Peterson: Minn. shutdown reminds us that party politics do not lead to real solutions

Ryan Peterson

This weekend we celebrated the birth of something never seen before we created it. We celebrated a republic and we named it the United States of America. It was born of the principles of a public, and operated under the assumption that each individual could, through debate and democratic participation, help solve the true problems of the state. Politics had been reinvented.

What we’ve come to do, however, has been far removed from our country’s founding principles. In fact, our political system resembles the 1642 British Parliament (with its irreconcilable differences, divisions and feuds) more than it does the United States.

An ongoing case of governmental gridlock could recently be observed at the Minnesota State Capitol. There, legislators couldn’t agree on a way to fill a $5 million gap in the budget, and the entire state government was forced to shut down. The political parties had segregated themselves so completely that cooperation on any agenda item was nearly impossible.

Minnesota’s governor, Mark Dayton, is the only state official who can call a special session of the legislature to resolve the budget crisis. But he refused to do so until he could be assured of a complete and full budget for the fiscal year. Like President Obama, he wished to raise the taxes affecting those who make more than a $1 million a year. And like Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner, Minnesota’s Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers would not accept any tax increases to solve the problem. As a result, there was no session and no discussion of it.

It isn’t surprising that the divide fell along party lines and between factions that refused to budge on the issue. Historically, in extreme cases, when two sides adamantly opposed each other and could not come to an agreement, the impasse degenerated into war.

And that is what we now have: rhetoric, slander and finger-pointing all barrel out of the political propaganda machines. Gov. Mark Dayton fired a round into the Democratic ranks, blaming them for the shutdown and refusal to compromise on social issues. He accused them of wanting the shutdown. The Republicans fired a few as well, blaming the Democrats for irresponsible spending, and saying they only wanted more tax revenue to pay for state handouts. Their tight protective formation organized around the idea of the “state living within its means,” but no one really knew what either party was arguing for.

The truly sad issue is that as the two sides fought a war of words, they failed to come together and solve the problem. This weekend was a time to celebrate American ingenuity. The founders of this nation had deeper issues with the Federalist and anti-Federalist debates.

We had Tories and Patriots in the Revolutionary War; we had Federalists and anti-Federalists in 1800; we had hawks and doves in Vietnam. We’ve always gotten through the debate using politics and intelligent discussion of the issue followed by compromise, but this weekend the two parties refused to convene to solve the problem.

Members of each party in Minnesota claimed to have compromised more than their fair share, though neither had actually made a move. All the while, the real problems persisted. The matters at hand aren’t social or class related/ They include the layoff of 23,000 state workers, the closing of Fort Snelling and other historical sites, the closing of state parks, the moratorium on all non-critical construction, desertion of those who need the state’s aid in turbulent times and, most importantly, a degradation of America’s political way of life.

While we celebrated our country’s birth and the creation of political order without rule, we failed to practice the lessons of our past. Tim Pawlenty, former Minnesota governor and now a candidate for president, has claimed that the shutdown may be a good thing, and sadly he is not alone.

These statements of support are far from reassuring. Minnesota has shut down because its government is factionalized. Its state parties act according to inflexible ideologies. While they continue to declare war against one another they continue to harm the people. This is not an isolated incident, nor should it be treated as such. It’s best to see it as a cautionary tale.

We need politics and compromise. We need to unite and work together to solve the issues that affect our interactions. Simply disbanding and refusing to negotiate does not solve any problem. Rather, it only increases the distrust of one party for the other.