One reason it’s good to have less money is that it forces you to be more patient.  A couple of weeks ago, my laptop took a turn for the worse.  Since I tripped over the cord, getting a good connection between the outlet and the computer is a tricky business.  Sometimes it requires repeated twisting and jostling, and sometimes prayer or cursing.  I’ve gotten used to that.

But then one night the incantations didn’t work– I gave the cord my special attentions, and when it was feeling just right, glowing the orange light for battery charging, I propped it on its side over night, using a heavy book and my ottoman to keep it in position.  In the morning– still dead.

I was so upset, it took me another week to realize this was probably the battery, a reasonably replaceable item.  I would not throw the laptop off a cliff, or go steal one from the Apple store.  Not yet.

What we gain in wealth, we lose in patience.  Patience is what is left after the money and anergy are gone.  Because I couldn’t afford to buy a new laptop (with real money anyway), I waited to calm down enough to figure out what was wrong.  Then I went to buy one (out of stock), and then I ordered one online (still waiting for it to arrive).   Patience, patience.

I can’t think of anything more useful to my work than patience.  Not to teaching, not to writing.  I see that people are disillusioned with President Obama.  I’m glad no one would judge my teaching by my first two years.  I had to be patient with myself, even more than with the students.  It was incredibly frustrating to know how important my job was, and know how poorly I was doing it.  So I feel for him.

I don’t understand why people associate Democrats with the deficit, rather than seeing the consequences of Bush’s tax cuts (less revenue) coupled with years and years of war (more expenditures).  Lower taxes on the wealthy don’t raise all ships.  If they did, we’d all be afloat right now.  And higher ones brought us into wonderfully prosperous times.  Do people not have the patience to follow events over time?  Looking at history takes patience.

I hope that our tough times can teach us patience, and give us the time to consider causes and effects more carefully, to think about how we got where we are, rather than just voting out of anger.  It feels good to throw a laptop off a cliff, I bet.  It probably feels good to vote out of anger, too.  But patience can take you further in the long run.  It encourages a spirit of kindness– which we all need through difficulties.


It was a very partisan car I was riding in.  I fantasize about having cocktails with FDR over his stamp collection.  The driver sitting next to me wishes he lived next to the Bush family, so he could mow their grass when they are out of town.  The House was debating health care reform in Washington, DC, and we were debating health care on I-35, north of Oklahoma City.

Our discussion in the car was painful.  Sometimes I had to send my focus across the southbound half of the interstate, to the Oklahoma pine trees wearing late spring snow.  Or I would see a nest in a tree and say to myself, hmmm, there’s a nest.

It was not easy to sit through the discussion.  Maybe the cancer histories of various relatives were invoked.  Maybe someone suggested that people who love European ways so much should go live there.  I absolutely did not endorse Cuban dictatorships or mob-fueled economic revolutions.  In fact, I joked about Cuba and coup d’etats.  Jokes, especially self-deprecating jokes, are an antidote for poison that creeps into conversation.

What saved us was that it’s hard to hate a Republican when he’s driving you in his car on a fabulous road trip.  And it’s hard to hate a Democrat when she just sneaked downstairs to the hotel lobby to buy you a bag of peanut M & Ms (your favorite).  Also, I kept reminding my pounding, impassioned heart that no one had a gun to my head.  Breathe deeply.  It’s just politics.

Health care reform is almost a miracle.  I was so afraid, so many times, that fear would win.  We can’t find the money.  We can’t try a new way.  It will only get worse.  We can’t let the government have more power.  They mess everything up.  We are too poor now.  Health care will bankrupt us. I do believe this will be difficult to pay for.  My insurance and health care costs are a significant expense.  They would be an impossible expense if I had a serious illness or lost my job, however.

It is also impossible to know what any complex government program will cost– we have merely projections based on theories.  But we will adjust.  We are tough.  We are cowboys.   We have rearranged and held together Medicare and Social Security with duct tape.  We have cut up welfare and sewn it back together.  Not because it was easy or cheap.  Because the value of a human being is not tied to her financial solvency, or her health.  Because we want to protect our greatest asset: our people, and their muscle and creativity.  They aint no good to us when they’re ailing!

I have to admit that later, when I saw the 6:20 pm update on the internet, I actually danced around my bedroom and made up a song about Nancy Pelosi and Obama and Rahm Emmanuel.  None of them have easy names to rhyme, let me tell you.

Health care reform is almost a miracle to me.  A real honest-to-God miracle, all partisanship aside,  is being able to discuss controversial political issues in a moving car without anyone screaming, jumping out, or bursting into tears.  A real miracle requires the strength to listen when your mouth wants to whip the other person’s argument senseless.

What if it even ended with people saying, “I love you anyway”?  Let me assure you: it happens.

Not Robin Hood. Not Lionhearted. Just Wise.

“If you believe that it is absolutely moral to take my money and give it to someone else based on their supposed needs, then you come and take this $20 and use it as a down payment on this health care plan.” — Keli Carender.

I don’t think she could possibly mean this.  Keli Carender is lately acknowledged as an originator of the Tea Party movement.  I imagine her standing there with her $20 bill, and then I imagine a sick child who needs a $20 antibiotic prescription to live, and it seems clear to me that taking $20 from her to save someone’s life is exactly the right thing to do.  Not law-abiding, but moral.  As for the “supposed” needs of the American people for health care, I’m not sure if she is the only person alive who thinks our health care system is working fine, or she thinks people are giving themselves leukemia as a prank, or what.

In all seriousness, my argument for government intervention in health care is never about morality.  I think it is a moral issue.  But who cares what I think?  My real argument is that it directly and powerfully improves your life when your neighbors’ lives are improved.

If you have been to a developing country, let’s say Mexico because that’s the one I’ve been to, you see what happens when wealth is distributed unevenly.  People with money have to live behind barbed wire and hire bodyguards.  Whole sections of your city are built out of cardboard boxes.  Doesn’t that sound ugly and scary, all morality aside?  These are the kinds of problems that result from uneven distribution of wealth and people going without things they need, like health care.  This isn’t to say that Mexico hasn’t got other problems (God bless them they got some gorgeous stuff too), or that a lack of health care will turn us into a third-world country.  But it is holding us back, big time, keeping us from competing with countries that have populations healthier and more secure than ours.  If you want to live in a more prosperous, safe country, you gotta share.

Carender, and other people on the right, often seem to be implying that some Americans are leeches: taking her money when they’re not the ones who worked for it. I don’t think it’s those so-called “welfare moms” or these mythical poor and lazy folks who are the leeches.  I’ve known a lot more poor people who are busting their asses to keep their families together.

I think the leeches are the people who benefit from the military fighting in the Middle East to ensure your supply of oil, the NIH studying flu viruses and developing vaccines, OSHA keeping their workplace safe, and the Department of Labor limiting their work hours to a manageable level.  The people who drive over federally funded bridges and interstates and accept federal student grants, and then claim the federal government is unresponsive and worthless, and say they don’t want to contribute to it, in fact, say they want to take it apart and return us to some kind of backward Articles of Confederation when we agreed in 1789 that that was a dumb idea.

If you are a part of our society, what we do is take care of our own.  We don’t give people an ethics test before we allow them to get Medicaid.  We don’t sell cheap gasoline to people who have worked hard enough to earn it.  We share resources, we share the bounty, and we share expenses.  That’s what it means to live in a society, rather than on a desert island.

We try to equalize opportunity in the United States not to be nice, or moral.  We do it because we know that the world is capricious. The next great researcher or business genius or musician could be born anywhere, in any neighborhood.  Without offering everyone good schools and good health care, we might lose that kid before s/he grows up.  The cure for cancer gets shot in a drive-by.  The next Warren Buffett lets his cancer spread before he can really get going because he doesn’t have health insurance.  He’s an entrepreneur, after all.  This is why we give them your $20.  Just in case.  Just in case.  You don’t want to miss one of those people.  That’s what we can’t afford.

Dropping It

Last night I found out the Democrats had managed to lose the Senatorship that belonged to Jack and Teddy Kennedy.  I had to watch two episodes of  “Gilmore Girls” Season 5 and eat a big piece of chocolate cake.  Then I had to do a half hour of sun salutations.

Which really didn’t help.  I still felt sick.

I believe we need to fix health care.  I believe every American should have health care, not merely because it is humane, but because it’s a huge and gross a waste of money for our citizens to live with this patchwork of for-profit health insurance companies.

A good chunk of our people get public health insurance they generally like (Medicare and Medicaid), then a big chunk don’t have any, and then there’s the rest of us, like me, who nominally have it, but live on the edge of financial ruin regardless, wondering when ours will evaporate or become too expensive or refuse to pay for our care.

I believe America’s hodge podge, wasteful system distracts us and drains money from more worthwhile endeavors.  It distorts the competition that should exist in our marketplace when some employers channel funds to health insurance and others don’t.  In competing with countries who have solid national health care systems, Americans have one hand tied behind their backs.

Or maybe I’m wrong.

Accepting that you might be wrong is a very comfortable position, if you can get there.  Maybe the Massachusetts voters are right.  Maybe the health care bill will pass anyway.  Maybe this one won’t pass, so a better one will.  (I still feel the need to add, “God forbid!”)  Maybe Americans need to get smashed down even harder by the health insurance and drug companies before they empower their leaders to put some limits on those corporate interests.

It’s great if, all through a contentious debate, you can keep in your pocket that tiny knowledge that you might be wrong.  I don’t think it means weakness.  I think it’s smart.  It keeps you alert to the arguments of the other side.

I can’t always keep that in my pocket, though.  I’m pretty sure that on this health insurance business I am 100% right.  This bill is a step in the right direction.  We have to make some step.  I know it’s not perfect, but we’ve waited at least 70 years for this.  I like a wobbly, wacky step more than staying frozen.

My parents’ dog likes to play fetch, and she jumps like a deer.  It’s entertaining and invigorating to throw the ball for her, but she doesn’t know how to give it up.  You throw it, she brings it back, and then she sits there with it in her mouth, like, “What?”  She doesn’t know how to drop it.  You have to have two balls to carry out a satisfying game.

I had the Massachusetts senatorial vote in my jaws last night, and it was hard for me to put it down.  I just wanted to chew on it and growl with it.  It’s even silly to call it bad news.  Don’t I believe a fluid, changing government is a good one?  Don’t I believe Americans will change their health care system when they are damn good and ready and not a minute before?  I do.

It’s still hard to drop it and say, I might be wrong.  It doesn’t mean I won’t keep arguing or fighting for what I believe.  It just means I don’t have to carry it around and let it choke me.