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 #050. First Published in the St. Cloud Times Sep. 27, 2011

“Ufffff-da! Here we go again!” So begins and ends (it even appears in the middle) the Sept. 20 Times Our View “President draws line Minnesotans know well.”

It could have used some other staple of Minnesota-speak, such as “Whatever” or “You bet,” but the Norwegian slang conveys the Times Editorial Board’s exasperation.

My exasperation is directed not at the president, but at the board and other opinion mavens for what masquerades as even-handedness but is actually capitulation to a conservative narrative that has shifted the center far to the right.

Language gets distorted. The Our View speaks of the president’s “direct rejection of his Republican counterparts’ push for no tax increases.” Push? The term suggests, even implies, that there is give-and-take. But there’s no “push” in “no tax increases.” There’s absolute immobility.

The Times continues: “The top elected leader of a three-legged government deep in debt is demanding a solution that involves the one thing-tax hikes-that one of the other legs will not support.”

What should he do then? Gut, slash, lay waste the system we have developed for decades that sustains a minimum of dignity and comfort for the least fortunate among us, because 277 members of “the other leg” (41 senators and 236 representatives, all but three of them Republicans) have signed a pledge that binds them to sustain a maximum of dignity and comfort for those at the tip-top of the income scale?

Here at home

The editorial’s point, of course, is to draw a parallel between the national situation and what Minnesota experienced this past spring and early summer — “a DFL governor championing Obama’s philosophy and a Legislature embracing Republicans’ ‘no new taxes’ put the state through seven months of political hell under this same battle theme.”

Back then the Times, and lots of other media, tried to persuade us that Gov. Mark Dayton on one side and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and House Speaker Kurt Zellers on the other side were equidistant from middle ground. But the Republicans were still in Tim Pawlenty-mode — You have a choice: You do it our way or we’ll do it our way.

Dayton made repeated alterations to his preferred way of dealing with the budget crisis. Indeed, as he said July 11, “I have offered again and again to compromise, and meet the Republicans halfway. They have refused to compromise to reach an agreement.” To say that Dayton shares equal responsibility with Koch and Zellers and their party for the hell the state was put through is to make a mockery of fairness and balance in assessing blame.

‘Choking’ job creation?

The Times calls both Obama and House Speaker John Boehner “strident,” and characterizes the president’s proposals as “demands”: letting Bush-era tax cuts expire, closing loopholes, limiting deductions for the wealthy; cutting federal health and entitlement programs; saving money by ending wars. And then the Times puts against these proposals, as though equally valid: “Republican leaders railed on the ideas as killing jobs and choking America’s already-fragile economy.”

Why doesn’t the Times challenge the imagery of “killing” and “choking”?

Balanced approach

Obama wants to restore tax rates to where they were when Bill Clinton was president — and economic growth and job creation well exceeded what they were in George W. Bush’s cut tax tenure.

The board surmises that “middle-ground Americans might have thought Obama and Republicans were actually going to work together this fall.” Actually, many recent polls show that most Americans (which should count as “middle-ground”) favor the president’s balanced approach, including both budget cuts and tax increases.

The board calls the Obama position and the Boehner position “polar-opposite pledges.” But when one side says we will never, ever budge — indeed, when a majority of those on that side have taken a solemn pledge to never, ever budge — they’re not at one of two poles. They’re a black hole out of which nothing can escape.

You can’t “work together” with a black hole. Ufffff-da? Here the Times goes again, getting sucked in by the gravitational pull of conservative rhetoric.