Is The Conservative Message Wearing Thin?

While it’s far too early to tell for sure, there are indications that Minnesotans may be tiring of hard-core conservativism. The most obvious evidence of that is Chris Coleman‘s landslide victory over incumbent St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly.

Granted, there are plenty of caveats to throw at the argument: Kelly is a Democrat, not a Republican. Even if you concede that he’s as close to a Republican as a Democrat can get in this state, you still have to acknowledge that he lost in an overwhelmingly DFL city.

Even so, as the papers all pointed out, Kelly was the first incumbent St. Paul mayor to lose re-election since 1972. And he lost in a city that was perfectly happy to elect a conservative Democrat mayor twice (himself and his predecessor Norm Coleman) and a Republican (Norm Coleman, again, in 1997) as its past three mayors.

Both Norm Coleman and Randy Kelly ran on no new taxes pledges. This time, Kelly not only said he wouldn’t raise taxes, he wanted to make it harder to raise taxes by requiring a supermajority from the City Council.

It sure looked like Kelly’s endorsement of President Bush was the kiss of death (it looked as if St. Paul voters were saying, I didn’t vote for that!), but what’s remarkable is that judging by the polls, it appears as if St. Paulites were perfectly happy with the job he’d done as mayor. But for the endorsement…

The other factor indicating voters may be growing weary of the conservative message is the result of the school referendums. As the Star Tribune reported, "Twelve of 18 Twin Cities-area districts won yes votes from their constituents for tax increases for new buildings or more operating mon ey." And statewide, "64 districts won voter approval for property-tax increases, while 20 failed. The 76 percent passage rate was the highest since 1999."

Those results would seem to indicate that the appeal of the absolutely no new taxes message is waning.

Finally, as Politics In Minnesota pointed out in the October 30 issue, in a piece on talk radio, conservative talk on the airwaves appears to be losing steam in Minnesota, while liberal talk is gaining appeal:

In the political talk category, the most noticeable movement is the massive downward trend of KSTP-AM 1500 which had a 6.0 rating a year ago but only mustered a 3.8 this summer. Recall the station’s marquee national program, Rush Limbaugh, is leaving for a new talk station owned by Clear Channel that will debut in January. 

On the more "minor" political talk stations, there is some apparent growth for Air America which posted a 1.2 rating up from 1.0 in the spring and .9 in the winter. The conservative equivalent, the Patriot (1280AM), came in with a 1.4 for the summer, up from a 1.2 last spring.

Too early to tell? Yes. But these results coupled with President Bush’s low poll numbers are giving liberals hope that the tide may be turning.

Mayor Randy Kelly’s Major Snafu

St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly called a press conference yesterday for what was billed as a "major" announcement about the state of the mayoral race. Turns out, it was just a way to get footage for a campaign television commercial, with the press corps as unwitting props.

Not surprisingly, that didn’t go over too well with the media and it shows in their coverage of the announcement.

Ostensibly, the "news" to come out of the announcement was that Kelly feels your pain over his endorsement of President George Bush. But that only works if you are not the person who caused the pain the first place or if you apologize for inflicting the pain. Kelly did not.

The press corps absolutely nailed Kelly for dragging them out under false pretenses. The Star Tribune teased their coverage at the top of the front page with "St. Paul Mayor Asks Voters To Consider Record, Not Bush Endorsement." That’s mild enough. But on the front page of the Metro section, an above-the-fold sidebar story is entitled "His Party? Kelly says it remains Democrat." The opening paragraph tells readers that Kelly’s "major address on the mayor’s race" was not that at all. The story quotes Chris Coleman spokesman Bob Hume calling the Kelly campaign "desperate." Reporter Jackie Crosby pointed out that freelance videographers recorded the event and quoted Kelly saying that they were not filming a campaign commercial.

Doug Grow weighed in with a scathing column, calling it "the most remarkable/ironic/desperate speech of his political career." Grow honed in on the stagecraft of the event–a handler finding a Hmong person to put onstage, Kelly’s makeup.

The Pioneer Press teased at the top of the front page: "Kelly asks voters to set aside controversy over Bush endorsement." The headline at the top of the Local section read "Kelly: ‘Don’t vote angry.’" Reporter Tim Nelson waits till the third graph to point out that Kelly’s so-called major announcement "didn’t include any new initiatives or any expression of contrition for the endorsement last August." Nelson, too, points out the presence of videographers and notes that Kelly said they were not filming a campaign commercial.

Nelson’s story jumps inside to 3B and above it is a story entitled "Coleman offers University Ave. plan." What contrast! Kelly stages a campaign commercial while Coleman is offering plans for St. Paul.

The PiPress‘ website features the text of Kelly’s speech [PDF] and video from the event.

Most damning, though, is KSTP TV’s coverage. They frame the story at the outset with anchor Joe Schmit saying "St. Paul’s Mayor said he had a major announcement to make about his reelection campaign but there’s some question about the term ‘major’" and tossed it to political reporter Tom Hauser.

The visuals were overpowering. Hauser’s report included a clip of Kelly and George Bush embracing during a campaign event. The KSTP team filmed the videographers recording the event and Hauser pointed this out in his report. And finally, they filmed Kelly denying his campaign was filming a television commercial. Kelly just looked scared in the clip.

Kelly’s press conference puts the lie to his dismissal of the primary showing as the result of hard-core, die-hard partisan DFLers pissed off at his endorsement of Bush. Clearly, Kelly knows that resentment is more widespread.

I know plenty of moderate, pro-business St. Paul Democrats who are singularly pissed off at Kelly for his endorsement of the president. These are people who voted for him the first time and would’ve been perfectly happy voting for him again. But for the Bush thing is enough for them to either vote against Kelly or just stay home. Unfortunately for Kelly, they have a great alternative to vote for in Chris Coleman, a moderate, pro-business Democrat like themselves.

I even know of moderate Republicans in St. Paul who are supporting Coleman because of Kelly’s endorsement of Bush.

That’s why this "press conference" was truly a desperate act and Kelly’s real problem is that he cannot renounce Bush without looking even more desperate.

Politicizing Pat Tillman’s Death

Norwegianity has a superb post today on the Bush administration’s politicization of former Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman‘s death in Afghanistan. For the record: Tillman enlisted to fight in the war against terror, was opposed to the war in Iraq, and was killed by friendly fire.

You’ve never guess any of those things if you were listening to what the Bush administration says about Tillman. It’s straight out of the script of Wag the Dog, they way they’ve tried to manage his death as a publicity tool for the war in Iraq.

Zygi Wilf – Minnesota Vikings Owner

I originally wrote this for last week’s issue of Politics in Minnesota: The Weekly Report:

It is amazing that the Minnesota Vikings new owner, Zygi Wilf, a New Jersey real estate developer, has yet to take a false step on the path to a new football stadium.

The contrasts probably helped him right off the bat. He bought the team from a blustery Texas billionaire whose penny-pinching ways kept the team weak on defense and his threats to move made it absolutely clear that the Vikings were a financial investment first and foremost and a passion a distant second. And then there was Reggie Fowler‘s resume malfunction. By contrast, Wilf looked like a white knight come to save the day.

As the first black owner of an National Football League franchise, Fowler’s story would have been compelling. But as the son of Holocaust survivors, Zygi Wilf’s personal story is just as compelling, in a Horatio Alger, Only In America kind of way.

From the moment he took the reigns, Wilf has said and done the right things.

Shortly after purchasing the team, he bought a full page in the newspaper (superimposed with the Lombardi trophy; nice touch) for an open letter to fans pledging to keep the team in Minnesota and continue in the Vikings’ winning tradition. Everything he’s said since suggests he’s passionate about wanting the team to win.

Financially, he has walked the talk since buying the team by doling out his own cash on such things as fixing the air conditioning and refurbishing the Vikings ship at Winter Park, buying out tickets to training camp in Mankato this summer so that the fans wouldn’t have to pay to see the team practice, and renegotiating Daunte Culpepper‘s contract so the Vikings would have a happy quarterback leading them this season.

But most importantly, he will put up $240 million of his own money for a new stadium and that far exceeds what Red McCombs was willing to shell out.

It’s easy to be skeptical when people they say they consider their company, "not just a business, but a family." It’s so cliche. But when Wilf says it, he is convincing because it appears that is his family’s MO for all the businesses they’ve run. The Vikings are no different: His brother Mark Wilf is the team president and his cousin Leonard Wilf is the team’s vice chair. All that is merely interesting until you couple it with Wilf’s stated desire that the team be an intergenerational family business that he won’t sell; then it lends credibility to his promise to keep the team in Minnesota.

By saying the Vikings would honor their Metrodome lease, Wilf stands in contrast to previous owner Red McCombs, who was always applying pressure at the Capitol. His insistence on an open-air stadium embraces the glory years of the 70s-era Vikings who went to four Super Bowls, evoking fond memories from 40-plus Minnesotans, including those at the Capitol.

It helps that he appears to be a die-hard football fan. Jay Weiner‘s fascinating story about the sale of the Vikings in last Sunday’s Star Tribune reveals that when it became apparent that Fowler didn’t have the resources to close the deal, Wilf took the lead, saying:

I’ll step up, Wilf remembers telling Fowler. I’ll do it. I’m at a point in my life where I’ve accomplished a lot. I’m competitive. It’s time to do something that I really love.

Finally, most people rich enough to buy an National Football League franchise and put up $240 million for a stadium have more likely than not had some experience dealing with government. But Wilf may be especially suited to succeed where others have failed. As a commercial real estate developer, he’s had specific experience dealing with local governments and local communities’ reactions to those developments. That experience might explain his deft political touch.

That experience, his ability to sell not just a stadium, but a massive commercial development, and his demonstrated public relations finesse, should take him a long way toward finding the Vikings a new home in Blaine.

Katherine Kersten – Minnesota’s Worst Writer?

I know something about writing so I know it’s not literally true that Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten is actually Minnesota’s worst writer, as Minnesota’s liberal bloggers would have you believe. But I’ll agree that she is Minnesota’s worst paid writer. It’s a shame the Strib had to pick Kersten–who, prior to being hired by the paper, was at the heart of one of Minnesota’s most profoundly conservative political institutions, the Center of the American Experiment think tank–to mollify the paper’s conservative critics who, no doubt, mumble in their sleep about the paper being too liberal.

Whatever. Kersten was obviously a public relations hire because it’s patently obvious she’s not expected to meet many journalistic standards.

The liberal bloggers have had a field day in the political blood sport of picking apart Kersten’s columns. It’s almost like shooting fish in a barrel, but it looks like so much fun, I just have to jump in:

Kersten’s only purpose with her column, it appears, is to spread pedestrian, boilerplate, conservative dogma to all corners of Minnesota. Her hobgoblin today is predictable enough: Liberal academia; her argument is that they’ve lowered our standards for artistic excellence.

Kersten frames her argument at the outset by using a patently offensive example that she can imply is the rule rather than the exception it truly is:

When you think of "outside the box" art, what comes to mind? Elephant dung splattered on a picture of the Madonna?

Actually, that is not what comes to mind for me, but I see where she’s going. Kersten uses The Atelier, a Minneapolis art academy that teaches the techniques of the Old Masters, as her contrast in her attempt to prove that LIB-eral academe disdains the Masters in favor of Modern Art.

I, too, prefer the Masters to Modern Art but I’m pretty certain that that’s were I part company with Kersten on probably any other subject in the world. The problem, as with all of Kersten’s columns, is she fails to deliver any evidence to support her thesis; a standard she’d fail to meet in any high school composition class. Which is why I find it deliciously ironic that the woman is always on about standards, especially academic ones!

Assertions are not proof, but that’s all Kersten seems to have:

But in the 1950s and ’60s, Lack [the founder of the Atelier] and artists like him were shut out of galleries and museums as the juggernaut of modern art swept all before it.

It’s perfectly believable, but where’s the proof? How bout numbers on gallery showings and museum exhibits for Modern Art versus Classic art? Nope, Kersten offers nothing. Perhaps I’m being too hard on Kersten; after all, that kind of data may not even be available. I’m not being too hard on her. Several paragraphs later, she writes:

Atelier teaches foundational artistic techniques that generally get short shrift — if they’re taught at all — at today’s art colleges and university art departments.

I added the italics to highlight another of Kersten’s unproven assertions. It could be true but we’ll never know because Kersten has not bothered to do the research to support her argument. Surely among all of the well-funded conservative "think tanks" throughout the nation, someone‘s been tracking the amount of time academia devotes to traditional as opposed to Modern Art.

Five paragraphs later:

Today, establishment art programs generally discourage — even frown on — representational art.

No proof. The closest Kersten comes to offering evidence to back up her argument is in the third from the last paragraph were she uses that rhetorical device conservative commentators have mastered, the anecdote:

Redpath [one of the Atelier’s co-directors] floated around looking for the right art school until she stumbled across the Atelier. While taking an art course at a local community college, she said, her teacher mentioned with disgust in her voice, "There’s a show downstairs I suppose you would like." It was an Atelier show, and Redpath was hooked.

Disgust in her voice!! Clearly, Liberals are destroying our traditions!

Let’s be charitable, give Kersten a pass, and concede that academia does not spend a ton of time on the Old Masters. Has it never occurred to Kersten that, if this is indeed true, it could simply be a matter of the problem that plagues every educator, Time? There is simply not enough time to teach all of the material you’d like to teach, so you end up short-changing all subjects?

Here’s a dirty little secret I learned when I was an art major: Modern Art is much more appealing to students whose skill may be lacking. It’s easier and it doesn’t take as much time. The students who truly have the skill, devotion, and patience to excel are the ones who will study the Old Masters and practice their techniques.

Here’s a generally known fact that Kersten seems oblivious to: Artists are a dime a dozen and there’s far more crappy art being created than there is good art. The phenomenon knows no school or movement; it flourishes amongst those emulating the Masters as much as it does those who splatter Pollocks.

Kersten’s criticism is misplaced. Rather than railing on LIB-er-al art professors, she should be criticizing lazy art students such as yours truly.

The thing is, Kersten’s column today could have been a great piece about a little art academy doing great work in our midst that few people know about. It’s been said that a great painting can be destroyed by the frame you put around it. The same can be said for this column. By framing her column in forced conservative dogma, it’s hard to focus on the great story she has otherwise painted.

Gas Rationing In Minnesota?

I went to fill up my tank last night at a Super America in St. Paul because news reports were telling me that gas prices were going to go through the roof (as if they were not already through the roof). So there I am, pumping gas into the Wrangler at a $2.79/gallon clip and I get to about thirty some-odd bucks and click there’s no more gas coming out of the nozzle. The trigger has no pressure, it’s slack.

You know how sometimes you have to hold the trigger of the gas pump just so to get it to pump without it turning off and how bloody maddening it is because when that happens the gas usually comes out in a tinsy little trickle? I figured that was gonna be the case here. But I had no luck at all. The thing just wouldn’t pump any more gas.

All right. Whatever. I went in and paid and was on my merry if not much poorer way. I looked at the tank and noticed that I’d only gotten three quarters of a tank of gas. I vaguely thought of gas rationing.

Well, I spoke to a colleague today and they had the exact same experience at an SA in Robbinsdale. No jiggering the pump trigger. Nothing. Only three-quarters of a tank of gas.

There’s only one conculsion: Super America Is Rationing Minnesotan’s gas!

Political Marketing

I just found this great political marketing story from Corey Anderson‘s post over at the City Pages Blotter: The Canadian National Post has a story dated August 23 about Bush’s recent speech in Idaho. The story was unremarkable enough but for the picture that accompanies it:


A Bullshit Protector! I love the ear flap. This is about the cleverest, and most effective political marketing tactic I’ve seen since the Clinton campaign had people dressed in chicken suits follow George Herbert Walker Bush around to highlight the fact he refused to debate Clinton.