Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Red State Massachusetts?

The final score will show Scott Brown with a 3%-6% win over Martha Coakley in the race to fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat, and the race to assign blame is on. Why did Brown win? The simple answer is that he outworked his opponent. The state senator held more than three times as many campaign events as Coakley, and endeared himself to the working class independents who comprise half of the Massachusetts electorate.

That's right folks; Massachusetts is not a Democratic stronghold. Ted Kennedy held the family Senate seat, and his persona and coatails pulled other Democrats with him into federal office year after year. State politics was always another matter; Republicans controlled the Governor's mansion for 16 years until Deval Patrick won in 2006, and his hold on the office is tenuous at best. Scott Brown, with his plain-spoken demeanor, 200,000 mile green pickup, and work ethic made the sale for voters who are tired of the Democratic Party.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Year One: The Obama Report Card

For the next several weeks, political "journalism" will be filled with reports on President Obama's first year performance. Principal in many of these treatments will be the poll numbers on his administration's handling of various topics. Polls are especially poor methods to track job performance (imagine the "general public" evaluating your performance at work in a poll), and in this climate, they are worse than ever at capturing the facts. For this reason, I will ignore polling for both this post and that one that will come next (containing my grade for the Republican opposition).

The criteria for evaluation include five categories:
  1. Constitutional alignment
  2. Alignment with campaign promises
  3. Structural improvements versus cosmetic change
  4. Ethical foundation
  5. Execution of plan
These standards are applied to ten categories that affect all Americans. Please remember that in this space, we are not interested in branding or the quality of spin by the party being evaluated or the opposition. Unfortunately, most of the public discussion this year has had shockingly little to do with what was actually on the table. Imagine sitting down to watch Rambo with a friend, only to have him tell you that he doesn't like the movie because he is not a fan of romantic comedies. Here is to raising the level of discourse!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haiti Needs Help

Haiti needs our help. This is what we Americans do when our neighbors are in need. This is not about politics, religion, sports, or business. It is possible that 5% of the people of Haiti died in that earthquake, and more than 30% are homeless.

There are several ways we can help. I have seen web announcements from most of our nation's congregations organizing relief efforts, and I would encourage all who can to take the opportunity to support those efforts. The Red Cross has also swung into action in concert with the United Nations and our military. All of these activities require money, and that fact provides most of us with our best opportunity to give aid and comfort.

Please donate to the Red Cross here. You can also donate $10 to the efforts by texting "HAITI" to 90999. The latter donation will be added to your cellular bill. You can find more information about the relief effort and how you can support it at this location. For most Americans, the last two years have been frustrating and difficult. The rational middle believes that events like this most recent tragedy remind us how good our lives really are, and what a gift we truly have to live in this nation. Lets pay this forward together.

The rational middle is thinking about the lives and souls in Haiti tonight...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Avatar and Race

On arriving at one of the news sites that I frequent, a headline under "Entertainment" caught my eye. Having just seen the movie "Avatar", I was surprised to read a headline posing a singular question; "Is Cameron's Avatar Racist?" The tag accomplished its goal by catching my eye and provoking an intense emotional response. Perhaps the headline to this post did something similar for you. There are few methods in "journalism" that provoke a faster or more emotional response than charges of racism.

The rational middle has covered this topic before, and the position is the same; we are tired of both ends of the polarized debate, and eager to commit time and thought to those willing to have meaningful discussion. If it is an "ism", then its definition changes with the person. Racism is used by various individuals to mean everything from cross-burning rednecks to white teachers who don't realize that asking an African-American couple how their "boy" is doing can be offensive. Perspective is everything, and humans are very sensitive about issues of personal identity. All of us may want to be valued as individuals, yet none of us want to be treated differently from another.

From my perspective, Avatar was a story of a culture saving a lost soul. The main character was undervalued in his own culture because of his physical differences, but the alien culture perceived his real worth from the inside-out. In the end, as in nature, their redemption of him saved their culture. Some who saw the film from a different perspective, saw a white character saving a "primitive" race. The theme has been present in films throughout the decades, from "Dances With Wolves" to "The Last Samurai" and many others. An actress made the comment that it would be nice for a film to show that the "primitives" can save themselves.

Outside of the accusations and insults, and away from the counter charges and veiled insults, the notion is something that can be explored. Differences between cultures can lead to synergies for the whole society when they are discussed and learned from. As in politics, the application of a label can destroy a conversation before it happens. Outside of the obvious environmental themes of the movie, Avatar presents an opportunity to talk about culture and identity in a way that improves our lives.

The rational middle hopes we are all open to the conversation...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Best wishes to Rush Limbaugh after his recent heart scare in Hawaii. I have been through the same thing and it is definitely not fun. I will always root for his good health, as I can identify with his weight struggles (and as someone who would wilt without the "inspiration" his material provides).

He made a point to note how good his care was whilst in Hawaii, and how it demonstrated that there was nothing wrong with the health care system in the United States. I was glad to hear that. Many like myself have long distinguished between the people (doctors, nurses, technical support) in the system, and the system itself. Mr. Limbaugh was very pleased with the nurses in Hawaii, and felt the system worked fine.

So where is the Haw-irony? Hawaii has the highest percentage of nurses in the United States organized by labor unions. In fact, the nurses at the hospital that Limbaugh was treated at are "union thugs" (his label for union members). Large chunks of the health care bill will not affect Hawaii as the state already mandates employers must provide insurance to employees working 20 hours per week or more. Medicare costs per beneficiary are the lowest in the nation, and the state's average insurance premiums are tied with North Dakota for the national low.

Non-profit health care providers dominate the state's marketplace and are free to innovate. Kaiser Permanente, which has a 20% share, screens 85% of the women between 42 and 69 for breast cancer. Is it any wonder that Hawaii's citizens have the longest life expectancy in the nation? The state is having budget troubles (like most states), and recently canceled its 2007 initiative (signed by a Republican governor) to provide universal children's coverage. The biggest reason cited for that failure was that most kids already had coverage.

So Mr. Limbaugh is correct when he implies that politicians could learn from Hawaii. Aggressive Medicare reform, a focus on non-profit care, and near-universal care are definitely the way to go for our nation.

Paging Mr. Limbaugh, Mr. Rush Limbaugh, your copy of the health care bill is ready for READING.

The rational middle says aloha....