Tag Archives: Red state

Points Of Light

I was scrolling through Facebook Sunday afternoon, after my return from Danville, and came across a post by a longtime friend, Chris Douglas. He was commenting on a shared article detailing many truly horrifying things done to African-Americans in the period leading up to the Civil War. Chris pointed out that people inclined to minimize these truly despicable behaviors, discounting evil because it was reflective of the “culture of the times,” are simply wrong.

Good people then knew better, and they were doing more than protesting.

Let us note that at the very same time, Hoosier Levi Coffin was among leaders organizing an illegal Underground Railroad (in which the David Douglas family participated); Calvin Fletcher was providing legal defense to escaping slaves; Central Christian Church of Downtown Indianapolis (Disciples of Christ) was advocating disobedience of the Fugitive Slave Act; Hoosier Ovid Butler was providing racially integrated college education; and Hoosier Abraham Lincoln (moved on to Illinois) was speaking against slavery.

I was especially struck by the truth of this reminder, because I had just returned from giving a guest speech at the Danville Unitarian Church (posted Monday), where I had encountered precisely the sort of Hoosiers Chris was describing.

It was gratifying.

Danville, Indiana is a small town on the western outskirts of Indianapolis.(When I say small, I mean it; the town has a population of around 9800.) The church is in the middle of Danville’s small downtown, and I would estimate that somewhere between 40-45 congregants were at the service.

This was the second time I’ve spoken at this particular church, and both times I’ve been really impressed by members expressing a welcoming and decidedly non-prescriptive theology. (The core of Unitarianism is a genuine respect for each individual’s search for his or her own truth.)

This was most definitely not a collection of fundamentalist/Nationalist Christians. (I especially loved one of the songs: John Prine’s “Your flag decals won’t get you into heaven anymore..”)

The entire service emphasized inclusiveness and service to the community. (There were two offerings; one of food for those in need, and a conventional “pass the plate” to support the congregation.) At times, the small congregation felt more like a supportive family than a gathering of co-religionists.

During the question and answer session that followed my talk, it became clear that this group of people, from a very small town in a very red state, is profoundly worried about the direction of the country. Like the early Hoosiers cited by my friend Chris, they aren’t just complaining about the problems they see; the email asking me to speak specified that they wanted suggestions for actions they could take to improve civic knowledge and elevate political conversations.

After the service, one of the congregants proudly shared with me that she had been concerned a year or so ago when a proposal to resettle a Syrian refugee circulated–she’d worried about rightwing resistance and anti-immigrant attitudes. But there had been absolutely no negative response. Her pride was obvious. In small-town red Indiana, the refugee had been welcomed, just as she–a trans woman–had been welcomed by this congregation.

Chris’ point is worth underlining. The tenor of the times and/or the political environment are never an excuse for hatefulness, for bigotry, for brutality. (Ask the Germans who hid Jews from the Nazis.) Fear of social disapproval cannot serve as an excuse for keeping quiet and staying on the sidelines when our fellow human beings are being abused by people engaging in deeply immoral behaviors.

Harming people simply because they are different is always objectively wrong.

In every era, when bad people do bad things, good people stand up to them. And good people are everywhere–including churches in small towns in bright red states.

I always feel better after being with Unitarians.




An Unhealthy Partisanship

As Hoosiers proved again last November, we’re a Red, Red State. And evidently, that partisan identity–and a deep desire to thwart that Kenyan interloper who inexplicably occupies the White House–is motivating a costly and immoral decision on healthcare.

The Affordable Care Act–aka “Obamacare”–provides incentives for states to expand Medicaid coverage. That expansion is not mandatory, however. (The Supreme Court’s decision upheld the Act, but not provisions making Medicaid expansion obligatory.)

There’s a lot of misunderstanding about Medicaid and who it covers. Currently, Indiana’s Medicaid program provides health care to about one in seven Hoosiers–mostly children, pregnant women, the disabled, seniors in long-term care and very low income families. The word “families” is key here, because non-disabled childless adults under the age of 65 are not eligible for Medicaid, no matter how poor they are. And the “eligibility” of families with children is mostly illusory: a family of three (mother, father, child) with income over $4582 a year makes too much to qualify.

The new health reform law gives Indiana the option of expanding Medicaid to provide care to Hoosiers who are currently uninsured–by increasing eligibility to low-income working adults with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level. Last year, that would have been $15,415 for an adult, and would have allowed that  family of three to make the princely sum of $26,344.

If Indiana opts to participate, an estimated 450,000 Hoosiers would benefit. And here’s the kicker: if Indiana does participate, the federal government will pay all the costs for the first three years. The state’s portion would then phase in gradually, topping out  at 10% in 2020.

And if we don’t participate? Well, poor people have this pesky habit of getting sick anyway. And we already pay to treat them–frequently, in the least cost-effective way, when they appear at hospital emergency rooms. When uninsured folks are treated there, the costs of their un-reimbursed care drives up the premiums of those with insurance. If the hospital is public, our taxes go up. If the hospitals still can’t recover their costs, they cut healthcare workers or reduce services. The 10% Indiana would eventually have to pay to cover far more people is unlikely to be more than we are actually paying now in a variety of ways–it would just be more visible and much more cost-effective.

The arguments against participating mainly boil down to two: the feds might change the formula sometime in the future, and we don’t like the government or the President.

Let’s see: on the one hand, the federal government will pay to cover nearly half a million Hoosiers whose lack of insurance is currently costing all of us money and jobs. On the other hand, we can show that socialist Barack Obama how much we hate him.

Even Ohio Governor John Kasich–a man without a “blue” bone in his body–has concluded that cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face is rarely a sane public policy option.

Whose Ox is That Being Gored??

Democrats and liberal pundits are all up in arms about proposals emerging in some states that would allocate the electoral vote by Congressional District. The reason they oppose such a measure is strictly partisan: given the current effects of gerrymandering (largely by Republicans at the state level), it would disadvantage Democrats. Why do I think that if Democrats had been doing the gerrymandering, the whole concept would be less offensive?

Let’s review the current situation and our options.

The Electoral College–whatever its original purposes or merits–is outmoded. It is certainly inconsistent with our current goal of “one person, one vote.” But eliminating it will require a constitutional amendment, and that would take years and be very difficult. Currently, most states award all of their electoral votes (a number equal to the number of Senators and Representatives from that state) to the candidate who wins a majority of the popular vote in that state–no matter how thin the victory.

In red Indiana, that means that voters who opted for Barack Obama in November might just as well have flushed those votes down the toilet. Ditto New York voters who preferred Mitt Romney.  Winner take all effectively erases the votes cast for the loser, even if that loss was by a mere fraction.

The Constitution permits each state to decide how its electoral votes will be allocated, and two states–Maine, and (I think) Nebraska–have long allocated them by congressional district, awarding the district vote to the winner of that district and giving the two additional votes to the candidate who wins statewide. Since congressional districts are supposed to be roughly equal in population, the result is an allocation that more closely approximates the breakdown of the vote statewide.

The kicker here, of course, is gerrymandering. Not surprisingly, the sudden interest in electoral fairness is being seen in states where the Republicans have been most successful in rigging the boundaries in their favor. But only the most naive among us would expect a different result if the situation were reversed; Democrats have been just as eager to draw squiggly lines that benefit them when they’ve had the power to do so.

If we really want a system in which everyone’s vote actually counts, a system that doesn’t give politicians of either party the opportunity to game the system, there is an easy fix: allocate the electoral vote to reflect the popular vote.

If candidate A gets 55% of the popular vote and candidate B gets 45%, allocate the electoral votes 55/45.

We talk a lot about the importance of voting, and each election we hear that “every vote counts.” That may be true of votes for local offices (unless gerrymandering has been at work at the local level), but with respect to our votes for President, it’s bull-hockey. Under our present system, red votes in blue states don’t count. Blue votes in red states don’t count.

If we really cared about electoral fairness, and not just about comparative advantage–not just about whose ox is gored–we’d allocate the electoral vote to represent the actual voice of the people.

Two Different Worlds?

It has become commonplace to complain that Americans are living in different realities–to respond to statements or opinions that seem particularly bizarre with some version of Barney Frank’s famous line, “on what planet do you spend most of your time?” But what if that isn’t hyperbole? What if Red and Blue Americans really are occupying different worlds?

What if America is actually going through some sort of “virtual” replay of the civil war?

My husband and I eat breakfast at a local coffee shop most mornings with a friend who shares our political obsessions.  Yesterday, during a breakfast discussion about the embarrassing series of congressional fiascos that finally led to last minute legislation avoiding–or at least postponing–the fiscal cliff, my husband shook his head in wonder: as he noted, Congress had set this scenario up and thus seen it coming for at least 18 months during which it had done absolutely nothing. Why? It seemed incomprehensible.

Our friend offered his theory: The Republicans swept into office in 2010, convinced they would retake both the Senate and the White House in 2012. During the campaign, they continued to believe that Romney would win the election, and that they would then have the opportunity and power to fashion their own “fix” of the impending sequester, probably along the lines of the Ryan budget. When Romney lost, and the Senate became even more firmly Democratic, they were stunned. They hadn’t prepared for that eventuality, and they’re still trying to find their bearings.

In the aftermath, the party’s internal fissures have also become more pronounced. At this point, the GOP is like a fish out of water, flopping frantically this way and that on the floor.

I would dismiss my friend’s explanation as utterly fanciful if there were not so many emerging reports that support it. Somehow, despite all of the data and polling and anecdotal evidence to the contrary, despite Nate Silver, a significant number of Republican political figures managed to convince themselves that up was down, blue was red, and America would never re-elect that black guy, especially in a sour economy. When Obama won, they were genuinely shocked–and unprepared to participate in divided government.

I was still mulling over this increasingly plausible explanation when I got to the gym, climbed on the treadmill, and turned on the television. There was Chuck Todd in front of a chart showing the massive increase in the number of single-party states–states where one party or the other controls both houses of the legislature and the Governor’s mansion. (Indiana, as we know, is one of those states.) There are exceptions, but most of the Republican-dominated states are in the old South (i.e., the Confederacy); most of the Democratic-dominated states are in the Northeast and on the west coast.

Representatives elected from lopsidedly one-party states don’t worry about challenges from the opposing party; they worry about primaries. So the Republicans pander to the rabid rightwing base of their party, and the Democrats play to the intransigent left of theirs. As the number of “safe states” multiplies, so does the number of unyielding, uncompromising ideologues.

Even in the absence of that political calculus, however, when people come from an environment that is dominated by a particular political philosophy, it takes effort to seek out and understand competing points of view. Such environments reinforce those “bubbles” we create by our media habits and friendship choices. Pretty soon, other perspectives seem fanciful and/or deluded, and we lose our ability to function within them.

The question is, how do we engage in anything remotely like self-government under these circumstances?