In the 18 years I've lived in Minnesota, it's been my experience that the DFL tends to be combative, nasty and sometimes dishonest, but almost never lazy or dumb. That seems to be changing this cycle.
By now you've likely heard about the mailers that the DFL State Committee, one of the many worker bee organizations that are part of the DFL hive, sent out to attack a non-denominational Protestant minister named Dan Hall. In the first, they depict a minister wearing a Roman Catholic-style collar who wears a button proclaiming: "Ignore the Poor." In the second, they've used the image of a high altar with a statue of St. Anthony, with large "VOTE" banners flanking the statue and a message attacking candidate Hall. I've posted two images above.
The problem is that in attacking a Protestant minister, they've used Catholic imagery. And there are a lot of Catholics who are unhappy about it. Derek Brigham has compiled quite a list of links at True North.
As it happens, DFL spokesman Donald McFarland is well pleased with the DFL's handiwork. Joe Kimball at MinnPost has the quote:
“I understand that some Republican bloggers have taken one image from the first piece, and claimed that the mail is somehow anti-Catholic. But the text explicitly criticizes Preacher Hall for distancing himself from policy views that have been taken by the Catholic Archdiocese, by the Lutheran Synod, and other leaders in Minnesota’s faith community.
“Dan Hall is willing to enlist God and religion in his campaign when it helps him — but in fact, his views hurt the poorest and sickest among us, and this mailing holds him accountable for those views."
Where to begin? Well, let's remember that Hall is a non-denominational minister. He's not subject to the aegis of the Archdiocese, any Lutheran synod or other unnamed "leaders in Minnesota's faith community." At a minimum, it would have been helpful to leave the Catholic Church out of this discussion entirely.
Second, there's been an ongoing debate among people of faith for a very long time now concerning the role and efficacy of government in ameliorating the problems that the poor and sick face. I have to imagine that McFarland and the rest of the folks at the DFL know this, but they don't seem especially troubled about asserting otherwise.
I've never met Dan Hall and don't know him from the man in the moon. I have no idea whether he is callous to the concerns of the poor and sick. Based on the available evidence, he does care, though. He has run a food shelf in Minneapolis for over a decade, which hardly strikes me as the work of someone who is callous to the needs of the poor and sick.
As for the image of the Roman collar, Kimball's MinnPost article relays what Hall has to say about the matter:
In an interview with EWTN, Hall said: “I’ve never worn a collar. It’s a slam on me, but they’re using you guys and it’s sad.”
"You guys" in this case are Catholics. And while some Protestant ministers do wear a collar, the majority do not. I would wager that 100% of the diocesan priests in this Archdiocese do wear the Roman collar, so it's tough to argue with Hall's formulation.
So, are the ads anti-Catholic? My guess is that they weren't intended that way, but they inadvertently betray one of the real problems the modern DFL faces. The DFL is so secular in its outlook that even its communications people don't understand the potency of religious imagery, especially Catholic imagery. It's especially stupid to use the image of a high altar and St. Anthony in this context -- the DFL could have easily found a stock photo image of a Protestant church, but they were too lazy to do so. It's usually the better call to chalk something like this up to sloth and/or stupidity rather than malice.
Where it gets interesting is that both of the two major gubernatorial candidates, Tom Emmer and Mark Dayton, are Roman Catholics. Emmer is an observant Catholic who attends Mass regularly and missed a debate earlier in the year because he was attending his son's First Communion. Dayton, from what I can tell, is more of a vestigial Catholic than a practicing one. My understanding is that Dayton has spoken in the pulpit at the ultraliberal St. Joan of Arc Parish in South Minneapolis in the past, but he's been more likely to hang out at the Esalen Institute than at Demontreville.
And you know what? That's Dayton's business. I oppose Dayton for a number of reasons, but his spirituality (or lack thereof) is not one of them. I am not in the position of judging, or even knowing, the condition of his soul.
But what the DFL needs to remember is that there are a lot of Catholics in Minnesota. Some are quite devout, others not so much. But misusing Catholic imagery is profoundly stupid. The DFL needs the support of at least some Catholics in order to win elections and this sort of thing tells Catholics, and some Protestants, that the DFL leadership is so secular in its outlook that it really doesn't care enough to understand the differences between non-denominational ministers and Catholic priests, or to understand why people of faith might differ with the DFL line.
As a partisan, I'm glad the DFL is so tone-deaf on the matter. As a Catholic, I find it troubling.