Tag Archives: Politics in Minnesota

Hubert H. Humphrey: Documentary Generates Memories and Invites Discussion

Though I know it dates me, I am forever proud to boast that I cut my political teeth handing out Humphrey campaign posters at the Union Hall in Highland Village.  From the first Union member’s positive response, I was hooked.  I trailed the Smiling Warrior through that Senatorial run, then lived and politicked in DC during some of his finest hours in the Senate.  As director of a national student organization with an aggressive human rights agenda I swelled with pride as Humphrey inspired youthful activists to believe in the political process – and to act on their beliefs.

The legacy of that era is a body of human rights legislation that shapes the nation today.

For many, the legacy is a lifetime commitment to political activism and awareness, politics of the possible and, yes, the politics of joy.  I admit that to this day I treasure a glossy photo in which some of us groundlings constituents tagged along with an interdenominational delegation of youth leaders for a high level tête-à-tête with our fearless leader.  I have told my sons that we were passing the Civil Rights bill and, in a way, I guess we were.

Though for the most part I eschew egocentric ramblings this reflection on HHH is the exception.  I cannot resist a personal affirmation of his early influence.

My retreat from the ubiquitous Super Bowl frenzy led me to C-Span’s Q&A where I tuned in on Brian Lamb interviewing Minnesota documentary producer Mick Caouette. They were discussing the two-hour documentary Hubert H. Humphrey: Art of the Possible

For a decade, Caouette interviewed scores of politicos – Senators, staffers, Humphrey supporters, historians and voters.  Caouette also delved into extraordinary archives of long-buried audio and video records of Humphrey in his glory and in his final illness, Humphrey as VP berated by Lyndon Johnson, Hubert the family man at his Wayzata home.  I was spellbound and, like several of the interviewees, moved to happy memories dampened by an occasional tear.  And this was the just discussion of a two-hour documentary I have yet to experience.

For those of an age Humphrey remains a powerful presence on the political scene – too recent for the history books, but alive in our memories.  Bill Moyers’ response to the documentary, quoted on the Humphrey Institute website, echoes and elegantly expresses my thoughts:”

I was among more than a thousand people who watched, laughed, gasped, and wept at Mick Caouette’s Hubert H. Humphrey: The Art of the Possible during a screening in Minneapolis. It is a powerful film about arguably the most important United States Senator of the 20th century whose great personal courage shaped the world we live in.

This is far more than just the riveting account of an exuberant public figure whose life was marked by both triumph and tragedy; it also is an important and fresh exploration of American history.

Youth will know about the demise of the Humphrey Metrodome, now reduced to relic status.  Many Minnesotans and virtually all U of M students know that the HHH Institute remains a venue for research, discourse and learning.

It occurs to me that time spent viewing and discussing the interview and the documentary would make a meaningful intergenerational experience.  If it happens to ignite a spark of interest in the legacy of Hubert H. Humphrey check the HHH Institute website for leads to scores of worthy books and related resources – and information about the centennial celebration of Hubert H. Humphrey that the Institute is planning for September 2011

Consider, too, that there in our midst family members and friends who would love nothing more than to dust off their memories and reflect on the lasting influence of Minnesota’s ebullient native son.

A Gubernatorial Debate Without Mention of Social Issues

“Don’t worry, they’ll just build a new building,” my friend assured me.  I was entering a much-vaunted auditorium at the University of St. Thomas with a cup of contraband coffee in my hand, timidly murmuring that they would have to re-carpet if I were to spill a drop.

The old anecdote crossed my mind recently as I entered an even newer auditorium, this time to hear a “debate” among gubernatorial candidates sponsored.  As I tried to listen to the spins and dodges, I kept reminding myself to think no small thoughts.  If anyone spilled the beans on the candidates’ avoidance tactics, the powers would indeed build a new building.  The reminder was pricey, painful and a prod to rethink the ways in which those who care about social issues respond to – better yet, get in front of – the issues.

Needless to say, the folks at this debate heard nary a word about social issues.  The prevailing mantra was predictable: “the economy, stupid” – writ large and arguably a little late.  Attendees could blithely stride past peaceful protesters who were not allowed to walk, talk or carry their message to the veranda of the Opus College of Business building.

The candidates are justifiably terrified that any sidelong glance at social issues will raise the hackles and open the checkbooks of those who prefer to ponder the “E” topic – taxes, job creation, the rights of the have’s, fiscal policy.  Candidates and their supporters alike have a preconceived notion of social activists.  For those who struggle to peace and justice, that’s a painful but necessary admission.  I’m reminded of Robert Burns who nailed it:  “O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us.”

This painful – not to mention expensive –  experience of the debate, now tempered by time, sharpened my focus  on the absence of social issues from the candidate debates in particular, from media coverage of the campaigns, and from public discourse in general.   Those who care about pay inequity, the rights of immigrants, domestic abuse, trafficking, the homeless, learning opportunities of poor kids, and other real life issues need to internalize the world view of the candidates.  Electoral politics, statistics, and language both shape and reflect a world view that is as real as it is unlike our own way of looking at things.  Some possible concrete steps to getting on the agenda:

  • Change the questions (priority #1) –  If the candidate is bombarded with the same question in various venues, the issue makes its way to the candidate’s and the media’s agenda.
  • Change the tone – Position yourself or your organization as  a co-conspirator against some common foe.  Invent one if necessary.
  • Load them with the numbers – This I learned from the indomitable Nina Rothchild.  Statistics talk.  Sometimes they speak the truth; in the hands of liars, they lie or obfuscate.  Consider the source and the presentation. Apply the KISS principle and be able to back it up with hard data.
  • Fact check – In the digital age it’s easy enough to track the facts.  Don’t swallow but follow the information track.
  • Craft and communicate a vision – Everybody wants to look ahead to a better world – Create a vision that embraces positive change broadly defined to include crazy ideas such as justice.
  • Listen, painful as that may be – Filter the rhetoric and get into the minds of those who echo, rather than initiate, strategies for addressing the issues.
  • Invoke the founding fathers – Everybody else does.  It was Jefferson himself who wrote that:  “whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that, whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them right.”
  • Remember that it’s not about laying new carpet  it’s about building a new building with a new foundation of social, as well economic, building blocks.
  • Speak up – you’ve got the facts, the stories,  and  TJ’s confidence in the people to back you up.

A passion for info access is the dominant thread in my DNA.  Though the sources, format, techniques and skills change with the times, information is a powerful and relentless tool which, if used with skill and a little panache, will bring about change, starting with a revised agenda.  Posts re. the power and sources of information are about to boil over in my head.  Watch for future posts here and elsewhere.