Posted: 12/04/06 09:40
By Christopher Truscott
“Insanity (is) doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Albert Einstein’s immortal words have been a rally cry of sorts for the Independence Party since Jesse Ventura left office four years ago. “We’re right, they’re wrong.”
But ultimately the real insanity, the real repetition of irrational behavior, is continued support of the Independence Party.
Next month marks Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s second inaugural – both of which are brought to us by the Republican Party of Minnesota, its interest group masters and the Independence Party.
Running a center-left candidate in 2002, Tim Penny, and more-left-than-center Peter Hutchinson this year, the IP has succeeded in altering the political landscape. But was the party really founded to form a significant, albeit relatively small, fissure in the DFL’s electoral base?
I don’t think IP officials set out to elect Republicans, but somewhere along the line they lost their way.
Eight years ago Ventura “shocked the world.” But since his victory, the IP hasn’t won any elections on its own right – save for former State Sen. Sheila Kiscaden, who was re-elected in 2002 under the IP banner after losing the Republican Party’s endorsement. It’s worth noting that Kiscaden retired this year as a DFLer.
I won’t rehash the details of Mike Hatch’s defeat last month. But I think it’s safe to say that without Hutchinson, or with instant run-off voting, Hatch would be putting together a cabinet, shaping a budget and preparing his inaugural address.
The Independence Party’s ideas aren’t inherently flawed. They want good government – a politics focused on the things that matter and new solutions to old problems. Fair enough. But what did they accomplish in this election cycle? They earned fewer votes across the board than last time, but still gained enough to ensure the re-election of Pawlenty, the candidate most ideologically opposed to Hutchinson’s progressive platform.
Minnesota has a long history with independent political movements and third parties. We had the progressives of the early 20th century and the Farmer-Labor Party enjoyed its heyday in the 1930s – and for a time was the chief rival to the GOP, while the Democrats wandered in the wilderness.
Ultimately, however, we’re a two-party country and a two-party state. For better or worse, it’s how our electoral system is structured, it’s what our media is conditioned to cover and it’s what voters have come to expect.
In the 1940s, the Democrats and the Farmer-Labor Party acknowledged their similarities and ironed out their differences, giving birth to the modern Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party. Doing so ensured the survival of ideas from both parties. We’re better for it today.
Six decades later, the DFL and Independence Party can choose a similar path.
Eventually an IP gubernatorial candidate will fall below the 5-percent threshold needed for the IP to keep its major party status, which will officially kill the party. But until then, the DFL has to contend with a movement aimed sometimes at its left-flank (Hutchinson) and sometimes at its right flank (Penny). Meanwhile, both parties continue to lose gubernatorial elections.
It doesn’t have to be that way, however. The parties can learn from past generations and recognize they have more in common than simply opposing Republicans. The DFL will be stronger for the infusion of new ideas and the IP will benefit greatly by having a vehicle to ensure its survival long after Ventura becomes an odd footnote in Minnesota’s history.
The solution is staring both parties square in the face. Someone needs to take the first step.
The IP quotes Einstein and DFLers often quote John F. Kennedy. To that end, I’ll close by quoting another 20th century visionary, Lee Iacocca:
“If you own up to your mistakes, you don’t suffer as much. But that’s a tough lesson to learn.”
Christopher Truscott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Before getting involved locally with the DFL, the author volunteered briefly on Peter Hutchinson’s gubernatorial campaign. He would gladly call himself an I-DFLer.