Courage or Cowardice

The suicide of Vic Chesnutt over Christmas affected me not only as a fan of his music, but as someone who has been there before. Fortunately none of my attempts were successful. I owe my life to some very special and amazing people who looked out for me, saw that I got help and were there even when I might have wished they were not.

Suicide is either something very courageous or extremely cowardly. Perhaps it is a little bit of both, no matter how dissonant that may seem.

It takes a great deal of courage to contemplate taking your own life, let alone actually doing it. That is why so many people who suffer from severe depression, or other affective disorders, never get to the point of becoming suicidal. The thought alone is enough to scare many people into getting help if they already haven’t. And for some others it may serve as a reality check, that maybe your life is not that bad after all.

But for those who have the courage to pursue suicide, life itself becomes a living hell. You see, deep inside us all is a drive for self-preservation. Thus, every day becomes a constant battle between your desire to die and your innate will to live. This will is what keeps you from jumping in front of a bus or swallowing a bottle of pills at any given moment. The level of agony and angst caused by this inner struggle is immense and only worsens your mental state.

You see, staying alive for another day is not something you see as worthy of self-congratulation. If anything, it makes you feel cowardly for not having whatever it takes to kill yourself. It is not a way of life I would wish upon my worst enemy.

Eventually, this pain becomes so great that you take the cowardly route of ending your life. Cowardly because you’ve decided not to fight through the pain. And make no mistake about it, there is a choice here.  Taking your life is the ultimate avoidance technique. It’s an easy way out, an escape from reality that is much more permanent than drugs or alcohol.

I know that this might be provocative, but I truly believe that if you have the courage to plan your own death then you have the courage to fight through whatever emotional problems you may have. You will not realize it until you’ve made it through, which is why having a strong support system is crucial to surviving.

People may wonder why I am even willing to share this part of my life in such a public way. There is really only one answer- to help others. If one person is helped by these words, then it is worth all of the potential risks of people knowing about my darkest days. If you or someone you know needs help, leave a message in the comments (I won’t publish it), and I will do my best to put you in touch with the resources you need.

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Premortem

It remains to be seen just what Tuesday will bring here in Massachusetts as well as the country. Though I still think Coakley can/will eke out a victory, my own prediction of her closing strong and winning by close to double digits seems quite absurd. But I think there are two valuable lessons to be learned.

First, not only do voters turn away from what they perceive to be coronation campaigns, but it is damn near impossible to change their minds once that perception has been cemented. The past couple of weeks here in Massachusetts have been filled with messages from prominent Democrats and their allies for Martha Coakley. And while there has been some re-engagement among the party’s base, the independent voters do not seem to be responding. In fact, these appeals may be having a negative effect as it feels as if the political machine is circling the wagons for one of its own, which plays into Brown’s (dubious) claim of independence.

The other lesson here, and one that is sure to be missed by Democrats in DC, is that the party cannot fail to deliver on its promises of the past two elections and expect its base to remain engaged, committed and active. Unfortunately the folks in DC will take the closeness of this race as evidence that the party needs to trim its sails. But scaling back their agenda, whether on the economy or environment, will only serve to alienate not only the base, but the independents who gave Democrats both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. If Democrats do not make some substantial progress towards their goals, November is going to be a very, very bad month for the party.

Much Ado…

I am of two mind about this. There is some talk that if Scott Brown were to win the MA Senate race (he won’t), that his certification/swearing in would be delayed until after health care reform has been passed. The goo-goo side of me says that such a thing would be bad for government and bad for people’s faith in government, etc.

But the partisan in me thinks this is exactly what should happen. If you think for one second that the GOP would not do the exact same thing you’re not only naive, but completely ignorant of history. Just take a look at the Texas redistricting fiasco in the early 2000’s- broke with protocol, very likely violated the Voting Rights Act, etc. Or how about all of the GOP voter suppression efforts of the 2000’s.

News flash- political actors often engage in activities that straddle the line of propriety in order to advance their political goals. So to all the cry babies at the Herald and on right wing blogs, go Cheney yourself.

How Not to Win a Senate Race

Although the three major polls of the MA Senate race show different results, the bottom line is that Martha Coakley has turned what should have been a cakewalk into an actual race. And therein lies the problem. Team Coakley assumed that once clear of the primary, she was going to be the next senator from MA. That type of assumption is a cardinal sin in politics.

Though MA is a blue state, no one likes a coronation campaign. The hubris and arrogance drive undecideds away from what might be their common electoral home. In addition, failure to engage an opponent is, with very rare exceptions, a phenomenal blunder. Not only will it allow your opponent to take swipes at you unanswered, but you will also come under fire from editorial boards and others who believe in an active civic dialogue.

Team Coakley has done all these things in spades. She was not on the air after the primary and did minimal advertising through the holidays. And she was not exactly blazing up the campaign trail either. Only recently has she gone back up, and not in a particularly aggressive manner. She has failed to make the case that she deserves to be our next senator.

That this race could be within ten points is a testament to how poorly her campaign has been managed. Sure, there are challenges outside of her control (unpopular Dem governor, among others), but there is simply no good reason that a right wing former model ought to be even close in MA. Coakley has not gone after Brown or his record nearly enough. Instead, she and her campaign simply assumed that having a D next to her name was sufficient to win. But voters do not often reward hubris.

Prudence Should Trump Politics

When my boss came back to the office from a briefing this morning, he told me about the December revenue numbers and my comment was something to the effect of you know they’ll spend it ASAP. Apparently, I was right. While I am overjoyed that MA revenues have exceeded projections, especially in December, I don’t think that now is the time to restore some of the 9c cuts. Between the Governor’s commitment to restore regional school transportation and the $14 million restoration of TAFDC, the money is already spent.

Now, it should come as no surprise that I favor spending on social safety net programs and believe that we (in MA and nationally) spend far too little money on these programs. So then why do I think that restoring some cuts is bad policy? Well (and hopefully I am not speaking out of school) close to half of the increase in the December revenue numbers is due to tax settlements. This is not actual revenue growth, but merely one time events. And, one or two months of okay revenue numbers does not make a healthy fiscal year. There are no guarantees that January through June will meet, let alone exceed, the October projection (new revenue projection for FY10 is due out about the 15th and it will be interesting to see how DOR/ANF view the world).

The danger here, in case it is not yet obvious, is that the state’s fiscal picture could worsen between now and the close of the fiscal year. Then what? Do we go back and make further 9c cuts? Do we take back the money we restored in January?

What the administration ought to do is put the higher revenue into the stabilization fund. I do not advocate that as a means of replenishing, but rather as a safe place to store cash in the event that it becomes necessary between now and July 1. Of course, as we get closer to the end of the FY, if revenue numbers continue to improve then we ought to consider restoring some of the painful cuts that have been made. But only insofar that those funds are not going to be needed simply to provide level services in FY11.

Alas, this just is not politically feasible. First, everyone on Beacon Hill likes to spend money. Especially given the drastic cuts that have been made this year. Plus, it’s an election year and putting money into the stabilization fund, though prudent fiscal policy, is not sexy politics. It’s really just that simple.