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MN2020 Journal: The Cranberry Leadership Solution

November 30, 2009 By John R. Van Hecke, Executive Director & Fellow
 

Thanksgiving Dinner is a comfort food, harvest festival triumph. With turkey, stuffing, gravy, potatoes, sweet potatoes, dinner rolls and green beans in cream sauce, followed by pumpkin pie, the meal is very much a sweet/savory culinary experience. It's an unabashed celebration of fat globules which, in turn, makes cranberry sauce all the more critical.

Cranberry sauce plays a far more central Thanksgiving meal role than is commonly understood. It's the acidic counterpoint, sharpening the meal's focus. Cranberries tartly cut through fat in the same way that hot sauce enhances rice and beans burritos. Strong notes expand the base.

The same can be said for Minnesota's public policy debate. With both major parties' candidates jockeying for favorable position, policy features prominently if blandly in their public discourse. They distinguish themselves predictably. Most soberly proclaim for the politically safest action. It's all turkey, stuffing and gravy.

At this stage, aspiring candidates address their base, attempting to expand it from a rather limited pool of interested participants. That's normal. Polling and electoral participation data teach us that most Minnesotans, while concerned, aren't deeply invested in choosing our next governor a year before the actual gubernatorial election. This dynamic isn't however, allowing for changes in scale, terribly different from next fall's.

Regardless of political/policy spectrum position, most aspiring governors are heaping their tables with the sweet/savory policy equivalent of turkey, gravy and stuffing. Allowing for conservative versus progressive differences, we end up with remarkably similar heaping plates. Again, this is normal.

I expect progressives to embrace a strongly pro-public schools, affordable healthcare, and worker-centered economic development strategy. I also expect conservatives to roundly condemn government and taxes. Everyone advocating the same thing achieves no clear distinction and, in theory, no clear electoral advantage.

The public policy equivalent of cranberry sauce can make all the difference. It's the acidic counter note distinguishing one turkey dinner from all the others. Cranberry sauce is, in other words, the culinary equivalent of bold, thoughtful leadership. Used wisely, it transforms a mound of savory sameness into something inviting, even ethereal.

Let me take this one step further. Today, as you contemplate that plate of turkey leftovers, bring the cranberry sauce back into play. Build a cold turkey sandwich from sliced turkey breast, a slice of havarti cheese and a dinner bun but add a cranberry sauce smear.

Turkey and havarti are a classic pairing, so we're on solid sandwich ground. Stopping at this point would still yield a good outcome but that further, daring step makes all the difference. And, if the cranberry sauce is a cranberry-ginger-pear sauce, like my spouse makes, well, it becomes a perfect acidic, gingery counterpoint to the turkey and creamy havarti.

Conservatives might, I suppose, insist that leftover turkey sandwiches, like the turkey dinner, are bloated and out of control. They won't be swayed by my cranberry sauce argument, either as a matter of culinary principle or as a public policy metaphor. It's their loss.

I envision a Minnesota moving forward, building on its strong community traditions. We should be guided by past experience, not trapped by it. We need cranberry sauce. We need strong public policy leadership more, but I'll happily start with cranberry sauce as a first step forward.




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