The American Stew Pot


I was once told that the old idea of the "American Melting Pot" was a little... off. In reality, I was told, America is more like a stew: each of the ingredients add something to the entire ensemble, but overall retain their own structure. America is much the same, with little outposts of culture here and there because America doesn't force assimilation. Where you might see some potato or carrot, you see the ethnic neighborhoods of Chicago or the Amish communities of the Midwest.

What makes America so great is that we don't force the whole stew into a blender, because any cook can tell you trying to put hot stew into a blender will just make it explode. If you must blend a stew, either wait for it to cool down or use an immersion blender. It may take longer, and you actually have to plunge into the thick of things, but at least there won't be an explosion. You can't expect the stew to go by your timeline or your personal wants, unless you want boiling liquid on your ceiling... and maybe some people do.

So you have your ingredients, and you prepare them: you first partially cook some of the ingredients with a little oil, add what will become the gravy, and leave it on to cook for a long time. If you're patient, you have an amazing dish... but what if someone looked at that stew pot and said "I bet I can do it better" by gussying it up? What if someone saw a perfectly delicious, if humble, dish and decided it needed more? What would being greedy in this kitchen get you?

Let's say this person wants to add a buttery crust to the top of this stew, making it more like a Great American Pot Pie. Now, there's nothing wrong with a pot pie, in theory, and I'm sure we all appreciate a good crust/gravy combination. The only problem is that the crust is going to take some time to make, so you'll have to try to speed up the cooking on your filling to make up for it. So you take the 90% on the bottom and turn up the heat. In making this crust, you had to cut some of the butter out of the stew beneath. Now, the meat or the vegetables get burned, but that's okay, this person says, because the crust will make it all worth it. It'll be so decadent, such a sight to be seen, that everyone will forget if the stuff underneath it is slightly burnt.

There's just one problem: in this person's quest to make the curst the envy of all, he added too much butter. To be blunt, the upper crust is too rich. As a result, putting in the oven will yield disaster: the crust will fall apart, and the stew underneath will boil up from the bottom, only hastening the destruction of the upper crust. Soon, instead of a tasty treat, you have an oily mess because the ingredients weren't distributed properly. In this person's quest to make something that looked super cool and fancy, it all ended in mushy, burnt nastiness.

So don't always try to re-invent the wheel. Make sure your Great American Stew Pot gets enough oil, and don't send it all to the top. If you must have an upper crust (and you can, that's okay) make sure you make it of strong stuff, and go easy on the richness. It might turn out to be a teeny bit tougher up there on the top, but it's worth it to not have an underneath on fire and an upper crust that can't support its own weight.

It's a recipe for disaster from the get-go, no matter how badly you want it to succeed. I know that sounds a little harsh, but it needs to be said, because when you have soggy, oily mush on top of burned filling, no one wins and, if you leave it the heat in long enough, hoping that will help re-form the upper crust... then everything winds up burned in the end.

At Your Service,

Doremus Jessup

The Spring, Refreshed

If all you care about this November is whether or not your person “wins” or “loses,” then head on down to the dog track. Politics is not about winning and losing. It’s not about the glory or the satisfaction. I know it sounds hard to believe, but there used to be a time in this country, not too long ago, where politics was actually about helping people.
-Helping people is making sure they can go to the hospital.
-Helping people is making sure they can go to school.
-Helping people is making sure they don’t go hungry.
-Helping people is making sure they have a roof over their heads.
-Helping people is making sure they have what they need to not only survive, but thrive.
It’s not about you. It’s not about your success or your defeat. It’s not about your personal satisfaction. Times have gotten so tough for so many Americans that we are now talking about satisfaction writ large. In our Constitution, it says this country exists to “provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
Ourselves… AND our posterity.
None of what you, personally, want matters anymore. It never should have mattered in the first place. It’s about all of us. It’s depressing that the country has to be rocked by instability, crisis and the advent of fascism for this integrity to return to our political discourse, but now that it has you will see an entire generation rising, and the sons and the daughters are beyond your command. They demand that things be done differently… and, oddly enough, it’s the way things were done for their parents, or their grandparents, before the specter of Watergate forever killed two generations’ perceptions of government.
We’re ready to believe again. We’re ready to stand up for what we believe again. We believe in America: unabashedly, uncynically, unrepentantly.  We were told great stories of the America where our parents or our grandparents grew up: income equity, social mobility, and moving ever-forward toward a just and peaceful future. We want that future, because we were told it was meant to be now. We understand that it can’t happen overnight, but we are appalled at how far things have fallen back from where they were, and now, with almost nothing left to lose, we are willing to fight and claw our way back onto equal social footing with the other prosperous nations of the world.
I will end this with the words of John F. Kennedy, the Baby Boomer Bernie Sanders, as he took office for the first time in 1961:
We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
This much we pledge—and more.

At Your Service,

Doremus Jessup

An Open Letter to Walter Mondale

The Honorable Walter Mondale
42 nd Vice President of the United States
24 th United States Ambassador to Japan
United States Senator
23 rd Attorney General of Minnesota

Mr. Mondale:

In 1999, my family moved to Canton, Minnesota in Fillmore County, population 343. I went to high school in Minnesota, then returned to Wisconsin for college. Soon after I graduated college, our country found itself turned upside down by a dangerous political movement that threatened everything that once made America a shining beacon of progress and prosperity. There was, however, a bright spot in the Star of the North, and I moved my Chicagoland wife and newborn daughter back to Minnesota in 2014. We both know Minnesota will take care of our family and our future far better than what the fates have in store for other nearby states, and we are happy to call Minnesota our home.

Through the terrific SELCO library-loan program, I've had a chance to absorb your 2010 memoir, The Good Fight: A Life in Liberal Politics. Though I considered myself an independent for the first twenty years of my life, 2010's drastic shift toward neoconservatism has galvanized me into action. I am now active in my local county DFL and I am looking to get involved in future elections from 2016 and beyond, and I want to do my best to carry forward the ultimately vindicated policies championed by Humphrey, McCarthy, Wellstone, and yourself, among others in the DFL.

In reading your book's chapter on the 1980 election, my historian's training was struck by the amazing amount of parallels drawn between the contested primary of 1980 and that of 2016. Your book mentions that so much had changed from the 60s to the 80s in both the American economy and collective consciousness that playing the “old songs” was unfeasible. The question I am begging of you is: Do you think 2016, or possibly a future election, could see a similar dynamic come into play, but in reverse? In candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, we're seeing a growth in support for old-school, FDR- and DFL-style liberalism, so much so that it seems the New Democrat platform is quickly becoming the old band with the old songs.

If used properly, a national democratic (or even a national DFL) platform or slate of candidates could form a Roosevelt Revolution to counteract the Reagan one. We have the youth on our side: you mentioned on page 271 that unemployment approaching seven percent is dangerous, while the BLS reported that youth unemployment was 12.2 percent in July of 2015. You mentioned that adding inflation to unemployment to create a “discomfort index” would cause a problem if you got over nine. Adding the roughly 2% inflation puts us well into trouble territory. Using your own works, it's easy to see why today's youth (now the largest growing voting block) want to give the policies of your youth a try: soaking the rich, investing in infrastructure, and making progress in new industries like renewable energy or sustainable food production. It has worked before, do you think it can work again? Do you think time is ripe for a new group of Mondales, Humphries, Carters and Muskies to bring liberalism back to the people? Your memoir and experiences as Vice President seem to suggest so, and I would gladly appreciate any thoughts you have on the matter.

When I was a boy, my mother uncovered a picture of you she had snapped during the '84 campaign. When I asked who you were, my mother said you were a good man who told the truth, whether it would help get him elected or not. That snapshot now sits at the top of my refrigerator, and when I hold my baby daughter in my arms and she stretches out her little hands, I make sure to tell her “that's Fritz.” You were right. Hubert Humphrey was right. Jimmy Carter was right. Now, it's time for liberals to come in from the wilderness and pick up the good fight once again. I truly believe, after reading it in your own words, that the time has come.

So... what are your thoughts on the matter?

Sincerely,

Doremus Jessup

Taxed Enough Already?

A June 27th poll from Marketplace-Edison Research uncovered the following:
Americans from across the economic and political spectrum — 71 percent of them — think the U.S. economic system is “rigged” in favor of certain groups.
When things get this bad, the world stops behaving like we've known it to. Much like on the bottom of the ocean, where strange animals have adapted to deal with the pressure and the lack of light, we are seeing interesting adaptations here among the vast majority of Americans, who are struggling to make ends meet and even to aspire to what the middle-class standard their parents or their grandparents enjoyed. In such a system, the usual structure tends to break down, and once-hot-button social issues like abortion or school prayer take a back seat to the here and now:
  • How can we make sure our family is fed?
  • How can we keep from losing our homes?
  • How can we retain our dignity?
  • How can we live a life without fear of catastrophe?
  • How can we plan for a future without certainty?
 When things become this simple, when the policies of the day enrich so few at the expense of so many, the standard order begins to break down. Democrat, Republican, Liberal, Conservative, Christian, Jew, religious or non, all of it falls by the wayside because people just want someone to listen to them. They just want someone who will actually deliver on a promise and make their lives better. We have had nearly 40 years of our hard gains being funneled to the top, who hide their money away instead of investing it as we were told they would. We have had 30 years of the forever race of "having to do more with less." We are reaching a breaking point down here, and politics-as-usual will not cut it.

When the Tea Party started, it was said that the T.E.A. stood for "Taxed Enough Already." In the strangest of bedfellows, we now see Occupy and Tea Party folks coming together to agree that yes, a small group of people have too much power, and they use that power to avoid paying their fair share, and the costs get pushed onto us. Is the vast majority of America "Taxed Enough Already?" With states having to pick up the slack for schools, counties desperate to get their roads fixed, and school districts voting in massive levies just to keep the small town schools open, I think it's safe to say that the Other 90% down here are Taxed Too Much, and have been for quite some time.

Minnesota and the DFL have proven it clear as day: the richest of the rich needs to be taxed more. It doesn't destroy the state, it doesn't hurt the economy, and it doesn't make businesses run scared. If we could tax the rich at 90% and have the best economy in the world along with the best middle class, we can do it again. The DFL, having a different name, can have a different purpose. We can become that party of the vast majority of Minnesotans, from all walks of life, if we stay true to our roots and seek to understand the problems facing Democrats, Farmers, and Laborers of all stripes of life. We must seek to understand those who we might have recently labeled our "enemies" and not wall ourselves up in the assurance that we and only we have all of the answers. The DFL has taken the first step toward making life better for the majority of Minnesotans, that much is clear. What we need to do now is put our pride and personal prejudices aside and reach out to Greater Minnesota to keep the movement going.

Who knows: the next great idea just might come out of somewhere like Fillmore County, but first we have to be willing to listen.

At Your Service,

Doremus Jessup

The Fire, Rekindled

A NOTE: I originally wrote this column on June 9. Imagine my surprise when the YouTube channel "Big Think" posted a video on June 11th saying much the same thing. 

One of my most well received posts was "The Fire and the Spring," where I likened the fear, anger, and blame-based rhetoric of the current Republican party to a roaring fire that must constantly be fed to keep alight, and possibly could grow out of control and consume those who were stoking it.

Enter Donald Trump.

Yes, the sideshow that is the Trump campaign has proven to be a gold mine for comedians and network executives alike, and the fact that he is actually polling neck and neck with the presumptive nominee from the other side all but proves the fire has gotten out of control... but there is still the assurance that cooler heads will prevail, and that this fire will eventually spend all of its fuel and die down.

Down, but not out.

I'd like to tell you the story of Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee in 1964 who was the Donald Trump of his day... even if his policies seem downright liberal in comparison. Coming off an amazing landslide for the incumbent Lyndon Johnson (who had ascended to the office less than a year earlier following the assassination of JFK) the Democrats were riding high and crowing about how the Republicans would never again be a force to be reckoned with. As the campaign material went, "in your gut, you know he's nuts."

And then the Republicans won in 1968.

The Great Society was stopped in its tracks and slowly dismantled over the next 50 years, Vietnam was actually escalated, and the new Republican Southern Strategy of sly and under-the-radar hateful tactics won the day. The nasty old id of the Republican party didn't go away, it just got cleverer.

And it can happen again.

Don't be so smug in thinking Trump can't, or won't, win, and even if he does lose, don't be so sure that this is the final end of American conservatism. I'll grant that it may even banish the Republican party to the fringes for a while, much like after 1929, but politicians are crafty and politicians with deep pockets thank to deep pocketed backers are far craftier. They will be back, if they ever really leave in the first place.

Exit the Republicans, Enter the Democrats?

Al From, the man who invented the DLC, was instrumental in pulling the Democrats away from the liberal ideals of Humphrey, Kennedy, Mondale, McGovern, McCarthy, and FDR. The cynical thought was that the American people were just too stupid to understand how liberalism could help them, so the easiest and most effective strategy in the short term is to appeal to the conservative monster the Southern Strategy created. Now, under the first African-American President, we see a Democratic Party that is seemingly more conservative than the Republican Party of Eisenhower.
"Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid."
-President Dwight Eisenhower, 1954
Only recently has President Obama even discussed improving Social Security. In 2013, he even floated the idea of cutting the benefits as part of a unicorn-esque, mythical "Grand Bargain" with Republicans. But if you think that's the only place where today's national Democrats are farther right than Eisenhower's Republicans, think again:
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
-President Dwight Eisenhower, 1961
Contrast this to Hillary Clinton (who refers to herself as a "progressive who likes to get things done") and her reliance on military might regarding Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. Add to that Obama's embrace of unregulated and unrestricted drone policy and you get a Democratic party that seems much hungrier for war (and the lucrative donations that come from warmakers) than the former general.

The right is not out, do not count them out. They will come back shrewder, subtler. It is not impossible for the Democratic party to morph into a center-right party of bombs and bailouts, cuts and cronyism, after the Republican party has successfully Trumped themselves into irrelevance. We're already seeing major Libertarian donors court Clinton in the 2016 race, and former well-heeled donors to failed boy-king Jeb Bush. It is not out of the bounds of reason to see the next few Presidential elections feature a squaring off of conservative Democrats and liberal Progressives, Greens, or some other possible party.

It is even not out of reality to think the Republican party, in a shambles, completely restructuring themselves back to their roots as the party of radical liberalism first exemplified in Abraham Lincoln. The parties have switched before, and they can switch again. Theodore Roosevelt was a trust-busting Republican in 1905, and Franklin Roosevelt was a bank-busting Democrat in 1933. It is not unfeasible to have a movement or an event shake up our political landscape like it has in the past, and Donald Trump is certainly enough of a caustic catalyst for that to happen. 2016 could stand to be a watershed year in American politics, and the next ten to twenty years could prove to be absolutely explosive to the entrenched political systems of the past century. The biggest question currently is whether we will be able to cool the fire down with spring water, or if the fire will continue to spread and possibly burn down the whole country.

If the fire dies down, it will only smoulder for a while. We must always beware that it might be kindled once again by ignorance and hatred and fear, and we must never again do as was done by Al From and the DLC and give more fuel to the fire. It will give you heat and light in the short-term, but it can also leave you badly burned.

At Your Service,

Doremus Jessup