Judging by the latest headlines and accompanying news coming out of Southern Minnesota, Republican congressional candidate Allen Quist forgot The Duchess's wise campaign advice:
Be what you would seem to be, or if you'd like it put more simply: Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.
The veterans' benefit question
Quist stomped across the Fighting First this past week on a press tour designed to elicit an apology from Congressman Walz about a statement made in the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce debate in Byron. Along the way, the Norseland farmer and retired Bethany Lutheran College professor dropped pearls that had the press asking more questions of him than the Congressman.
Quist wanted attention and he got it.
In What's Allen Quist’s true stance on veterans' benefits?, Faribault Daily News reporter Cristeta Boarini outlines the situation in her Steta In the City column:
You've probably seen the heated back-and-forth between former state Rep. Allen Quist and incumbent federal Rep. Tim Walz about whether or not Quist wants to cut benefits for veterans. Did Quist actually say he's willing to cut benefits? Did Walz manipulate evidence to sound like he did? Should Walz apologize? Does an apology even matter?
As the race for representing Minnesota's First Congressional District rolls on, there have been several good he-said/he-said stories published across Southern Minnesota that bring good due diligence to the debate. Catch up on the coverage here and here.
Next, she dives into the rabbithole of Quistian doctrine on spending, cuts and the like to answer the question raised in her headline, and sure enough, one view makes the issue larger and the next one makes it small. (It's also possible the answer a Walz staffer gave the press elsewhere doesn't do anything at all).
Much of Quist’s campaigning has been about cutting the deficit, reining in the national debt, and balancing the budget. The Mankato Free Press wrote that in a July town hall debate in Faribault, "someone in the audience pressed Quist on whether all programs should face the possibility of cuts while the budget is balanced. Quist responded that 'Everything has to be on the table.' Later in the meeting he also said the government has to honor its commitments to veterans’ benefits and Social Security, and that the debt is the 'biggest threat' to those commitments."
Why would vets' benefits and Social Security be threatened by the national debt unless there were intentions to cut them? Is Quist’s position on keeping everything on the table (which would include vets' benefits), while simultaneously committing to presere entitlements contradictory? You decide.
Quist's last stand
And those are just the questions about his stance on funding veterans' benefits. In Campaign Notebook: Quist, Walz compete with ‘Twins of Evil’, veteran Mankato Free Press reporter Mark Fischenich notes that race--which should be competitive--simply doesn't seem to be on anyone's competitive list:
. . .While no 1st District polls have been publicized, the absence of investment in the race by the national parties or affiliated groups, and the lack of political celebrities visiting southern Minnesota, suggests that internal polling shows a safe lead for Walz.
Compare this year’s race to Walz’s 2006 upset of 12-year incumbent Republican Rep. Gil Gutknecht. At this point six years ago, Walz was announcing that his fundraising was approaching $850,000 — far more than any other Gutknecht opponent had raised.
By early October, then-House Majority Leader (current House Speaker) John Boehner had announced that he was coming to Mankato to campaign with Gutknecht, and Newt Gingrich had already held an event in Rochester with the incumbent.
U.S. Sen. Max Cleland was set for a North Mankato visit on behalf of Walz. . . .
But Fischenich;s lede--highlighting the time-management dilemma facing Mankato residents on Tuesday night--may be a better indication of the cartoonish nature of the political contest playing out in the First:
If you’re torn between attending the Tim Walz-Allen Quist debate Tuesday night at Minnesota State University or the Rob Zombie-Marilyn Manson concert the same evening at the civic center, take heart.
While both the 1st Congressional District debate and the “Twins of Evil Tour” concert start at 7 p.m., there’s an excellent chance debate-goers — if they sneak out at the closing statements — could still experience the end of the Zombie performance and catch a tune or two from his current “Mondo Sex Head” album. And they’d get all of the Manson concert.
It’s hard to say which event will have more pyrotechnics, based on the previous debate between the Democratic Walz, a three-term incumbent from Mankato, and Republican challenger Quist, a retired St. Peter farmer.
The two candidates aggressively went after each other several times during the 90-minute debate in Byron. And it’s possible Quist, who appears to have some ground to make up before Nov. 6, will be looking to crank up the volume even more on Tuesday.
Given Debate Minnesota's insistence on civility--and moderator Gary Eichten's skill at maintaining decorum--Bluestem doubts that Quist will be able to get anyone's goat, regardless of whatever sort of temper tantrums he throws.
The "At Issue" debate between Walz and Quist shows that the congressman refused to swallow the pill that would make him look small (and we don't foresee him engaging Quist's victim-trolling on Tuesday night):
The marriage question
But Allen's Adventures in Wonderland don't stop there. As readers may recall, Winona Daily News staff writer Mary Juhl first reported a curious wrinkle at Quist's final stop in his Walz-apology press tour in Quist: Government doesn’t belong in gay marriage debate. Next New Ulm Journal reporter Josh Moniz tried to follow up on that, and Quist ended the phone conversation abruptly, as Moniz reported in Quist unwilling to clarify statements on marriage amendment.
City Pages' Aaron Rupar picked it up in Allen Quist directly contradicts himself on gay marriage, is called on it, refuses to clarify and the Minnesota Progressive Project's EricPusey rounded out the week with Allen Quist, the stickler for accuracy, won't clarify his statement on marriage equality.
Why does Bluestem suspect that those aren't the headlines Quist hoped to generate when he left the farmhouse on the morning of the press tour?
The divorce question
Bluestem found video of the episode in the DFL tracker's raw footage of the Winona press conference. Since the marriage amendment is a hot question in Minnesota, what Quist said in his next breath didn't attract attention:
There are a lot of reasons for the high divorce rate. One of the reasons is that people in poverty game the system and they realize that if they're not married they're going to qualify for benefits much better than if they get married. That's not the only reason for not--for the high divorce rate, but i want you to know it's an important one.
Here's the video footage:
Elsewhere, Quist has spoken about how he's got nothing against people getting help, but at other times made jabs at them. The New Ulm Journal's eagle-eyed Moniz reported in Walz, Parry, Quist find common ground and a few barbs at Farmfest forum:
On Monday night at a Republican fundraiser, Quist said he believed the food stamp program was so fundamentally broken that people with Rolls-Royces could get food stamps. He relented from his statement after the forum on Tuesday, but he continued to insist that a massive overhaul of the system is required.
Bluestem examined and rejected the myth of the welfare Rolls Royce in an episode of Emo Senator: Top Republican leaders doubt Mike Parry's pill-popping gubernatorial memories. The Quist debunking starts half-way down the post.
Quist also claims that food stamps discriminate against married people. City Pages' Rupar ripped in that in Allen Quist ignores facts, alleges food stamp program discriminates against married couples:
Actually, Allen, the reason two-thirds of food stamps go to single people is because only 51 percent of adults are married, and 47 percent of food stamp recipients are children under 18. There's no government conspiracy against heterosexual couples at work here.
As The Atlantic notes, "What the [food stamp] numbers imply is that those who get benefits are unquestionably poor [and] many of them aren't old enough to work or care for themselves." Quist, citing concerns about some sort of anti-family conspiracy, wants to make it tougher for such folks to eat.
Now it's not just "the government" plotting against the family, but poor people themselves gaming the system and getting divorced to get better benefits.
There is a serious debate going on about the links between poverty and marriage, but within that debate, Bluestem hasn't found a credible source arguing that poor people are getting divorced so that they can collect more benefits. The 2010 Brookings Fragile Families Study is typical of the findings.
Indeed, the debate centers on how to encourage marriage, who should do this, and whether policies designed to encourage marriage have been effective, although some argue all families, regardless of structure, need more support (or alternatively none). The family funds breakup in the Washington Times reviews the former discussion from a conservative perspective. Both it and the Brookings Fragile Families Study links are worth a read.
Perhaps that's what Quist was thinking when he said government shouldn't be in the marriage business. Influenced by the marriage movement, the Bush Administration began the Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood initiative program. In 2010, Obama proposed ending that project, and replacing it with a block grant program to be administered by states. Whatever the case, there's little evidence a vast conspiracy against the family, nor of small-tie grifting through divorce ont he part of people living in poverty.
Instead, Quist seems to be twisting whatever data he finds to promote his dark hobbyhorse about a conspiracy against the institution of a marriage. It's a mark of his unseriousness as a candidate that he choses to make fragile families important agents among his imaginary enemies.
Images: Allen in Wonderland, with Julie Quist as The Duchess, Allen as the baby, and you-know-who as the Cheshire Cat, by Ken Avidor (above); Twins of Evil tour graphic (below).