I'm proud of our governor.
Like President Barack Obama, Mark Dayton tried to negotiate with Republicans. He offered to meet halfway, hoping they would come halfway too. Instead, what happened is what often happens when moderates try to negotiate with radicals: Games emerge, new conditions are added, no compromise is offered.
This is a hostage situation.
It's easy for a newspaper or TV reporter when a bank robber takes hostages. The police are on our side, the side of society and order, and the hostage-taker is on the other side, the side of greed and anarchy.
When one of the two political parties takes hostages, and begins to side with greed and anarchy, it's harder to report. A reporter is expected to avoid taking sides. This is how one side wins. There is a false equivalency in political reporting. If one party is corrupt or extreme, the reporter must show that both parties are corrupt or extreme; otherwise he is charged with bias. This false equivalency rewards extremism. Why be moderate when extremism has more leverage?
Let's try to make sense of the breakdown of negotiations in St. Paul. Essentially, the Republicans would rather that 30,000 state workers lose their jobs than taxes be raised a bit on 7,700 millionaires. The millionaires can afford it; the state employees and their departments would lose a lot.
Republicans are also pushing to take away aid from the poorest Minnesotans, the sickest, the most vulnerable, the elderly, the unemployed — again, rather than raise taxes on these 7,700 millionaires. And the tax increase would only bring these millionaires' tax rate closer to what other Minnesotans pay.
Did you even know that millionaires pay a lower rate than you and I do? Many of them earn without working; they get paid dividends for stocks they own. The point is, the Republicans are protecting the advantages of the luckiest, the richest and most secure, and are pushing to take away the help we as a society have extended to the unluckiest, the least secure, the most vulnerable. And they are doing so when people are more vulnerable and less secure than ever.
How fair is that? Is that a principle worth going to the mat for? Is it a principle you would stake the operation of government on?
But many Republicans don't like government. This is the government they want — one that's shut down. Getting rid of government is their big idea.
Prior to this recession, our Republican governor depleted the state's rainy day fund to keep taxes low on the very rich. In recessions, revenues drop, which means our reserves are gone right when we need them. This is the same situation our Republican president left the federal budget in; the national Republicans are trying to exploit it the same way, holding us hostage to a debt they created.
Because of the recession, most Americans feel pinched and unsure and have cut their household spending. There is money in our economy, lots of it. The very rich are sitting on trillions but they aren't spending it. They are waiting for demand to return.
It's during a recession that we need government most, because government is able to spend when average households are afraid to and the rich people holding the money are unwilling to. It's called countercyclical action. It steadies a listing boat. It keeps the works oiled and the lights on. Economies are based on hope, and during a recession the government is, or should be, the reservoir of confidence.
But the Republican explanation that we can't spend money we don't have seems logical too, especially to people who don't have any money. And it's comforting to the people who have lots of money that they won't be asked to pitch in — as we pitched in, for example, to rescue Wall Street in 2008.
Dayton is asking, reasonably, at a time when most Minnesotans don't have the money to fill the budget gap and the work of government is more necessary than ever, that we go to the people who do have money. Luckily, they were given a nice tax cut a few years ago. Maybe their tax rate, which was dropped to a level below that of the average taxpayer, should be put back where it was. That is reasonable.
Why shouldn't we go to the people with money at a time like this? When there is a blood shortage, blood banks go to the public and ask them to give. They ask for those with sufficiency to give to keep others alive. Maybe we should think about our economy in terms of blood banking rather than money banking. We should behave and think the way hospitals, churches, schools and good neighbors do, especially in a crisis. With caution and prudence and care, yes, but thinking of the broader good, the public good. Doing the decent thing. Isn't that how our public institutions should act? Isn't that how our most prominent citizens should act?
What we're seeing is a classic standoff. One party has the broader public interest to protect, lives, families, property, responsibilities; the other side has the money, and all the other interests that come with money. It's a hostage situation.
Why are we divided on this? After all, we are the hostages. Why are half of us siding with the hostage takers?
Eric Hanson, Minneapolis, is author of "A Book of Ages."