Thursday, May 26, 2011

Drop the Molotov and pick up a plow

In the mid-1980s, unionized Hormel meat packers in Ottumwa, Iowa, went out on strike in support of their counterparts battling it out in Austin, MN. Rather than work on compromises between the workers and the company, the mayor threw his unbridled support to the union. Hormel responded by shutting down the plant and the city continued to re-elect that mayor for his "principled stand." The city residents felt they won and showed their appreciation by re-electing the major. In the ensuing years, population dropped 11% and the downtown became a collection of closed businesses. The city lost a lot of tax revenue from both the plant and workers who were laid off and the replacement company, Cargill, set up shop paying much lower wages. Unemployment rates there consistently led the state. The high school dropout rate was double that of other Iowa cities.
I'm thinking of all this because of conversations I'm hearing over the "principled stand" that many in the Minnesota GOP are taking spurred on apparently by constituents who sympathize with the tea party. I've talked to some of those constituents (especially after they read my column) and they are so fed up with government overspending, "entitlements to the lazy," and higher taxes they just want it all to stop. They don't care how and they don't care what gets cut; they just want it to end - now.
I can sympathize with their feelings. I too am dismayed by some of the things that have gotten sorely out of control - we're finding generations who know no other existence except reliance on government supports -- from welfare to farm subsidies. While private sector employment has dropped, public employment has risen and with better benefits. And many feel that adherence to morals and tradition has eroded. Even last week, new data show that married couples are not the majority anymore. The income gap is widening between the rich and the poor.
We all want a day of reckoning. I get that. But there is no simple solution. And all actions have reactions, some not pleasant and many not planned for as my Iowa example attempts to show.
The best solution is often the messiest. It requires negotiation with many voices. And then it requires patience to make it happen. We've all seen what happens when things are done in haste.
Let's stop electing people who throw political Molotov cocktails in order to make you feel better. Stick with those who can make things happen, who can plow the ground and plant the seeds making things better rather than promise to bring things down. Because in the end, not unlike Ottumwa, you'll be asking yourself "Now that I did it, what did I do?"

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