Lloyd Omdahl has what is at times a poignant column published today lamenting the demise of the Nonpartisan League.
The NPL was a product of North Dakota’s radical progressive age, founded by Socialist Party of America organizer A.C. Townley, and was influential far outside of the state’s borders. The party organized itself on a national scale, briefly, and the Progressive Party of Canada can trace its roots to the NPL.
Or “The Goat that Can’t be Got,” as the NPL’s slogan went.
Today, and since 1956, the NPL exists as a part of the Democrat party. Officially the name of the North Dakota branch of Democrats is the Democratic-Nonpartisan League.
Which brings us to Omdahl’s lament. “[T]he last nail in the NPL coffin was driven by the Democratic Party this year, when it failed to acknowledge in any significant way the 100th anniversary of the NPL’s founding,” he writes.
Should Omdahl, who serves on the last elected executive committee of the NPL which still technically exists, be surprised that today’s Democrats failed to acknowledge the most successful left-wing political movement in state history?
It could be born of a youthful sort of ignorance. The current chairwoman for the Democrats, state Rep. Kylie Oversen of Grand Forks, hadn’t been born yet the last time the combined Democrat/NPL party won a gubernatorial election. Heck, the Democrats/NPL haven’t held the legislative chamber Oversen serves in her lifetime.
In fact, I’m pretty sure Oversen is still of an age where, thanks to Obamacare, she can still be covered under mommy and daddy’s health insurance policy.
Current party executive director, Robert Haider, is about the same age.
What is going on in the Democrat/NPL party today is a youth movement crafted to appeal to young voters whose politics are shaped more by internet memes and ranting comedians than the ideological trappings of the state’s progressive era.
As a conservative I’ve never had much love for the NPL’s flavor of prairie populism, but it’s worth pointing out that the platform of today’s Democrat/NPL party is a veritable coloring book compared to the intellectual arguments of that earlier progressive movement.
We live in a shallow age. While there’s little for conservatives like me to appreciate in the NPL’s ideas, it is a rich history which deserves a better sort of custodian than today’s Democrats.
But maybe the history of the NPL is being ignored today because of political calculation. Again, the NPL is the most successful left-wing political movement in our state’s history. Before the Democrat/NPL merger the Democrats had elected just four governors since statehood while the NPL elected seven, mostly during its affiliation with progressive Republicans (yes, that happened too).
But that was in another age.
It’s arguable how much utility modern Democrats could get out of that past. I’m not sure there’s much appetite in today’s thoroughly conservative Republican North Dakota for the political movement that brought us the state bank, the state grain mill, and the ban on corporate farming (though that last will be tested on the ballot this election cycle).
On a related note, the state Heritage Center at the capitol complex in Bismarck has an excellent display on the history of the NPL.
And, for added flavor, the Former Governor’s Mansion in Bismarck is also a fantastic way to spend an afternoon, and a good way to appreciate (from the biographical displays of the governors who lived there) just now many of the people the NPL got elected ended their political careers amid scandal and legal problems.