COLUMN: Keep it interesting, Minnesota

This is my weekly column for the Sunday, Oct. 3, 2010 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Keep it interesting, Minnesota
By Aaron J. Brown

I’ve been trying to quit, but it’s so hard. Temptation is all around and it’s only going to get worse. I wish I never started.

I’m talking about politics, not pills. But if there’s anything that could get me to go for a mitt-full of pills these days, it’s politics. At least there’s an established protocol for drug addiction. Politics is a socially mandated drug. Every two years our leaders and favorite hip artists tell us to vote. Implicit in that civic duty is some vague awareness of “what’s at stake.” Everything, of course. So voting isn’t enough, we’re supposed to “get involved.”

Now there are “message” e-mails in the spam folder, something is going on with the Twitter, some kid with a clipboard is canvassing something (someone?) and we’re supposed to blog about it. This is about us (people you agree with) vs. them (people you disagree with) and if this goes badly you’re going to disagree with some or all of the government for 2-4 years, threatening the lives of your children who have been playing with the light sockets while you were tweeting about all this. Oh man, the lights just flickered. OK. Now they’re back on. The lights, that is. Where are the kids?

Don’t confuse my political burnout with apathy. Indeed, I’ve got stronger opinions than ever. I’ve now spent a few months exploring different ideologies than my own, trying to understand the Tea Party movement, figuring out the liberal base of the Democratic Party, dissecting the thought-processes of moderates. And somewhere along the way my wires got crossed. I became a sophisticated political thought machine with a 32-ounce cup of hot coffee spilled down my circuit board.

ROBOT VOICE: “Investment in public education and technology infrastructure is the best strategy for job creation and economic growth – BEEP BOOP BEEP – Only systemic reforms to Social Security, Medicare and the military will allow us to balance the budget and cut the national debt – BEEP! BOOP! BEEP! – Must get out of Middle East – BEEP! – Must untether health care from employment – BOOP! – Voters refuse to support tax increases or necessary cuts, creating unending paradox of political theater – BEEP BEEP BEEP DOES NOT COMPUTE! – Government to fall in 2034.”

This is the sort of cheery talk that’s giving me a reputation of being a bit of a grump lately. Ha ha! The government won’t REALLY fall in 2034. It will merely be replaced by a new government, one we don’t have a name for yet. Ha ha! This still isn’t funny.

In times like this we need to focus on what we have going for us. First, in addition to being literally cold, Minnesota is a very cool political state. From the start of our state’s history to the present, Minnesota has always been a dynamic, moralistic, populist state capable of doing almost anything at the ballot box. Just when you think our state will be defined by conservative Congressman Andrew Volstead’s prohibition act in the 1920s, liberal U.S. Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey becomes a civil rights pioneer in the 1950s.

Mitch Pearlstein of the Minnesota-based Center of the American Experiment recently wrote about Minnesota’s powerful yet sometimes erratic political passion, even as the state has not become a particularly strong hotbed for today’s populist flavor, the Tea Party. Writes Pearlstein: “… a strong case can be made that more fervent manifestations haven’t taken hold here precisely because our supply of ready-made, populist-natured politicians is comparatively robust.”

Pearlstein reminds us that Minnesota was recently represented in the U.S. Senate simultaneously by liberal icon Paul Wellstone and deeply conservative Rod Grams, all during the administration of the famously independent and unpredictable Gov. Jesse “The Body” Ventura. Today some Minnesotans have elected Michelle Bachmann, a conservative firebrand with a national profile, while others have elected Keith Ellison, the nation’s first Muslim member of Congress. Our own Congressman Jim Oberstar is an economic liberal with a staunch pro-life, pro-gun rights voting record. The whole state is full of political anomalies, not least of which is our very Iron Range region, where politics is a strange delicacy, a truffle that tastes like tap beer and the inside of a union hall.

Our uniqueness provides comfort as we enter a long month of political blather from the bland echo chamber of cable news and the national campaigns. Let us always be different, if only to show the power of unpredictability. I’ll quit next month. This time I mean it.

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range writer and community college instructor. Read more at or in his book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”


  1. Sure you’ll quit: good luck with that!

  2. I could quit. Honest, I could. I’ve just been so stressed out lately. Anyway, I stay away from the hard stuff … polling websites and such. Just a little light discourse now and then. I really could quit. If I wanted to.


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