Minnesota is not San Francisco, and Minnesotans like it that way. It is a state where tradition, family, and religion are valued, and where the airs of yuppy, urban intellectual elitism are scorned. Certainly there are pockets of such attitudes in some parts of the Twin Cities and on a number of university campuses throughout the state, but Minnesotans as a whole are much more meat-and-potatoes. It is a state filled with hard-working, middle-class, blue-collar, labor union people with jobs in agriculture and industry.
All of this makes a certain campaign ad issued by the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party — Minnesota’s labor-union-based version of the Democratic Party — seem odd. The ad, which the DFL issued in support of a State Senate campaign, depicts the torso of a man wearing a black clerical shirt with a Roman collar; the shirt has a button on it in the style of a political campaign button, reading “Ignore the poor.”
As if that weren’t cringe-worthy enough, the DFL sent out two other mailers with similarly odd pictures: one, showing the interior of an obviously Catholic church with electioneering-type draperies hanging from the ceiling and the word “Vote” inscribed on them; the other, an image of an angel from a stained-glass window holding a scroll reading “Blessed are the Rich.”
The ads backfired, to say the least. The DFL tried to clarify that the ads were a criticism of the Republican candidate, Dan Hall, a Protestant minister who has frequently cited his faith’s role in his candidacy, but who also endorsed cutting a program from the state budget that would provide health services to certain Minnesotans living below the poverty line. This intended message — that Dan Hall infuses too much religion into politics and is a hypocrite for not aiding the poor — was lost in the shuffle. In spite of the attempts to diffuse it, public outcry arose immediately against the manner in which Catholic religious imagery was used in the ads. Most Minnesotans thought they fell somewhere along the spectrum between blatant bigotry and extreme tackiness.
Perhaps the most perplexing thing about the ads, to this writer, is the idea of releasing them in Minnesota. I can see these ads going over in Nancy Pelosi’s district, where the Catholic Church is persona non grata due to its support of Proposition 8. But Minnesotans in general are not crusaders for gay marriage, nor are they the most vigorous proponents of legalized abortion. Why would Minnesotans have an axe to grind against the Catholic Church?
Minnesotans might not, but the DFL, which released the ads, may well have an axe to grind against the Catholic Church, particularly as represented by the Archbishop of Saint Paul-Minneapolis, the Most Reverend John Nienstedt.
Archbishop Nienstedt, the other Minnesota bishops, and the Knights of Columbus have been engaged in an aggressive campaign in opposition to the legalization of gay marriage — thought to be possible if Democrats win the race for governor — and in favor of a constitutional ban on the practice in the state. The Archdiocese has even distributed 400,000 DVD’s in which the Archbishop explains the reasons for the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, and the obligations of Catholics to vote in support of the Church’s teachings and against gay marriage. Beyond this, the Archbishop has been a vocal opponent of abortion, and has insisted on the obligations of Catholic voters and politicians to oppose it.
The lefty-Catholic community in the Twin Cities, along with the left-leaning Minneapolis Star Tribune (a.k.a. “the Red Star”), has been outraged by the Archbishop’s actions, and some voices in the Catholic community (dutifully quoted by the Star Tribune) have leveled accusations against the Archdiocese of focusing excessively on political issues at the expense of helping the poor. Injecting religion excessively into politics while being hypocritical by ignoring the plight of the poor…wow, that sounds familiar.
(As an aside, the Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul is the largest provider of relief services to the poor in the state of Minnesota, and the DVD’s were funded by a separate, private donation.)
This liberal community is what the DFL, and the Democratic Party in general, truly represents, and it is the class from which their leadership springs. The top leadership and core of the Democratic Party is a group far more liberal than most Minnesotans, most Americans, and even most Democrats. They are the sort of people who think a campaign ad in Minnesota mocking symbols of the Catholic religion is a good campaign strategy — you know, because the Catholic Church and that bigot Nienstedt hate gays, so who could possibly care about making fun of them?
The ads are a symptom of their ignorance for how most Americans actually live and think. This group has its feet firmly planted in the snobbery of the liberal academic and media culture and is isolated from the very people they claim to represent — blue-collar, middle-class Americans.
As national opinion polls show the country becoming more and more pro-life, Democrats try to fund abortion through the healthcare bill; as the country continues rejecting gay marriage in popular initiative after popular initiative, Democrats continue pushing it. Just as the country is now realizing that the Democratic Party is far too fiscally liberal, maybe it should also start realizing it is a little too socially liberal.
Minnesota is not San Francisco. But the Democratic Party is.
John Gerardi is a student at Notre Dame Law School. He writes on topics relating to religion and society.