Minnesota -- The Epitome of the Moralistic Political Culture
Minnesota Government and Politics, Chapter 3
Daniel J. Elazar
The Vital Role of Political Culture
Political cultural factors stand out as particularly influential in shaping Minnesota's government. They do so in three ways: (1) by molding the political community's (the citizens, the politicians, and the public officials) perceptions of the nature and purposes of politics and expectations from government and the political process; (2) by influencing the recruitment of specific kinds of people to become active in government and politics -- as elected officials, civil servants and political activists and (3) by subtly directing the actual way in which the art of government is practiced by citizens, politicians, and public in the light of those perceptions. Furthermore, the cultural components of individual and group behavior make themselves felt in the kind of civic behavior dictated by conscience and internalized ethical standards in the forms of law-abidingness adhered to by citizens and officials and in the character of the positive actions of government.
The United States as a whole shares a general political culture that is rooted in two contrasting conceptions of the American political order, both of which can be traced back to the earliest settlement of the country. In the first, the political order is conceived as a marketplace in which the primary public relationships are products of bargaining among individuals and groups acting out of self-interest and the primary public good is to keep the peace. In the second, the political order is conceived to be a commonwealth -- a political society in which the whole people have an undivided interest -- in which the citizens cooperate in an effort to create and maintain the best government in order to implement certain shared moral principles.
The commonwealth is animated by a vision of the proper political order yet to be attained but that is in the process of being built upon existing foundations -- and maintains its strength only by maintaining the vitality of that vision. The marketplace, on the other hand, is animated by a desire to keep the peace through a balance of interests without any necessary commitments other than the preservation of the marketplace itself. Access to the political marketplace is open to all interests that in any way acknowledge its legitimacy and are willing to abide by its rules. No independent criteria are used to judge the legitimacy of those interests as a condition of participation, so any individual or group that can make its presence felt acquires the functional equivalent of citizenship. In the commonwealth, on the other hand, citizenship, or the right to legitimately participate in the government process, is a matter of very serious concern, and a priori moral criteria can legitimately be applied to determine which individuals or groups have that right.
These two conceptions have exercised an influence on government and politics throughout American history, sometimes in conflict and sometimes by complementing one another. They are so intertwined as to be practically inseparable in any particular case or situation, with marketplace notions contributing to shaping the vision of commonwealth and commonwealth ideals often being given a preferred position in the marketplace. The political cultures of certain states are more oriented toward the market place and those of certain others, including and especially, Minnesota, more oriented toward one or another vision of commonwealth.
The national political culture is a synthesis of three major political subcultures. All three are of nationwide proportions, having spread, in the course of time, from coast to coast. At the same time each subculture is strongly tied to specific sections of the country, reflecting the streams and currents of migration that have carried people of different origins and backgrounds across the continent in more or less orderly patterns. Considering the central characteristics that govern each subculture and their respective centers of emphasis, the three political cultures may be called individualistic, moralistic, and traditionalistic. Each of the three reflects its own particular synthesis of the marketplace and the commonwealth.
The individualistic political culture emphasizes the conception of the democratic order as a marketplace, in which government is instituted for strictly utilitarian reasons, to handle those functions demanded by the people it is created to serve. Beyond the commitment to an open market, a government need not have any direct concern with questions of the good society, except insofar as it may be used to advance some common view formulated outside the political arena just as it serves other functions. Since the individualistic political culture emphasizes the centrality of private concerns, it places a premium on limiting community intervention -- whether governmental or nongovernmental -- into private activities to the minimum necessary to keep the marketplace in proper working order.
The character of political participation in the individualistic political culture reflects this outlook. Politics is just another means through which individuals may improve themselves socially and economically. In this sense politics is a business like any other, competing for talent and offering rewards to those who take it up as a career. Those individuals who choose political careers may rise by providing the governmental services demanded of them and, in return, may expect to be adequately compensated for their efforts. Interpretations of officeholders' obligations under this arrangement vary. Where the norms are high, they are expected to provide high quality government services in return for appropriate rewards. In other cases, an officeholder's primary responsibility is to serve himself and those who have supported him directly, favoring them even at the expense of the public.
Political life within an individualistic political culture is based on a system of mutual obligations rooted in personal relationships. In the United States, political parties serve as the vehicles for maintaining the obligational network. Party regularity is indispensable in the individualistic political culture because it is the means for coordinating individual enterprise in the political arena and is the one way of preventing individualism in politics from running wild. Such a political culture encourages the maintenance of a party system that is competitive, but not overly so, in the pursuit of office.
Since the individualistic political culture eschews ideological concerns in its businesslike conception of politics, both politicians and citizens look upon political activity as a specialized one, essentially the province of professionals, of minimum and passing concern to the public, and with no place for amateurs to play an active role. Furthermore, there is a strong tendency among the public to believe that politics is a dirty -- if necessary -- business, better left to those who are willing to soil themselves by engaging in it. In practice, then, where the individualistic political culture is dominant, there is likely to be an easy attitude toward the limits of the professionals' perquisites. Since a fair amount of corruption is expected in the normal course of things, there is relatively little popular excitement when any is found, unless it is of an extraordinary character. It is as if the public is willing to pay a surcharge for services rendered and only rebels when it feels the surcharge has become too heavy. (Of course the judgments as to what is normal and what is "extraordinary" are themselves subjective and culturally conditioned.)
Public officials, committed to giving the public what it wants, are normally willing to initiate new programs only when they perceive an overwhelming public demand for them to act. The individualistic political culture is ambivalent about the place of bureaucracy in the political order. Bureaucratic methods of operation fly in the face of the favor system, yet organizational efficiency can be used by those seeking to master the market.
To the extent that the marketplace provides the model for public relationships in American civil society, all Americans share some of the attitudes that are of first importance in the individualistic political culture. At the same time, substantial segments of the American people operate politically within the framework of two political cultures.
The moralistic political culture emphasizes the commonwealth conception as the basis for democratic government. Politics, to the moralistic political culture, is considered one of the great activities of humanity in its search for the good society -- a struggle for power, it is true, but also an effort to exercise power for the betterment of the commonwealth. Consequently, in the moralistic political culture both the general public and the politicians conceive of politics as a public activity centered on some notion of the public good and properly devoted to the advancement of the public interest.
In the moralistic political culture, individualism is tempered by a general commitment to utilizing communal -- preferably nongovernmental, but governmental if necessary -- power to intervene into the sphere of private activities when it is considered necessary to do so for the public good or the well-being of the community. Accordingly, issues have an important place in the moralistic style of politics, functioning to set the tone for political concern. Government is considered a positive instrument with a responsibility to promote the general welfare, though definitions of what its positive role should be may vary considerably from era to era.
Politics is ideally a matter of concern and duty for every citizen. Government service is public service, placing moral obligations upon whose who serve in government more demanding than those of the marketplace. Politics is not considered a legitimate realm for private economic enrichment. A politician is not expected to profit from political activity and in fact is held suspect if he does.
The concept of serving the community is at the core of all political relationships, politicians are expected to adhere to it even at the expense of individual loyalties and political friendships. Political parties are considered useful political device but are not valued for their own sakes. Regular party ties can be abandoned with relative impunity for third parties, special local parties, or nonpartisan systems if such changes are believed helpful in gaining larger political goals.
In practice, where the moralistic political culture is dominant today, there is considerably more amateur participation in politics. There is also much less of what Americans consider corruption in government and less tolerance of those actions that are considered corrupt, so politics does not have the taint it so often bears in the individualistic environment.
By virtue of its fundamental outlook, the moralistic political culture creates a greater commitment to active government intervention in the economic and social life of the community. At the same time, the strong commitment to communitarianism tends to keep government intervention local wherever possible. Public officials will themselves seek to initiate new government activities in an effort to come to grips with problems as yet unperceived by a majority of the citizenry.
The moralistic political culture's major difficulty with bureaucracy lies in the potential conflict between communitarian principles and large-scale organization. Otherwise, the notion of a politically neutral administrative system is attractive. Where merit systems are instituted, they tend to be rigidly maintained.
The traditionalistic political culture is rooted in an ambivalent attitude toward the marketplace coupled with a paternalistic and elitist conception of the commonwealth. It reflects and older, precommercial attitude that accepts a substantially hierarchical society as part of the ordered nature of things, authorizing and expecting those at the top of the social structure to take a special and dominant role in government. Like its moralistic counterpart, the traditionalistic political culture accepts government as an actor with a positive role in the community, but it tries to limit that role to securing the continued maintenance of the existing social order. To do so, it functions to confine real political power to a relatively small and self-perpetuating group drawn from an established elite who often inherit their right to govern through family ties or social position. Social and family ties are even more important in a traditionalistic political culture, than personal ties in the individualistic, where, after all is said and done, a person's first responsibility is to himself. At the same time, those who do not have a definite role to play in politics are not expected to be even minimally active as citizens. In many cases, they are not even expected to vote. Like the individualistic political culture, those active in politics are expected to benefit personally from their activity, although not necessarily by direct pecuniary gain.
Political parties are not important in traditionalistic political cultures because they encourage a degree of openness that goes against the grain of an elitist political order. Political competition is expressed through factions, an extension of the personal politics characteristic of the system. Hence political systems within the culture tend to have loose one party systems if they have political parties at all. Political leaders play conservative and custodial rather than initiatory roles unless pressed strongly from the outside.
Practically speaking, the traditionalistic political culture is found only in a society that retains some of the organic characteristics of the preindustrial social order. Good government in that political culture involves the maintenance and encouragement of traditional patterns and, if necessary, their adjustment to changing conditions with the least possible upset. Where the traditionalistic political culture is dominant in the United States today, political leaders play conservative and custodial rather than initiatory roles unless they are pressed strongly from the outside.
Traditionalistic political cultures tend to be antibureaucratic. Bureaucracy by its very nature interferes with the fine web of social relationships that lies at the root of the political system. Where bureaucracy is introduced, it is generally confined to ministerial functions under the aegis of the establishment powerholders.
Minnesota is the archetypical example of a state informed and permeated by the moralistic political subculture -- more so than any other in the Union or perhaps in the world. The tone set by the state's political culture permeates Minnesota's entire civil society, its politics and government, giving Minnesota a clean image to match the cleanliness of its public and private places.
When Minnesota emerged as a civil society immediately prior to the Civil War its founders had to confront the most ideologically intense cleavage in the history of American politics -- the struggle between anti-slavery Republicans, mostly Yankees, and popular sovereignty Democrats, mostly from the Middle and the South. A highly moralistic issue-oriented politics became vitally important in the state. This moralistic orientation and commitment to issues was reinforced by subsequent migrations. The Yankees and their descendants, who brought a moralistic political culture with them, were reinforced by the settlers from the Scandinavian countries and, to a lesser extent, Germany.
The growth of home-owned industry and a strong ideologically oriented Labor movement strengthened this issue oriented trends.
Another aspect of Minnesota's uniqueness is the existence of a strong cadre of academics and members of the intellectual professions who participate in civic and political affairs with vigor and success. The very existence of such an element bespeaks the reality of Minnesota's special culture. It is a sign that the state's political order is sufficiently attuned to the kind of issues which generate intellectual as well as moral excitement which stimulate the participation of such elements and that its political culture is so constituted as to make their participation natural.
Academics and members of the intellectual professions are particularly important in the state's party system. In the 1950s, the Democratic Farmer Labor party, in particular, was the focal point of these elements. That party rose to power after 1946 led by a collection of ex-college teachers who went on to success in politics such as Senators Hubert Humphrey and Eugene McCarthy, Minneapolis Mayor Arthur Naftalin, and U.S. Ambassador Max Kampelman, who retained their "amateur" standing as politicians while retaining their ties to the academic community, in one way or another.
The DFL is a coalition of political "amateurs" who are interested in the party as a vehicle for implementing progressive or liberal policies, and the labor movement, which furnishes the bulk of the party workers who have an economic as well as an ideological interest in politics.
Nor has the Independent Republican (IR) party lagged far behind in the attraction and use of intelligence. By the early 1960s, cadres of young academics and intellectually attuned lawyers were rising from the grass roots to articulate new programs for a party in need of new blood. Reluctantly or not, the IR leadership discovered how important this element was and began to accommodate them within the party framework.
All these elements, operating together within the state's political system, have generated a spirit of public concern with community problems that has led to popular recognition of Minnesota as one of the nation's most progressive states. The state's voting record indicates one way in which this progressivism has manifested itself.
Historically Minnesota has tended to deviate from national voting patterns, once in its tendency to support third parties and, in the case of presidential elections where it was virtually forced into the two-party mold, more recently in its consistent support for Democratic presidential candidates in the face of national Republican landslides. For much of its history it maintained an entirely atypical party system.
Minnesota became a state after the Republican ascendancy had already begun. The Democratic party, which had controlled the territorial government through presidential patronage, was almost immediately relegated to a residual role. Though Minnesota voters were even more committed to Republicanism in national elections than those of Wisconsin or Iowa, as Populist-progressives they were the least faithful to the party's state candidates. Since Minnesota's second party was virtually nonexistent, these progressives rarely turned to the two-party system as an outlet, preferring to create their own third-party organizations from the first. Indeed, as the number of elections decided by plurality indicates, for most of the years between 1886 and 1944, Minnesota actually had a multiparty system in its state politics, operating under a Republican umbrella only in national politics.
The populist-progressive parties won elections only when they could unite among themselves or form a pre-election coalition with a Democratic party that often polled a smaller vote than the largest "third" party. By 1932, this arrangement had to sapped traditional loyalties to the Republican party that Minnesota voters began swinging Democratic nationally as well. However, only after the amalgamation of the Democratic and Farmer-Labor parties in 1944 made the successful progressive coalition permanent was the old allegiance to the GOP, which had been honored in the breach for two generations, replaced by a new Democratic allegiance.
With the DFL ascendancy, Minnesota often chose governors and presidents from different parties, a sure sign of an effort to separate state and national electoral politics. Even the state's formal arrangements were pointed toward that end, with two-year terms for state officers allowing for significant "off-year" state elections. The 1958 constitutional amendment increasing the state executive officers terms of office to four years made this effort explicit by providing for their election in non-presidential years.
For many years political debate in Minnesota has been chiefly concerned with questions of how large a role government should have in society, not whether government should play a part in the first place. The state's pioneering role in railroad and utility regulation, conservation of natural resources, public ownership of public utilities, development of a progressive system of taxation, and creation of the cooperative movement is well known. Whether through governmental or public nongovernmental agencies, Minnesotans have a nationally acknowledged record for communitarian activities. Minnesota's widespread communal concern has not necessarily implied a simple bias toward governmental activity. On the metropolitan frontier, however, communal responsibility almost invariably came to mean a relatively high level of government participation on both the state and local planes and Minnesota's state and local governments are moving actively in that direction.
Minnesota progressives turned to nonpartisanship as well as to third partyism and, by World War I, had just about eliminated formal partisan competition for all except the highest political offices in Minnesota. Before partisan designations were reintroduced in state legislative elections, only 22 of approximately 23,500 state and local elective offices were filled on a partisan basis. The state's constraints against partisan elections were applied to the localities as well, placing them in the same nonpartisan mold.
Local nonpartisanship in Minnesota, however, did not signify an effort to escape participation in the state political system, as it did in many other states but represented an effort on the part of the progressives to capture their state whole. Party organization was accordingly identified as antiprogressive and, indeed, antidemocratic for many years. It was only in the 1920s that strong party organizations developed among the progressives, and they were connected to the Farmer-Labor party, an outgrowth of progressive Republicanism. Though that party was later to run into trouble, in part because of its strong organization, it showed progressives that political organization and progressivism were not incompatible. This, in turn, led to a renewed interest in strong political organization to promote progressive aims.
Politics in Minnesota consistently has been an activity open to and dominated by amateurs. This may be due to the persistence of issues as a central element in determining alignments in Minnesota politics, which in turn has meant the recruitment of new elements into the parties as issues change and their domination by issue-conscious people rather than by people interested in politics as a form of business. In such an environment, the number of people who earn their livelihood from politics is correspondingly reduced, particularly since the use of politics for economic advancement flies in the face of the accepted local morality. This, in turn, has a feedback effect. Since there are so few pecuniary benefits to be gained, professional politicians are few and far between (and the ones that do exist are very different in style), thus opening the ranks of political leadership to even more amateurs. This is not to say that at times in the state's history, party organizations have not followed their natural inclinations to become ingrown and exclusive groups of cronies interested in making a profit, but, whenever they have moved in that direction to a point where their activities become perceptible to those outside the "inner circle," either other party actives or the state's voters have removed them from power and created conditions which have forced such movements to their own destruction.
Minnesota's twentieth century political history is a case in point. The Farmer-Labor party was organized by a typically Minnesotan group of political amateurs in the 1920s. After the party gained power in the 1930s, they developed into just such an inner group, becoming well-nigh professional in their interests after a decade of office-holding. Typically, the newly developed professionals began to look upon politics as their "business" and began to indulge in the kind of monetarily self-rewarding activities quite common Illinois and other states dominated by the individualistic political culture. Their actions were discovered, and a public scandal ensued, egged on, of course, by the opposition Republicans. The voters swept the Farmer-Labor party out of office with such force that the party was utterly crushed. Six years later, out of the depths of their hopelessness, the survivors were forced into an amalgamation with the Democratic party in order to revive the possibility of any Farmer-Laborites attaining high public office again.
The minuscule Minnesota Democratic party with which they amalgamated long had been centered in (and almost confined to) St. Paul, where it was run by a group of professional politicians of the type that manned urban political organizations throughout the country. It was so thoroughly out of character with the rest of the state that it managed to win more than 12 percent of the statewide vote for governor only three times between 1918 and 1946. When Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected President, he preferred working with the Farmer-Laborites and did not even give the Minnesota Democrats exclusive rights to federal patronage. Finally, they too were forced into this amalgamation, with FDR's active encouragement. In the process of amalgamation the positions of both groups of professionals were destroyed, and a new group of DFL leaders, more in keeping with Minnesota's style, arose out of it. They have been careful to maintain their "amateur" standing, if only because the party ran-and-file has challenged them whenever they have shown signs of becoming too "professional." For example, in the 1956 presidential primary campaign, the leaders of the DFL tried to deliver the state for Adlai Stevenson by virtually dictating to the rank-and-file DFL'ers that they vote for him in the name of party unity. The spontaneous reaction of the voters was to give Estes Kefauver the victory as a message pointed toward Hubert Humphrey. Humphrey got the message and, at the next DFL state convention, virtually apologized for overstepping himself. In 1960, there developed some feeling in DFL party ranks that their then national committeeman (an Irishman from Duluth) was gaining material benefits for his law firm above and beyond what he should have been, as a consequence of his official position in the party. He was accused of becoming "professional," was retired from his post, and never regained his influence in party affairs.
Nearly thirty years later, Republican United States Senator David Durenberger, a man who had reached that office through active involvement in Twin Cities civic affairs and state constitutional revision, was found to have charged rental for an apartment in Minneapolis in which he lived and also did his U.S. Senate business, to his senatorial office allowance as his "local office." Not only was national media reaction against such "corruption" strong, but Minnesotans immediately rejected him as a viable senator. The argument within the state was whether Durenberger should resign or should be allowed to finish out his term before being replaced. From the moment of the disclosure, he was through as an effective force in Minnesota politics or in the U.S. Senate.
The Republicans have been equally subject to the effects of this aspect of Minnesota's political culture. The Republican party has traditionally been less organization-prone then the Democratic party throughout the country, perhaps because of the early influence of its founders. In Minnesota, even Republican governors and senators have had a difficult time knitting the party together.
After replacing the Farmer-Labor party in the state capitol in 1938 with the election of Harold Stassen to the governorship, the Republicans gave Minnesota a succession of organizationally independent governors. None of them was able to build their personal power through the party apparatus, though some, particularly Stassen, tried hard to do so. These governors won elections not through the strength of the party organization, but through their personal ability to attract voters. Their personal followings, no matter now loyal, could not be "delivered" to other candidates in other elections.
When the DFL did put together an organization of devoted amateurs, they acquired the extra momentum which took the statehouse and the state away from the Republicans. Since 1956, the Minnesota Republican party has been trying with increasing success to build a winning organization within the confines of the Minnesota tradition along the lines laid down by the DFL. In the 1970s, young Republican suburbanites in the Twin Cities area and young professional men with GOP ties out of state began to repeat the pattern of the immediate post-war years as the aging DFL leadership developed organizational hardening of the arteries.
The result has been a competitive two-party state politics since the mid-1970s with Republicans and Democrats having equal opportunity to win state office and neither the executive nor legislative branches being foreclosed to either. What is needed is for candidates to project the Minnesota image -- straight and either nice or feisty -- preferably with a strong populist streak and clearly amateur standing. Most of those successful in state politics have increasingly less chance to go on to national politics. For one reason or another, when Minnesota politicians get involved in the national arena, they usually make some misstep which alienates their local constituencies.
The Minnesota political culture also allows and even encourages local communities to extend their control over matters involving public morality. Municipally owned liquor stores and tight liquor regulation, limitations on Sunday sales, and similar forms of local law enforcement are features of the Minnesota scene, which has accepted this form of public activity as legitimate for a century. Horse racing, like gambling in any other form was prohibited in the state until 1988. While gambling and other illicit activities are certainly carried on underground in Minnesota, as elsewhere, their managers are considerably less influential politically than their counterparts in other states and are subject to continued harassment by law enforcement agencies in most localities.
Since the changes of the 1960s, there have been sharp changes in the expression of moralistic attitudes toward what were previously considered vices. For example, in the 1960s Minnesota became moralistically committed to the new individual freedoms. One result was that prostitution, which had been earlier repressed in the state, was allowed to become wide open on the grounds that there should be individual choice in the matter. A decade later when crime began to rise in connection with prostitution, the state's major cities once again began to crack down on it to keep it under control.
The state began inching toward allowing gambling after state lotteries were well established in the rest of the country. Then when gaming on Indian reservations came along, Minnesotans gave in to it with hardly a murmur, not only because they found it profitable but because they saw it as a way to redress white behavior toward the Indians in the previous centuries. Thus, it can be said that even when Minnesotans make decisions that seem to defy earlier standards of morality, they do so for moralistic reasons.
A very significant aspect of state-local relations in Minnesota is the state's role in maintaining an environment in which local variations of the Minnesota political culture and style can operate. It is particularly apparent in the case of Duluth, whose local political patterns deviate even more from the American norm than those of the state as a whole.
The Yankee tradition in Minnesota has place a high premium on local self-government. At the same time, other indigenous traditions developed in response to sectional demands have encouraged statewide action in ways which other states would be considered an unseemly exercise of state control over local options. The result has been the development of strong positive state involvement in most Minnesota governmental activities, from education to municipal reorganization to law enforcement, but with the preservation of a high degree of latitude at the local level within the framework of state standard-setting or assistance. The state government, in essence, guarantees the right of its civil communities to develop acceptable local variants of the state political system in line with variations in local variants of the state political system in line with variations in local need while simultaneously insuring that no important civil community will develop a political system not in harmony with the state's political culture.
The State's requirements for nonpartisan local elections and its permissiveness in the realm of local control over issues of public morality furnish two divergent examples of this. Another is provided in the peculiarly limited form of "home rule" authorized under the state constitution. While cities, townships, and, since 1958, even counties are granted the right to draft their own charters and theoretically to assume all permitted municipal powers, the state legislature has either limited the effects of the constitutional provision or, in the case of counties, simply refused to pass the necessary implementing legislation. Thus the legislators elected from each of the three major cities in the state must still caucus together publicly and regularly to present the united front required to gain legislative assent to meet local demands. A whole series of formal and quasi-formal legislative procedures has been developed to deal with local matters, ranging from a scheme for classifying cities that approaches legitimation of special legislation to procedures for expediting passage of legislation presented by unanimous county delegations.
Another central feature of Minnesota's political culture is its implicit acceptance of the legitimacy of politics. This is reinforced by the values and attitudes of the moralistic political culture in at least two ways. First of all, the communitarian orientation of the political culture means that social action is considered legitimate. It is not difficult to move from acceptance of the principle of social action to the realization that social action in a democratic society must, by its very nature, be political action.
Second, the belief that "politics" is not necessarily dishonest makes it possible for the kind of people who in other political cultures tend to seek apolitical solutions to political problems and would certainly avoid personal involvement in partisan political activity to utilize the political system to meet their problems and even to devote a share of their time to party and other political affairs. The belief in the efficacy of politics remains strong among a substantial segment of the population in Minnesota, to an extent unmatched in states dominated by the individualistic political culture.
This conjunction of values and attitudes makes it possible for the citizens of Minnesota to conceive of the possibility of social reform through political change. As in any political system, social change occurs only as a consequence of accumulated dissatisfaction. It certainly is not an end in itself, nor is it initiated for "light and transient reasons."
Minnesota has embraced social reform movements more frequently than most states, but there again the dissatisfactions that have led to the expression of the demand for social change as a demand for political change are rarely those that arise from popular disgust with the political system as structured, but those that arise from a belief that the system is being perverted internally or threatened by external forces seeking to alter its essential ends. In such cases, there tend to be temporary uprisings, designed to gain satisfaction on specific issues, rather than attempts to change the structure of the system. It is no accident that Minnesota is still operating under its original state constitution despite the problems attendant upon its adoption and occasional drives to rewrite it. Nor should it be surprising to discover that there has been relatively little change in the structure of local governments in Minnesota despite the almost nationwide tendency after World War II to try to cope with metropolitanization through government structural change.
The achievements of local reform movements in Minnesota provide a particularly clear reflection of the basically political character of reform in the state. Local reform has not been apolitical. Even when nonpartisanship was the keynote for reform nationally, in Minnesota it rarely took on an antipolitical character. It was simply a device for overcoming the traditional Republican commitment of the bulk of the local electorate, which frequently enabled anti-reform candidates to win elections by identifying with that party.
The nonpartisan elections were no less political, nor were they intended to be so. In fact, as soon as a competitive two-party system dominated by amateurs was developed in the larger cities, the DFL developed an informal system of party endorsements covering offices from the state legislature to local school boards. As this endorsement system took hold, it was adopted by the Independent Republicans as well. Since the change did not alter the state's basic political character, it met with little public interest. By the late 1950s, Minnesota's formal system of nonpartisan elections had been effectively subverted on a statewide basis by both parties, without interfering with the unity of the state's political system or changing its fundamental orientation.
The final demonstration of the difference between political nonpartisanship in Minnesota and the apolitical nonpartisanship of other states was reflected in Minnesota's general resistance to council-manager government. The heyday of the drive for council-manager government was between World War II and 1960. Of the 106 incorporated cities in Minnesota in the latter years, only fourteen had adopted council-manager government. Commission government, a highly political form of nonpartisanship, was slightly more popular in Minnesota. In its day, it was adopted by both Duluth and St. Paul, among other cities. Minneapolis, on the other hand, has retained its mayor-aldermanic system since its incorporation. While St. Paul has kept the commission system until in 1956 Duluth changed its form of government again to an even more visibly political form.
Its story is illustrative. When the abandonment of Duluth's commission government was first suggested, the council-manager system was proposed as the alternative. It was soon made clear that organized labor and the local DFL would strenuously oppose any effort to institute city-manager government.
The local business community, from whence the suggestion came, was really interested in improving the city's administrative structure in the hope that this would lead to greater economy in government and in its gaining better representation on the city council, which, under the "nonpartisan" commission system, had been dominated by the Labor-DFL coalition for a decade. Its people had seized upon the manager plan because it was the one called to their attention as the current reform panacea by the national organizations with which they were associated. However, lacking any real commitment to the apolitical aspects of the plan, they were willing to accept a substitute establishing a modified "strong mayor-council" system which gave them a mayor with strong executive powers, to be assisted by a professional administrative aide who would handle the day-to-day administration of city affairs; plus a fourteen-member council, part of which was to be elected from districts to insure representation for all segments of the city, and part at large. This plan was modeled in part after the state's device for combining administrative efficiency with political control, which has provided the governor with a commissioner of administration since 1939.
Minnesota's response to McCarthyism in the 1950s was characteristic of the state. When a few ultra-right wingers attacked the freedom of speech extended to university to professors, even the American Legion passed a resolution defending academic freedom. Just to make certain that matters were clear, the 1957 legislature passed three freedom of the press bills sponsored by the Minnesota chapter of Sigma Delta Chi, the professional journalistic fraternity. One provided "that unless there is a specific law to the contrary, all meetings, including executive sessions of the governing body of any school district, unorganized territory, county, city, village, town, or borough and of any board, department or commission thereof, shall be open to the public." The belief in the efficacy of politics remains strong among a majority of Minnesota's population -- with good reason.
Political culture should not be confused with political ideology. In terms of the American political debate, states of any of the three political subcultures can be either conservative or liberal or some mixture of both. Utah, for example, is as moralistic a state as Minnesota, but is generally considered extremely conservative. Minnesota, on the other hand, has a reputation as being very liberal.
In fact, survey data since 1976 indicate that Minnesotans do not perceive themselves as being exceptionally liberal. Rather they see themselves in the aggregate as moderate, right in the middle on a liberal-conservative continuum. According to the data, all the liberal states with the exception of California and West Virginia are part of the New England and Middle Eastern sections of the Greater Northeast. Those that are moderately liberal include the remainder of the northeastern states, excepting only Indiana, Maine, and New Hampshire and the other two West Coast states (Oregon and Washington). The Upper Midwestern states cluster in the moderate group, excepting only the Dakotas. The Southern states except for Kentucky and Georgia are either moderately conservative or conservative, with the most conservative states being the Mormon cluster of Utah and Idaho. The sectional pattern is clear.
Demographically, Minnesota has an extraordinarily small non-white population. According to the 1980 census, 96.7 percent of Minnesota's population were Caucasian, 1.3 percent black, .9 percent native American, and another .9 percent of Asian or Hispanic background. While these groups have been given an extensive amount of attention in Minnesota public policy since the civil rights revolution of the 1950s, they represent too small a proportion of the population to have an impact on the state's political culture. Rather, they are assimilated into the overall moralistic environment or they leave.