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  DEEP FRIED, BATTER DIPPED MINNESOTA STATE FAIR POLITICS.  
   
   
  Deep fried. Never have two words taken on such monumental proportions as they do at the Minnesota State Fair. Cheese, candy bars, fish, pickles, and even Twinkies are all available deep fried and on a stick. And if that wasn't enough, sheep shearing and swine contests are all open for public viewing.

The Minnesota State Fair began as a chance for farmers from around the state to converge on the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and Saint Paul) to show off their crops and live stock. In many ways, it is a throwback to a more agrarian time in American history. Conversely, the Twin Cities have become steadily more cosmopolitan in recent years. Minneapolis boasts one of the most vibrant theater and arts scenes of any city in the country. The convergence of these two groups "city folk vs. country folk," creates a unique dynamic.

With so many people in one place at one time, the state fair provides an opportunity for politicians to glad-hand and meet the constituents. One of the first booths visible from the main entrance is the Democratic Farmer Labor Party (DFL). This was the party of Paul Wellstone and has been the dominant Democratic party in Minnesota for some time. In spite of recent failures, the mood remains upbeat in the tent, which boasts buttons saying "You Bet Your Ass I'm Democrat" (with a picture of a donkey) and "Friends Don't Let Friends Vote Republican."

In politics today, target demographics are studied and separated, often at the expense of potential voters. David Brooks has advanced his theory of "Red States vs. Blue States" separating Republicans and Democrats by where they live and what they like to buy. In his way of thinking, "country folk" drive pickup trucks and vote Republican while "city folk" drive hybrids and vote Democrat. At first glance, the Minnesota State Fair would seem to be hostile ground for left leaning people.

In reality, this simplistic view of red v. blue simply doesn't hold up. The rising star of Minnesota's Republican Party is Senator Norm Coleman. A one-time Democrat, Norm switched over to the Republicans only to lose to Jesse "the Body" Ventura. After that defeat, he met presidential advisor Karl Rove who convinced Norm to run against anti-war, pro-choice Senator Paul Wellstone. Senator Wellstone died in a plane crash near the end of the campaign, and Coleman won the election by a narrow margin.

Senator Coleman has a stand set up right by the Mini Doughnuts. Decorating his tent are photos that try to display a folksy side of Senator Coleman, showing him out in a boat holding up a large fish. You have to actually read the pamphlets to learn that Senator Norm Coleman is from Brooklyn.

The problems with Senator Coleman's politics do not come from his cosmopolitan upbringing. The problem is that he's a flip-flopper. In spite of promising to vote for the assault weapons ban, he voted against it. In 1993 Senator Coleman voted with President Bush 93 percent of the time, according to Congressional Quarterly, many times contradicting previous statements of policy.

Further complicating the city vs. country view of American politics is the host of NPR's A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor. Having been on the air for more than thirty years, many aspects of the weekly radio show have changed, but the focus has always been about small town life. The show is modeled after many old time variety shows, mixing blue grass music with skits by his radio acting company and sound effects man. After Senator Wellstone's death and Coleman's election, Garrison Keillor turned political. He published an article in Salon.com saying that Coleman "sold his soul," and chiding the people of Minnesota for electing him. In spite of a vocal opposition, Garrison followed up his controversial article with a book entitled "Home Grown Democrat" where he outlined how politics today deeply offends his home town sensibilities.

Garrison turns the "red states v. blue states" theory on its head. Some liberals have come to view patriotism as a primarily Republican value, yet Garrison is as patriotic as they come. During the intermission of his broadcast from the State Fair, Garrison had the crowd turn to face each other and sing "America the Beautiful" complete with images of rolling hills and waving flags projected on big screen televisions. After the show ended, he led the crowd in singing the National Anthem, and as they hit the final note, a fireworks display began behind the stage.

This patriotic display may have been calculated, but it serves a greater good. The Daily Show and The Onion have shown that some good can come from mixing politics and entertainment. Garrison Keillor makes a calculated effort to show that the American Flag does not have to be a symbol of pro-war. Rather, it can be a symbol of the First Amendment and Keillor's philosophy that "The essential differences are between individuals and not groups of people."

The study of politics necessarily looks at people as groups, rather than individuals. The Electoral College promotes the idea that the states are more important than people. The problem is that individuals outside target demographics are often neglected for a more partisan base. All this while reeking of fried cheese.

 

Bennett Gordon lives in Minnesota.