Issue November 11, 2009

Use your delusion

I was listening to “Francene” on WHAS Radio Monday morning, the first business day since the House of Representatives passed a comprehensive bill that, if allowed to remain relatively intact until it reaches President Obama’s desk, will remake American health care for the better.

A local woman called in to share her story. She’d phoned Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth’s Louisville office earlier that morning to relay her disgust over his vote, and to inform the person on the line that she would be voting against Yarmuth in 2010 as an extension of her disdain.

Much to the woman’s dismay, the person on Yarmuth’s end told her — after a little back and forth — that the office is not keeping track of people who call in with this particular threat. She was outraged — outraged! She and the host kvetched for a moment about the supposed nuclear threat posed by anti-health reformers.

Surely Yarmuth, who has already said this bill is worth losing his seat over, will be made to pay the price for this vote.

Right.

This kind of stuff doesn’t really happen in Louisville. Reactionaries rarely win anything here. This is a place where the mainstream rules virtually uncontested, where most people are measured and calm, generally content and unaffected.

In short, we are a city of political and cultural balance.

Yarmuth won re-election last year by nearly 19 points over Anne Northup, whom he’d barely unseated in 2006 after her 10-year congressional run.

Yarmuth’s Third District includes nearly all of Louisville Metro. According to 2000 Census data, there are 626,676 living people in it, two-thirds of whom are of voting age.

We are a majority-Christian city that has elected and re-elected a liberal Jewish mayor every year but four since 1985, most often by huge margins. For much of Mayor Abramson’s tenure, Northup — a staunch Republican — was our congressperson. Democrats have a six-person majority on the 26-member Metro Council, but there have twice been Republican council presidents. We can simultaneously boast one of the strongest arts and music scenes in the Midwest, and one of the South’s most mega megachurches, things that obviously aren’t mutually exclusive but sometimes seem to be.

Many of our business and political leaders are trying to move the $4.1 billion Ohio River Bridges Project upstream, a well-known conservation group is playing chief obstructionist for reasons vague at best (see page 10), and more people than ever are leaning toward a citizen-powered alternative vision (8664.org). Yet the vast majority of people don’t care, have not made their voices on the subject known in any direct way, and are probably so jaded by the whole thing they’d just as soon wait until the jackals give up and we start all over.

We were among the first run of cities to pass comprehensive protection for gays in the workplace. As well, Louisville’s top employers — Ford, Humana, Yum, UPS — are parts of industries either in dire circumstances now or on the precipice of some major change. Any one of those goes down and we’re screwed, no matter how much we despise SUVs, health insurance, fast food or the unhinged consumption of fossil fuels.

The last tea party rally I attended in Louisville, just as the first apex of the health reform hysteria arrived, was more like a meeting of the anti-government club at a local grade school than a bona fide political movement. That follows our trend completely.

The idea that Yarmuth will lose his job for voting in favor of a bill that will help the vast majority of Louisvillians is delusional; it ignores all of our mainstream tendencies. Maybe we’re content to sit back and watch others make mistakes before we do ourselves. Perhaps we’re too polite to get Glenn Beck-style nasty (Sen. Mitch McConnell’s generally douchey campaign tactics notwithstanding). Whether it’s our Southern congeniality, our Midwestern modesty or our bluegrass pragmatism, Louisvillians don’t take kindly to the fringe. We like balance, and we tend to keep it around.