Vengeance is poor public policy


Like Governor Tim Pawlenty, wealthy industrialist playboy Bruce Wayne has it all wrong.

Wayne is, of course, Batman. Growing up in Gotham City, a thinly disguised New York City, Wayne’s parents are mugged and killed in Crime Alley, just off the theater district. Traumatized, Wayne vows revenge.

Developing his considerable intellect and physical prowess, facilitated by a growing personal fortune, Wayne’s adolescence redefines obsessive teen angst. Clad in his identity-disguising, now iconic bat costume, Bruce Wayne embraces his inner vigilante. He exacts dark, brooding vengeance on Gotham’s criminals, seeking release from inner-torment.

Initially, the Gotham police aren’t keen on a caped crusader meeting out street justice but they’re quickly won over. Results matter more than due process. Where an ineffectual, overwhelmed police force fails before organized thugs, Batman delivers an unrepentant, uncompromising and unyielding blow.

Batman is a great revenge fantasy. There’s the rub, though; it’s a fantasy.

This is also the point where Governor Pawlenty’s conservative vision fails. It, too, is an adolescent fantasy.

If billionaire Bruce Wayne is genuinely interested in building a better, safer, growing Gotham City, his personal fortune is best invested in creating community and political change. He could lead the charge for a truly professional, well staffed and generously compensated police force rather than dropping (presumably) millions of dollars on another single-use tool belt gadget or a new Bat boat.

Then, when the Joker terrorizes a neighborhood, a multi-jurisdictional law enforcement task force swoops in, containing the situation, evacuating innocents and engaging the Joker with minimal and appropriate force. Once in custody, the task force’s prosecutors bring RICO charges and the Joker faces 20 years in SuperMax.

It’s not as cool as the emotional release that we experience when Batman pummels his prey but I’ll take a strong, safe city over vigilante justice any day.

History is loaded with righteous individual stories. From mythical 6th century Chinese philosopher Lao Tse, who turned his back on corrupt city life, to fictional 1970s San Francisco detective “Dirty Harry” Callahan, we repeatedly find the uncompromising moral actor. They represent collective expression of a singularly manifested desire for simple justice.

Reality is not so simple. It’s messy, complicated and uncertain. Consequently, I’m skeptical of conservative public policies that claim easy solutions to complex problems. With the legislative session’s imminent conclusion, Governor Pawlenty’s intractable opposition to real education investments, property tax relief and affordable healthcare access proves what I’ve been saying all along.

Despite his sunny rhetoric, Pawlenty isn’t on our side.

I don’t know what happened to Tim Pawlenty during his South St Paul school days but he appears to be nurturing an adolescent revenge fantasy towards K-12 education. His expected veto of the Education Finance bill and his insistence on property tax levy limits strongly suggests a method behind his assault on Minnesota’s public education tradition.

Pawlenty wants to destroy Minnesota’s prosperity engine, our public schools.

Pawlenty may not have Bruce Wayne’s fortune but, as Minnesota’s governor, he has considerably greater resources at his disposal. Yet, he’s determined to foster a false individual narrative rather than embrace the collective experience that created a successful Minnesota. He’s just not interested in moving our state forward.

This raises a critical question, one that I hope you’ll consider and address: what’s the right educational finance policy for Minnesota?