Following a bitter Republican primary in which Allen Quist prevailed, newspaper editors are calling for an issues-centered race from both the Quist and Tim Walz campaigns. Meanwhile, Minnesota Public Radio's Poligraph finds a Quist claim about the national debt misleading.
Digging deeper into statements Quists has made during his bids for GOP endorsement for Congress in 2009-2010 and 2011-2012 reveal a fondness for conspiracy theories that may dampen rational discussion as Quist and Walz head toward November.
Editors: Southern Minnesotans want issues-based races
In Lessons to be learned in Sen. Parry's loss, the Owatonna People's Press editorial board concludes:
Whether rightly or wrongly, those who opposed Sen. Parry were able to paint him as a candidate who was more interested in attacking Mr. Quist than in discussing the issues. . . . Sen. Parry did little to rectify the perception that he went a bit overboard when he focused on 20- to 30-year-old statements by Mr. Quist or when he said in a forum that he had seen Gov. Mark Dayton popping pills during budget negotiations.
In politics, as in many other walks of life, perception is often reality. And for better or worse, the perception was that Mr. Quist addressed the issues more seriously and therefore was a better candidate to stand toe-to-toe against Congressman Walz.
There is the lesson: That what voters want is not the sort of mudslinging campaigns that too often dominate the political landscape. Instead, what voters want are candidates who deal seriously with the issues. We can only hope that candidates here and throughout the nation will learn.
These sentiments are echoed by the editors of the Mankato Free Press in 1st District race offers real choice which begins:
Now that the dust has settled on one of the most contentious primary races in Minnesota Republican history, the campaign ahead for the 1st District seat in Congress will certainly offer very different options.
The editors succinctly but precisely outline what those differences are. Click on the headline above and read the summaries of both men's positions and when they each depart from their party's orthodoxy. Finally, the editors conclude:
Walz and Quist will be beginning a campaign where voters will have to look beyond their party affiliation to determine where the candidates stand. . . .
Quist and Walz are not likely to shy away from the tough questions, and the campaign appears to be headed for a serious discussion of the issues, not the personal clashes that raised their ugly head in the Quist-Parry race.
Quist argues he can have more influence on the issues of the 1st District and federal spending by being in the majority in the House and part of a Republican study group focused on deficit reduction.
Walz has touted a record of getting things done for the district in the area of veterans issues, prohibiting congressional insider trading and the farm bill. He often points out his bipartisan efforts.
The 1st District race will be one to watch. There will likely be a robust discussion of issues that matter.
MPR Poligraph: Quist misleads in debt claim
Throughout the primary, Quist brought up an MPR Poligraph fact check of his claim about a "marriage penalty" in the healtch care reform bill, Quist claim on health care law rings true. Perhaps he'll be less likely to mention Quist budget claim overstates debt impact,. In the fact check posted Friday afternoon, Catharine Richert examples a claim central to Quist's campaign:
In an interview with MPR News, Quist said that tackling the federal deficit would be his top priority as a member of Congress. To underscore just how bad things have become, Quist pointed out that more and more taxpayer dollars are going to pay interest on federal debt.
"This year 20 cents out of every dollar the government is collecting is going for interest. If that trend continues, that's going to 25 cents out of every dollar, in four years 30 cents out of every dollar," Quist said. "We can't do this. We don't have any options. We absolutely have to get our finances under control."
Quist's accounting overstates the problem.
Head over to MPR to read Richert's scrutiny of the claim. She concludes:
Quist uses legitimate numbers to come up with his claim. And it's true the federal government's debt continues to grow, and requires higher interest payments as a result.
But Quist overstates the problem by using an interest figure that economists tend not to account for because it mixes interest the government owes itself and interest it owes on publicly held debt.
As a result, Quist's claim misleads.
The early verdict, and a recent pattern of conspiratorial thinking
In the past two and a half years, Bluestem has posted about recent claims Quist made on the campaign trail in the 2009-2010 and 2011-2012 cycle. These include a statement in December 2009 that President Obama, Congressman Walz and other "liberals" pose a bigger threat to America than terrorists, public lectures about the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory and the like.
That tendency toward touting conspiracy theories is mentioned in MPR Poligraph's look at the marriage penalty claim. While Richert wrote that the Quist claim on health care law rings true, Quist has omitted a caveat she made about the conclusion Quist draws: that Obama, Walz and other supporters of health care reform structured it they way they did in order to destory marriage.
Quist first made this appeal to motive back in 2010. A story in World Nut Daily,It's ba-ack! Health-care plan redoubles 'marriage penalty',is typical of reporting on the right about his claim:
Bills pending in Congress that would nationalize health care by setting up mandatory insurance purchases and fines for not complying could penalize married couples $10,000 annually and are a direct attack on marriage, families and the church because of their discriminatory provisions, according to a congressional candidate.
“This is as awful, I will say evil … this is as evil as it gets,” Allen Quist, who is running to unseat Democrat Tim Walz in Minnesota’s 1st congressional district, told WND. . . .[emphasis added]
Quist said the fine print of provisions still alive in both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives deliberately create enormous pressure for couples to live together without marriage – or even get divorced – by charging married couples thousands of dollars more in premiums and fees.
“And it’s deliberate,” Quist added, “This is clearly not accidental.”
“In fact you have government policies tearing apart marriage,” he said. “Marriage is the foundation of society. It’s the foundation of our government and to a large degree the basic unit in the church. [The policy] undermines the church’s teaching and undermines church structure.
“It weakens the family. It weakens the church, and it weakens our country,” he said.
. . .But Quist went further, charging that it is a deliberate attack on Christians.
“It’s persecution of the church, because of the church’s involvement with marriage,” he said.
“Millions of families [will have the choice] of staying married and not making their house, their mortgage payments or getting divorced and making their payments,” he said.
“This thing is designed to destroy marriage in the middle class – just as we’ve destroyed it on the poverty level,” he said, citing aid programs that lend more benefits to a single mother with children than the same family with a father present.
Quist said. “It’s going to come in like a freight train.”
Oh really? Common sense --and any knowledge of Congressman Walz's focus on the middle class--suggests that the Mankato teacher, husband and father of two young children isn't secretly trying to intentionally destroy marriage. Nor does that marriage to a woman who openly talks about her Christian faith in casual conversation suggest that he's out to attack Christians.
Walz himself was raised as a Catholic, but became a Lutheran with his marriage; he is one of 15 members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) now serving in Congress, according to a press release issued by the ELCA News Service in late 2010.
Rickert--who drew her analysis from an much more temperate accusation of intent that Quist flung in a Youtube shot by the DFL tracker at the Le Sueur County Republican Convention on March 10--notes in her analysis:
It's worth pointing out that Quist's underlying point that the bill will discourage marriage is a matter of opinion.
Field says the bill wasn't designed to keep people from marrying. Married couples who file taxes jointly face the same issue when it comes to other tax credits.
"I strongly doubt that this was intentional," Field said. "It's obviously a very complicated law."
Perhaps Quist will clarify these attacks on Congressman Walz's motives, or soften his claims about this alleged intention being "pure evil." He certainly hasn't backed down in claiming that the intent is to dissuade people from marriage.
Nor was this the only time Quist has accused Walz of being the Congressional Aqualung of Bad Intent. At a Republican Christmas Party in late 2009, Quist told the gathered activists that [d]efeating liberals a bigger battle than defeating terrorism, and accused Walz of not merely being a liberal but a radical:
“Our country is being destroyed. Every generation has had to fight the fight for freedom… Terrorism? Yes. That’s not the big battle,” he said. “The big battle is in D.C. with the radicals. They aren’t liberals. They are radicals. Obama, Pelosi, Walz: They’re not liberals, they’re radicals. They are destroying our country.”
Quist also railed against the health care reform bill. “This is the most insidious, evil piece of legislation I have ever seen in my life… Every one of us has to be totally committed to killing this travesty… I have to kill this bill.”
After the video went viral and was covered by TPM, Huffington Post and Mindy, Walz went on the Ed Show to say that the Quist terrorism comments were ‘Poisonous, spiteful, incredibly distasteful’:
Rep. Tim Walz appeared on the Ed Schultz Show on MSNBC Tuesday night to respond to opponent Allen Quist’s comments that the “battle” against Democrats is bigger than fighting terrorism. Walz called the comments “poisonous, spiteful [and] incredibly distasteful,” and said “it poisons the dialogue” over public policy differences. . . .
“I don’t find it real radical, Ed, that I want to help provide affordable healthcare for all Americans,” Walz said in response.” I don’t find it radical that we want to try to make sure our economy is strong. I don’t find it radical that we want to have an energy policy dependent on America and not the Middle East. This type of rhetoric does nothing to help us move in that direction…. It poisons the dialogue. The idea of a high school teacher like myself — football coach and 24-year Guardsman –somehow being worse than people who killed people in New York and have tried to do so again is so incredibly distasteful.”
Mindy's Andy Birkey reported in Quist defends statements on battle against terrorism, Democrats that the Norseland farmer claimed that he was taken out of context and that liberal blogs were trying to "manufacture a story":
Quist tells MnIndy he was taken out of context. “On that video I spoke extensively about the huge marriage penalty in the health care bills.” Quist has been pushing against the health care reform bill because he says it penalizes married couples.
“By the way, I have been speaking on, and writing on, the marriage penalty in the health care bills and doing so all over the First District,” said Quist. “Someone needs to ask Walz why he doesn’t respond. His silence is verifying the truth of my analysis.”
“Let me add that you will see I said radicalism was a threat to our freedom, not liberalism,” he said. “Why do the liberal blogs feel they have to misquote me in order to manufacture a story?
And Quist attacked Walz's choice of words:
Quist also responded to Walz’s statement that Quist’s remarks poison the debate on public policy.
“Walz should defend his votes and avoid the name-calling type language like ‘poisonous,’ ‘spiteful’ and ‘distasteful.’ He is using that emotive language because he is trying to excite his supporters in the hope of getting donations from them. He knows he is in big trouble.”
Reading these remarks coming from a man who was picking words like "evil," "insidious" and "radical" to attack others, Bluestem concludes that Quist doth protest too much.
Agenda 21 and other conspiracies
But health care reform isn't the only conspiracy Quist sees lurking to destroy the American way of life, or at least his version of it--and there are much more recent examples that are relevant to policy-making. We've written before about his speaking engagements about the bugaboo of Agenda 21 in 2011 and 2012.(See related links below).
While Minnpost and Minnesota Conservatives thought Agenda 21 conspiracies are the bright shiny new toy of a fringe in the Republican Party, opposition to sustainable development is being written into the Republican National Platform and Mike Parry's committee heard and approved legislation related to scrutinizing Agenda 21 .
Bluestem isn't terribly fond of Think Progress as a sourcem since it's often just coughing up little hairballs of talking points, but the mainstreaming of Agenda 21 conspiracy theories and the rebirn John Birch Society into the GOP did get a significant look-see in Stephen Lacey's Republican Party Officially Embraces ‘Garbage’ Agenda 21 Conspiracy Theories As Its National Platform.
Lacey's piece contains some truly painful passages--like the Florida activist who said, after damning Senator John McCain's support of small increases in domestic ethanol production, that “We should have left him in Hanoi with Jane Fonda…he is a traitor, a pure traitor.” This is deeply disgraceful stuff.
Apparently ethanol's part of the Grand Game of Agenda 21, which should come as quite a shock to Southern Minnesota's corn growers, who've invested in farmer-owned co-operatives to produce the biofuel. Now, there is a legitimate debate to be had by farmers about using corn for livestock feed or fuel--or diversifying to other crops or switching to grazing--but this claptrap isn't part of the discussion.
The TP piece's real strength comes late in the post. Lacey interviews Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, who's been tracking Agenda 21 conspiracy theories and the Birchers who love them for years. Potok takes the conversation beyond just Agenda 21 to a politics in which conspiracy theories of various sorts make it nearly impossible to hold a serious policy discussion:
SL: And finally, what kind of impact will this brand of politics have on the political future of the U.S.?
MP: Well, I think, this kind of politics is clearly hurting us as a nation. It is making it extremely difficult to move forward in any rational way. We can’t debate immigration rationally because we think there is a conspiracy to steal a part of our country on the part of Mexico. We can’t discuss homosexuality or same-sex marriage rationally because these groups tell us that gay people are seeking to forcibly convert our kids to being gay, and so on.
It just seems that on issue after issue after issue we are no longer having disagreements about a certain set of facts. Instead we have two sides presenting absolute alternative realities. And the bottom line, I think, is that from the political right, or the far right, that we are seeing almost nothing but a string of conspiracy theories that have virtually nothing to do with reality. So we cannot even have a rational debate about things that we admittedly disagree about. Instead, we spend our time fending off utterly baseless, fear-mongering conspiracy theories that prevent us moving forward in any way as a society.
At the turn of the 21st century we are facing very major problems. We are at a time of great social and environmental change and we need to seriously address them — not poison ourselves with the conspiracy theories and baseless fear-mongering that we see today.
At several times in his bids for Congress in the 2009-2010 and 2011-2012 cycle, Allen Quist has suggested that Congressman Walz is part of a plan to destroy America. He has lectured about Agenda 21 conspiracy theories.
Should these accusations and theories come up in policy debates in the MNCD1 race in the next two months, Walz will likely respond. Unfortunately, responses by one politician to accusations by another are often seen simply as campaign bickering. People tune it out.
The editors are asking Quist and Walz to stick to issues and refrain from personal attacks. Fair enough. But the press should also rise to the occasion as well, fact checking statements and assumptions made by both candidates. Can we make a deal?
Images: Allen Quist by Ken Avidor (above); Tim Walz (middle); An ethanol co-operatve: part of the United Nations' plan to take over the world?