March 21, 2010 was a good day

There were two huge news events yesterday, both of which made me more hopeful about the future of our nation, for drastically different reasons.

First, health care reform. I’ve been a big supporter of this since the beginning. The promise of reform of our woefully dysfunctional health insurance system was a key issue of President Obama’s campaign, and I am impressed that he stuck to it against considerable odds. Charting a course both idealistic and pragmatic, he achieved something other presidents have tried, unsuccessfully, for decades.

Is it a flawed and perhaps inadequate reform? Yes. But it’s a start. We’ve known we were on the wrong road, a dead-end road, for decades. We’re not back on the right road yet, but at least we’ve finally turned around and are heading in the right direction.

I’ll save the particulars for another discussion, and I’ll refrain from my usual complaints about the likes of Michele Bachmann, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin et al. I believe this is a profoundly good thing for America, and I believe in the coming months it will get better. By election day, the true value of what has been achieved will have started to become apparent. We’ll still be plugging our ears over the screeches from the far right, but in the end it won’t matter, because the Democrats in Congress, despite themselves, managed to get something, something really big, done. For more on what this reform bill means, there are some excellent articles at the New York Times.

The other big news, less essential to most Americans’ day-to-day lives, but great for Minnesota Twins fans, and really for anyone who appreciates the role baseball plays in America’s cultural life, is that the Twins signed Joe Mauer to an 8-year contract. And not just any 8-year contract, but a New York Yankees-sized 8-year contract. The amount of money involved may seem obscene to many, and I’m sure there will be complaints that if the team can afford that kind of salary for one player, they could have afforded to chip in more of the cost of Target Field. (I’d have to admit, there’s some credence to that argument, considering that this 8-year contract for Joe Mauer — $184 million — is more than the Twins’ share of stadium construction costs — $167.4 million.)

But that doesn’t matter. The fact is, Joe Mauer is unequivocally a superstar of Major League Baseball. And this is the scale of MLB superstar salaries. If Mauer had gone to free agency at the end of this season, he would have been signed by the Yankees, or the Red Sox, or another “large market” team on the East or West Coast, and if anything, he would have been paid more. I’m proud of the Twins for sticking it out, keeping the hometown boy at home, and giving him the kind of salary his stature in the league warrants.

Considering that less than a decade ago the Twins were being considered for contraction, the fact that they have become a perennial contender, and are now beginning a new era in a first-class ballpark with an MVP catcher, this contract is a decisive statement that mid-market teams do count, and that Major League Baseball really does happen outside of the Bronx. For more thoughts on the Mauer contract, check out this article from

I believe the look is one of incredulity

Or in other words, “Do I really have to take this person I’m talking to seriously?”

Observe Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner (to whom my reaction has been tepid at best, but I’m warming up to him after this) listening to, and attempting to answer, a question posed to him today by Rep. Michele Bachmann, regrettably of Minnesota’s regrettable 6th District:

Pay particular attention at 1:14. That is precisely the moment where Secretary Geithner realizes he’s dealing with a crazy person. Priceless.

Soon the look of incredulity may become known simply as the Bachmann Effect.

Regrettably, I also bothered to visit, the site that apparently posted this C-SPAN clip on YouTube (as evidenced by the omnipresence of their URL in the clip), and I have to guess from that site’s stance that they actually think Michele Bachmann is right in all of this. Sheesh. Where were all of these right wing constitutional literalists during the Bush presidency?

One last comment on the general matter of how this person got elected to Congress, and what that says about her district, the caption in the still from this clip says it all: MN-6 is a prime example of gerrymandering at its worst. There is no logical reason that Woodbury (an eastern suburb of St. Paul) and Waite Park (one of the cluster of communities that makes up the St. Cloud micropolitan area, 92 miles away) should be in the same congressional district. The 6th district wraps around the northern ring of Twin Cities suburbs and extends awkwardly to the northwest, appearing like some blocky beast preparing to devour the metro area in its gaping, Limbaugh-esque maw. More specifically, it’s the most politically conservative area (if it can even be called an “area”) of the state, sitting on top of the geographically smaller, more densely populated, most liberal area of the state — the 5th (Minneapolis) and 4th (St. Paul) districts. The district is contorted in its southeastern-most corner to absorb the population of the conservative eastern suburbs instead of extending into more moderate, less populous (but more geographically contiguous) areas around St. Cloud.

Minnesota's 6th congressional district

I’m not sure who was responsible for the gerrymandering of the current Minnesota congressional district map — whether it was Democrats looking to sequester hardcore conservatives in a single district, or Republicans hoping to expand their influence over a generally “blue” (or at least “indigo”) state. But in the end, all that matters is that it produced an environment that would not only elect Michele Bachmann, but even re-elect her after she had already become a national laughingstock last fall.

(Thanks to Dusty Trice for this one.)