Five at 8 – 1/8/10: Dispatches from the bus

1) A very powerful essay from Elizabeth Ellis of the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder:

It was 10 o’clock on a Friday night, drizzling rain in a not-too-good part of town behind the State Capitol. I flagged down the first bus I saw; I was not at a designated bus stop. I hailed that bus knowing full well the driver was within his rights not to stop.

He pulled over; I climbed on, grateful. Grousing rose up immediately from the back of the bus. More than one voice chimed in agreement with an outspoken, incensed, disgruntled one, jeering and heckling the driver.

“Now, if she were Black, he’d have never picked her up! It’d be a different story.”

Anger is emotion; violence is behavior. They didn’t like me.

2) Politics in Minnesota reveals that the Star Tribune is asking all candidates for governor about their substance abuse and mental health history.

I wrote about the door that Mark Dayton opened here, when he acknowledged a history of alcoholism and depression. In an attached poll, most of you who took the survey said it’s fair game.

So maybe we should ask what isn’t fair game?

What questions should candidates answer? (multiple choice)(trends)

David Brauer has posted a more charitable view.

By placing mental health questions off-limits, we’re leaving it up to the candidates to self-report (or be forced by rivals to self-report). If Paul Wellstone and Jim Ramstad are right about insurance parity for physical and mental illness, why should mental health questions be off limits if we wouldn’t bat an eye when candidates are asked for their traditional health histories?

Stigma, comes the instant reply. Voters would instantly disqualify someone who owned up to, say, being bipolar — even if most members of the public has no real idea of what being bipolar means. Another version: We’d never have elected Lincoln.

But this “You can’t handle the truth” limitation on questioning is dangerous for journalists to succumb to. Our job is to figure out what’s important, ask about it, provide necessary context, and let the chips fall where they may.

Well, maybe. But we’ve seen what happens with an out-of-context fact during campaigns. Let’s assume a candidate had postpartum depression, and sought help for it. Based on the mail you’ve gotten in the past from an opposition party around Election Day, how do you think that factoid would be presented?

It’s a slippery slope that the most influential news organization in Minnesota has decided to take us down, particularly when an alternative is a thorough examination of vision and ideas of candidates. The candidates, themselves, are in a bad situation. If they refuse to reveal their mental health history, the suggestion will likely be they’ve got something to hide. If they do, they’ll certainly reinforce to the people they wish to lead, that’s it’s something that should be hidden.

3) Caught in the immigration nightmare. A woman in Chicago wants to be reunited with her husband in northern Iraq. It appears he hasn’t satisfied the U.S. residency requirement for a Green Card because he went back to Iraq to serve as a translator for U.S. troops there.

Mr. Ferguson wrote that being on an American territory on a military base in Iraq did not count toward residency. “The service is unable to consider your time working in Iraq to fulfill the physical presence requirement for adjustment of status purposes,” he wrote.

Don’t ask; don’t tell: The New England Patriots needed someone to clear their stadium of snow. They hired a company to provide workers. The company hired undocumented workers.

4) A custody officer in Blue Earth County pleased guilty yesterday to a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge. He pushed an “uncooperative suspect,” the Mankato Free Press reports.

5)Is America going to hell?” The Atlantic’s James Fallows:

“The idea of “finally” going to hell is a modest joke too. Through the entirety of my conscious life, America has been on the brink of ruination, or so we have heard, from the launch of Sputnik through whatever is the latest indication of national falling apart or falling behind. Pick a year over the past half century, and I will supply an indicator of what at the time seemed a major turning point for the worse.”

Bonus: Connect the dots!

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TODAY’S QUESTION

An annual survey has found that the number of Americans who are happy with their jobs has fallen. Workers say their pay is too low, their health costs are too high and their jobs are uninteresting. What would make your job more satisfying?

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: With the decline of American manufacturing, the motto “America makes, the world takes” is no longer a reality. While the old factory jobs may never return, will the new economy lead to a manufacturing renaissance?

Second hour: Motivating workers who already feel overwhelmed and overworked is one of the jobs of management. But according to author Daniel Pink, most captains of industry have no idea how to make the crew row faster.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Senate Republican Minority Leader Dave Senjem and House Republican Minority Leader Kurt Zellers share their ideas on how to balance the state budget.

Second hour: Three scientists who study the brain discuss how our brains change from birth to old age. The scientists spoke at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – It’s Science Friday. First hour: Obesity research.

Second hour: A talk with memory researcher, and Nobel prize winner, Eric Kandel.

Because it is Science Friday, I give you this “symphony of science.”

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Some liberal Democrats are not happy with President Obama. They feel like the inspiring, “Yes We Can” candidate is not the same politician who’s in the White House. They’re also the supporters whom the administration needs to win back during this election year. Mara Liasson will assess the state of things.

  • I don’t agree that the Strib’s question is an alternative to a more thoughtful exploration of positions on issues. One doesn’t preclude the other.

    I think we should let reporters ask questions, and then judge the work. This was a clunky request, no question, but if I wanted to be the Governor of this state, I think asking about my mental well-being is as relevant as my physical health.

    Would I vote for someone with a history of heart problems? Sure. Depression? Sure. Drug use? Sure. But I’d want to weigh that information, I think.

  • Brian F

    I don’t think a candidate’s mental health history is relevant. The assertion that it ought to be, since physical health history fair game, rests on the assumption that physical health history is also relevant. It’s not. A candidate could have any number of physical ailments, and those medical issues could very well take him or her out of office in one way or another, but if that candidate is the best person for the job, they deserve for however long they can do it.

    What’s next? Asking for family medical histories? We know that certain illnesses – physiological and psychological – have strong genetic components. Maybe we ought to evaluate political candidates on the likelihood that they will develop a particular illness while in office. We should also make them tell us about their lifestyle – do they eat a balanced diet, take exercise daily, practice safe sex, avoid excessive exposure to UV radiation, monitor their homes for radon and carbon monoxide, keep their ductwork free of excessive dust that could aggravate respiratory function… The list never ends, but NONE of it tells me anything about whether that candidate is the one I want in office.

    To me, it looks like it’s just an effort on the part of the Strib to boost pageviews/circulation/ad revenue by sensationalising trivialities at the expense of substance.

  • Bob Collins

    That’s an excellent point regarding genetics, Brian. It also means that families are no longer off limits, especially children.

    Some people would say that morality is an issue in a campaign. So let’s really dig in to just how well candidates have raised their children.

    Pretty soon, it won’t matter anymore what a candidate’s plan for creating jobs is. Or maybe we’re already there.

    That sort of journalism is hard.

  • Joanna

    Thank you for this thoughtful post on the important issue of the rights of people with depression to disclose or not their medical conditions to the public. The comments I read on the original Strib post of the Dayton story may not be representative of public opinion in general, but they were a reminder of why those of us who are being successfully treated for major depression want to be able to control when and how we disclose that information in relationship to our work: because, unfairly, the ignorance and stigma that persist about this disease create real and painful discrimination. Reporters may have the right to ask any question they want, but everyone has the right to refuse to answer questions that they deem an invasion of their privacy, without this being construed as being evasive.

    PBS has been running an excellent series “This Emotional Life” which has a lot of links to information about depression, its treatment, and recent research on its physiology. I recommend that people inform themselves and help eliminate the stigma through raising awareness of the facts.

  • bsimon

    The vote is flawed, as it did not allow me to vote for none of the items as being valid.

    On the issue of mental health, the real question voters need to be asking is whether a candidate has demonstrated the ability to do the job for which they’re running. If mental illness is going to inhibit their job performance, we should be able to find evidence of inferior job performance in their record.

    Lets take Mike Hatch for example. While I’m not aware of anyone accusing him of being mentally ill, he had a reputation for being something of a hothead. Towards the end of the campaign, when he was under enormous stress, he lived up to that reputation & arguably lost the election as a result. We didn’t need a physician’s diagnosis of him having an anger management problem to realize that perhaps he wasn’t well-suited to be governor.

  • Kassie

    I know it is sort of a joke that all politicians must have some mental illness, but to some extent it is true. I’m not talking about city council members, but think about someone who is running for president and what mental illness is.

    Mental Illness is basically the brain working in a way that doesn’t conform to how most brains work. It can be depression, which is most common, but it can also be megalomania, passive-agressiveness, anger management issues.

    Now, someone running for president has to have an inflated ego, a personal drive that is beyond the everyday man, and often an ability to lie and/or stretch/ignore the truth without feeling bad about it. While clearly undiagnosed, there is some mental illness going on here.

    Additionally, if we think about individual presidents, we can find specific examples of deviance. Nixon believed he was above the law and said so. Kennedy had many, many mistresses and openly lied about his health. Clinton purgered himself to not face his infidelity. While these may be small examples off the top of my head, I think a good case could be made that people who become President do not have the same mental characteristics that most people do. And if these mental characteristics were displayed in a homeless person or a working class person, without the associated accomplishments, they would be labeled mentally ill.

  • BJ

    Maybe they could try and ask (and report) questions about actual policy. But I feel that besides family every question is with in bounds. I seem to remember MTV having a forum or debate where the underware choice was a question and Bush 1 refused to answer. Went over very badly.

  • Ben Chorn

    Asking candidates isn’t what we do- c’mon people! We gotta wait for tabloids to come out with President ______ had an affair, or smoked marijuana, or did cocaine. Candidates aren’t suppose to tell us, the media is suppose to secretly find it out and exploit it for ratings.

  • Bonnie

    As long as there are mechanisms for removing incompetent or incapable people from an office, candidates are entitled to privacy just like everyone else. Who will throw the first stone?

  • John O.

    I will Bonnie. 🙂

    What is your definition of “incompetent” and/or “incapable?” Both major parties have thrown these terms around so much that they no longer seem to have anything resembling a consistent definition.

    My auto mechanic is “incapable” of fully diagnosing and resolving every problem on my car because he does not have some of the unique tools usually found only at dealers. This does not, IMHO make him “incompetent.”

    For those who believe recalling elected officials is the answer, look no further than California.

  • Minnwhaler

    Thank you for posting the utube link on stigma and mental illness. It is very well done. Only wish the message would be readily accepted. As for a candidate having any health issue, it should be handled the same was as heart disease, etc.

    Patrick Kennedy went through treatment at Mayo and has been open about it, he is still in office. The list is endless and I do feel that Mark Dayton’s “confession” has been overblown to the point of sensationalization to sell newspapers.