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?