Government Shut-Down and the Wider Good

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Minnesota state government will shut down July 1st if there is no budget passed by the Republican legislature and accepted by the Democratic governor. Need I repeat, this peril has been looming for months, made more acute by the need to bring state government expenditures in line with revenues.

Need I express my anxiety? Not only for myself, but even more perilously for friends who depend on state funds because they are disabled and poor. State funds pay for the aides who get my friends up in the morning, cook for them, help with pain-management via exercise and hot and cold packs, do errands, help them bathe–in short, serve as subsidiary bodies because their own are weak and damaged. To keep my friends functioning in their own abodes costs far less than forcing them into hospital emergency rooms or health-care centers. Not to mention it is a more appealing way of life for these vibrant human beings.

What in heaven’s name is wrong with our politicians that they cannot grasp the wider good? I’ve been puzzling this, I and thousands of other MInnesotans, no doubt. Here are some night thoughts, not all of them kind or pretty:

* Fear of white columns and cupolas unless they’re at your own front door: i.e., fear of centralized government. Since the beginning of the United States there’s been a tug of war between those who advocate local control whenever possible and those who support a strong central government to levy taxes, create unifying infrastructure, regulate commerce and use of the environment, mount necessary armies etc. This strong difference of orientation appeared in the Constitutional Convention and centered on slavery and a national bank. Washington, our first president, along with Adams and Hamilton, were Federalists. Jefferson, Monroe, Madison were, let’s call them, states righters. Southern states with large populations of slaves abhorred the idea of having a central government tamper with their way of life. It essentially came down to this. The agricultural economies fostered by slavery tied up money in land and human beings (abhorrent as that was). Being taxed by a central authority was harder on these southern planters and small farmers than on northern commercial centers dependent on trade.

We don’t have agriculture based on slavery anymore. But the divergence still holds: the further one gets from Washington, D.C. and other centers of national and global power, like New York, Boston, Houston, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, etc., the harder it is to believe in common causes. Note: the agriculture bill at the national level has already received preliminary approval. Why? Because reps from the mid-section of our rather vast country can get behind it.
We still don’t have good regulation of the banking industry because the hinterlanders don’t see the need for it, though our recent debacle should have taught us all that unchecked and centralized greed ruins even mom-and-pop stores in western Minnesota.

Closer to home, Minnesota is divided between two types of existence: urban and nonurban. Since the Twin Cities has one of the largest geographical spreads in the U.S., there’s a huge suburban population with loose ties to our urban centers, but not enough to feel as if they belong. How can you love a government or a hospital system or museums, etc., if you’ve never been off the farm or the small town or the suburbs? I know this is a low-blow, a weak argument, but think about travel as a necessary ingredient for recognizing common symbols, common goods. When the annual high school basketball tournament brings students from Roseau or Worthington, Grand Marais or Austin to Saint Paul, it also gives these students a vision of the capitol. Sports as the glue that binds outstaters together with urbanites–well, it could be worse.

* Finally in times of financial stress, it’s hard for all of us to appreciate the need to care for those in need. Especially when their skin is a different color from ours. Minnesota has a comparatively small population of color–Hispanic, African-American, immigrants from Asia and Africa. Almost all live in the Twin Cities. Step into a cab at the airport and you’ll likely meet a driver from Ethiopia or Somalia. Drive down University Avenue from the capitol to the University of MInnesota and you’ll pass many small restaurants of Thai, Cambodian, Vietnamese food. Communities of color suffer a higher proportion of need. They are less likely to be hired, first to be fired or let go (though my two friends currently without jobs are both white). Here’s where the budget stalemate gets ugly: Legislators from the suburbs and small towns have no vested interest in providing state aid for health and human services to
a. people they rarely see b. people they may resent for coming into the state (over the years of plenty) to tap aid to families with dependent children. This aversion has everything to do with racism and ignorance. The immigrant or migrant families I’ve encountered often praise the help of Christian agencies and churches. This spirit of giving to others less fortunate would get us far toward compromise. So would moving the state capitol to Saint Peter, where, if I’m not mistaken, it was briefly to be situated. Imagine a small college town like Saint Peter with the huge apparatus of the state government? I kinda love it. It might not solve the current dead-lock, but it would certainly change the balance of awareness. Government adjacent to the corn fields would belong to people who live there. Maybe we need to put the legislature on a circuit!

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