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OUR OPINION: A recipe for political success in Minnesota

Come November, Minnesota is likely to elect another plurality governor: a governor who wins, say, 40 percent or 45 percent of the vote. The total will be enough to triumph in a three-way race but not enough to claim a mandate from the voting majo...

Come November, Minnesota is likely to elect another plurality governor: a governor who wins, say, 40 percent or 45 percent of the vote. The total will be enough to triumph in a three-way race but not enough to claim a mandate from the voting majority.

So, come November, the new governor probably will find it impossible to command the solid support among lawmakers that he or she will need to solve the state's budget crisis. More stalemate and more half-measures await. Unless ...

Unless one of the candidates reads "Never Enough: America's Limitless Welfare State" by William Voegeli. That candidate then would be well-equipped to win a majority of votes.

Voegeli, a visiting scholar at The Claremont Institute in Claremont, Calif., is a conservative and spends much of his book critiquing liberalism. But almost alone among prominent political writers, he's also frank and persuasive about his own philosophy's serious limitations.

The result is a terrific and useful read for people at both ends of the political spectrum as well as (and maybe especially) everywhere in between. Voegeli has described and even begun solving America's modern political dilemma -- and if a candidate for Minnesota governor wants to learn from, say, North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven's political success, Voegeli's book would be a great place to start.

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As its title suggests, "Never Enough" finds special fault with liberalism's absence of a "limiting principle" -- a stated point where enough taxing-and-spending is enough. As the book's Foreward notes, now that the "big dragons of Depression-era destitution" have been slain, supporters of the welfare state spend more and more time chasing smaller and smaller dragons: Their "anguish ... now extends to the self-esteem of elementary school children, whose team games sometimes go deliberately un-scored to spare the tender feelings of impressionable youth on the losing end."

And as government's offers ever more benefits in its quest to end suffering, the price tag grows while Americans' "do it yourself" spirit shrinks. These trends have come to a head in California, where the state's promises have so wildly exceeded its ability to pay that the budget director admitted to researchingstate bankruptcy.

In some ways, this is familiar stuff. It's part and parcel of the conservative critique of the modern welfare state.

But despite their arguments' power, conservatives have utterly failed in their quest to reverse the New Deal and bring back limited government, Voegeli notes.

"The numbers confirm what every despondent conservative already knows," he wrote in an earlier essay.

"Since Reagan's stunning victory in 1980, conservative journals have annihilated forests to print articles about excessive government spending. ... Republicans occupied the White House for 18 of the 26 years after 1980, and held a Senate majority for 16ยฝ years and a House majority for 12 years. Yet, the result is a federal establishment bigger and more influential today than in 1980. ...

"If conservatism has a future, those who want to fashion it need to acknowledge and understand this stunning defeat."

Where did this stunning defeat come from? Clearly, from the reality that Americans like, respect, basically are happy with and will vote in favor of much of the welfare state. That's the crucial point, and it explains why Tea Party supporters also tell pollsters they support Social Security and Medicare.

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So, where should that push Minnesota's major-party candidates?

Somewhere closer to the middle of the road, in the spot that understands, accepts and cheerfully works with these seeming paradoxes.

There, they'd find reforms such as those Gov. Mitch Daniels brought to Indiana. By privatizing services, offering health savings accounts for state workers and leasing the Indiana Toll Road, among other reforms, Daniels turned an $800 million deficit into a $1.2 billion surplus -- and got re-elected by an 18-point margin.

"Government should do fewer things than it tries to do today, but we should make sure that it does the very best job possible on its core responsibilities," Daniels says. That's Voegeli's formula, too -- and it would work in Minnesota.

Opinion by Thomas Dennis
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