Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy RIP

Today was a day that we know would come with the knowledge that Senator Kennedy had a particularly aggressive and terminal brain tumor. I think it is fitting to reflect a bit on the passing of a political and cultural icon. I will post in the next few days about the upcoming special election, but reserve today as a day free of politics and want to say a few words about the person who Edward Moore Kennedy was.

Senator Kennedy was first elected to the Senate in 1962, four years before I was born so for my entire life he has been the senior senator from Massachusetts. Personally, I shared little of his political ideology, but he is and will be reckoned amongst the greats of American public life. Massachusetts has lost an advocate and political giant.

Politically, he was a true old-fashioned liberal who never wavered in his beliefs (there is much to be admired in that trait) yet he would compromise and take half a loaf whenever possible. His mark was on a great deal of the legislation that has passed over the last 40 years. Bill Bennett, a prominent conservative writer, referred to him as the "bane of conservatives" in a tribute published today and that is a very apt statement. He practiced politics in an old-fashioned way, yet his endorsement of Barrack Obama helped vault his candidacy past Hillary Clinton last year. The torch was indeed passed.

He had a well-deserved reputation for constituent services as he was a very accessible senator with an excellent staff to cut red tape and speed people through bureaucracy. I have heard numerous stories today on how he was able to help ordinary people. That is something that truly has impact on the lives of people, many of whom who were not of means.

To me, the most important aspect of Ted Kennedy was acting as a father figure to his nephews and nieces and being the glue throughout the tragedies that has defined the Kennedy Family for over half a century. That says a lot about Ted the person and his heart.

God Speed and Good will be missed.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Massachusetts Governor's race update

Hi all,

New Opinion Dynamics survey of 445 registered voters in late July/early August

General Election Matchup (w/leaners)
Cahill (I) 27%
Patrick (D) 25%
Baker (R) 23%

General Election Matchup (w/leaners)
Patrick (D) 32%
Baker (R) 35%

Governor Patrick's Approval ratings:
19% favorable
77% Unfavorable

Poor numbers continue to plague Patrick. However, he remains competitive...could this be either take the "devil we know" or is it a testament to many Massachusetts voters reflexively voting Democratic?

Cahill continues to show remarkably well. He is to officially enter the race in early September.

Again, these numbers are very early in the process and are at best directional and not truly predictive. There are still quite a few voters who are not expressing a preference. I still give Patrick the edge even with the dismal approval numbers as his base should shore up during next year's campaign and with the increasing likelihood that the anti-Patrick vote may be split. There are rumors that Baker is trying to negotiate Cahill out of the race with the possibility of running as Baker's Lt. Governor. I think those are only rumors and that Cahill may have a shot if he can define himself as the most electable "anti-Patrick" candidate.

This promises to be a fun election year - but aren't they all?!


The Prof

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Norman Rockwell Is Back!

Yesterday, I decided to test my faith in civil decorum one more time and went to another Town hall meeting on health reform. This was in Hudson Massachusetts and was hosted by Congresswoman Nikki Tsongas as was the one I attended last Saturday in Chelmsford. I was somewhat concerned that the bad behavior and all around rudeness that I saw in Chelmsford would repeat itself.

I was pleasantly surprised. There were probably 175 people or so at the Hudson High School auditorium (thankfully air conditioned) and this was the mirror opposite of the experience at Chelmsford. Although there were some of the LaRouche protesters outside with their conspiratorial message, the audience was nearly 100% polite and respectful of both the Congresswoman and one another.

To be sure there were strong passions on both sides of the debate. I would estimate it ran about 70-30 against the current reform proposals in Congress. But each person who asked a question or who made a point was able to do so without being shouted down or heckled. This is a what democracy in practice ought to be.
If anything, disrupting meetings like this and heckling people actually makes the side that engages in that behavior less appealing to ordinary people. These town meetings have been getting a lot of press and neither side is well served by such tactics. It does energize the far right and far left bases, but debates and elections are won in the center.
I am not sure why the experiences were so vastly different. It could be that a different sort of crowd was attracted on a Tuesday after work than on a Saturday morning. Whatever the reason, I am feeling better about the process. Norman Rockwell lives on!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Norman Rockwell it ain't!

This morning I attended Congresswoman Nikki Tsongas' "town hall meeting" on healthcare reform in Chelmsford. I have been studying and working on analyzing the current health reform legislation in Congress with great personal and professional interest and was hoping to hear a lively discussion about the pros and cons of HR 3200 (the current House bill) between Representative Tsongas and her constituents as I am a constituent myself.
Personally, there are several provisions of the reform legislation that I find troubling, but this post is really about the actions of many of the attendees.
Outside of the building were several groups both pro and con on reform - one group in particular had posters of President Obama depicted as Adolph Hitler. I am not sure who they were trying to impress. Luckily, most people were snickering at them.

Of the close to 250 people packed in the Chelmsford Town Hall it ran about 60-40 against reform. However, the biggest takeaway for me was the utter lack of respect for the opinion of others and the general lack of civility.

Healthcare is a very personal issue to people and does arouse strong passions. Unfortunately, it seems to me that some "fringe elements" were attempting to hijack this discussion.

I was ashamed that many of my fellow citizens resorted to shouting down the Congresswomen and the people who were trying to ask questions. There were a couple of dozen very loud and animated folks there who were bent on rudeness and chaos, not discussion. Some resorted to name calling and swearing. Several of these "brave" folks did this from the back of the auditorium where they were well positioned to make a lot of noise and then fade away.
There were several good questions and discussion points, but the yahoos heckling from the crowd made it very hard to focus on the discussion. I give Nikki Tsongas a lot of credit for keeping her composure in the face of so much blatant hostility. I don't want to give the impression that everyone was rude at this event, but a sizable minority were.
In terms of the points that really aroused the audience was anything dealing with a public insurance plan option, why single-payer was not a part of the reform bill, end of life decisions, and the rationing of care to control costs. Many who were there had their minds already made up and did not want to listen to any opposing viewpoints.

I was utterly disgusted at the tactics of these people on both the left and the right. As an American I relish a good passionate discussion, but when civility is left behind for screaming and name-calling, it leaves me quite cold. As someone who professionally studies politics and political tactics I do know why loud protest and "in your face" tactics are utilized. They can be disruptive and help a given group achieve it's political goals. But as a citizen, I am discouraged at the state of things and wonder how we as a society has come to accept this.
To end on a good point, a real positive was the opportunity to chat with a couple of folks outside as I was leaving the venue (there were a bunch of people who couldn't get in as the building was at capacity). We had a nice back and forth chat in a civil and respectful way. One was pro-reform and one was a skeptic, but the three of us had a good discussion and left on friendly terms. I was also able to play professor a bit as neither one was intimately familiar with the bills before Congress.

In my mind I have the vision of the famous Norman Rockwell painting "Freedom of Speech" (posted above) as what a town hall meeting should look like. Sadly, today was not one of those days...