmony.”

Souter says further, “the Constitution embodies the desire of the American people, like most people, to have things both ways. We want order and security, and we also want liberty. And we want not only liberty but equality as well.”

This is the America we’ve had from the start and still have.