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The Political Class and the Dregs From Below Decks

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Posted on January 8 2011 9:00 am
Walter Hudson is a political commentator and co-founder of Minnesota's North Star Tea Party Patriots, a statewide educational organization. He runs a blog entitled Fightin Words. He also contributes to True North, a hub of Minnesotan conservative commentary. Follow his work via Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
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Sometimes, we like to think we’ve moved beyond the overt class distinctions depicted in period films such as James Cameron’s Titanic. In a scene where passengers are being loaded into lifeboats, after it becomes apparent the massive ocean liner is doomed, the heroine’s mother clings to her outmoded sense of social propriety.

Will the lifeboats be seated according to class? I hope they’re not too crowded–

I was reminded of this scene while visiting Minnesota’s state capitol on Wednesday. The freshly inaugurated Governor Mark Dayton was set to sign an executive order opting the state into certain provisions of Obamacare. Dozens of concerned citizens had turned up in protest. What transpired demonstrated that, despite the egalitarian principles enshrined in our founding documents, class distinction remains a palpable aspect of American society.

As the number of protesters in the governor’s office swelled in dramatic excess of those there to support him, the room became packed to the brim. Capitol staff, invited speakers, and members of the media who arrived just in time for the scheduled event found their way blocked by protesters who had arrived earlier. It seemed apparent that none among the political class had anticipated being overrun by the plebeian dregs of Minnesotan society. The contempt among the ranks of capitol regulars was thinly veiled, loosed in exasperated gasps the likes of which might escape a royal whose crowning had been streaked.

In a move which surprised virtually everyone, Governor Dayton began the proceedings by acknowledging the protesters and offering time for some among them to speak. This was a savvy choice which served to relieve some of the tension. Even so, some capitol regulars wondered why the governor did not simply have those opposed to his action removed.

Nobody had seen anything like this at the Capitol before.

Yes, there have always been protests — sometimes loud, but not in this formal room. In this room, governors traditionally have held news conferences in front of the media and with only invited guests. Security people traditionally had kept all others out.

At a separate press conference held by the newly sworn in Republican majority in the state legislature, contempt dripped from the voice of a reporter asking state senators to comment on the governor’s choice to allow the common folk to speak. “What do you think about what happened this morning in the governor’s office, the pushing and shoving, the cheering and boos of protest?” The senators were quick to dodge, pointing out they had not attended the signing. Indeed, the Republicans found themselves likewise surrounded by concerned citizens who had migrated from the governor’s office, and did not seem entirely certain whether the crowd was on their side.

The attitude among those accustomed to walking the halls of the state capitol toward those who had made a special trip to have their voices heard was very bit as elitist as that of the first class depicted in Titanic. As on that doomed ship of yesteryear, today’s elite are having some difficulty accepting that the rules have changed. There is little place for formality among those whose liberty and livelihood are under threat. Governor Dayton’s opt-in to provisions of Obamacare is emblematic of a nationwide refusal among the political class to accept that their fiscal ship is steadily sliding beneath the waves.

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