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.

Fringe Elements

I’m not a Kennedy groupie.  Before I started reading all these articles about Senator Ted and his accomplishments, I thought of him the same way I think of PETA: I agree with the agenda, but the reputation get my eyes rolling… why do they always have to look like such wackos?

Then again, the extremists at PETA, while pushing a vegan agenda, won much improved living conditions for animals who are raised to be eaten.  I think many people who find PETA ridiculous would still agree that chickens should be treated with some basic decency.

I love that Teddy Kennedy did a lot of crazy things, got mixed up in a lot of stuff.  He was clearly not an angel.  His temperament and some of his escapades set him up for caricature.

I love that even though he lost two brothers to political assassination, he kept working as a politician his whole life.  That’s crazy.  What with the astronomical uptick in threats to our president*, putting yourself out there like that suddenly seems especially meaningful.  For being in public service and advocating an optional public health insurance plan, people will call you a Nazi or burn you in effigy.  These politicians can’t feel safe.  They must worry about the safety of their families, as well.

Kennedy started pushing for public health insurance in 1969.  It sounds crazy now, but of course Richard Nixon was the one leading the charge.  That crazy old liberal Nixon!  What a big-government fool!  (I’m not sure who’s the extremist in that duo, except possibly the current-day GOP.)

Senator Kennedy also pushed for the Americans with Disabilities Act, while remaining the poster child of a ridiculous liberal.  Okay, but spend one day with your grandma in a wheelchair and you’ll want to thank him. Those ramps are everywhere now!

We need some “wackos” to push us, and, perhaps more importantly, to hide behind their wacko reputation to get valuable work done.  They can go out on a limb when other people can’t.  A lot of other heroes are wackos, too: Gandhi starved himself, and Dr. King kept preaching even when they bombed his house. 

I’m a more mellow character, myself, not out on the fringe.  I’ll just toast the late Mr. Kennedy, and make sure it’s whiskey, not scotch.


Eric Cantor is an Average, Decent Republican

Rush Limbaugh doesn’t act like a grown-up.  I guess that is not news.  He is, as the Republican Party Chairman said, an entertainer.  Entertainers don’t usually act like grown-ups. 

Grown-ups, of which we have very few in our world, don’t want people to suffer.  People suffering kicks in their empathy.  They suffer with people who are suffering. 

This does not mean that they view suffering as an outright evil, though.  Suffering because you don’t get candy at the grocery store is good suffering.  We’re talking about serious, long-term damage suffering, like losing your house, your job, your health, your life.  Grown-ups have empathy and it hurts to see people lose these things, even if they deserve it, even if it teaches them a lesson.  It’s hard to watch.  

Grown-ups have won some things they didn’t deserve (and know it).  They have also escaped some punishments they did deserve, without volunteering for punishment.  When was the last time you wrote yourself a speeding ticket?  Grown-ups know that life is not fair, and people are thorougly imperfect, and this enhances their empathy.

In 2003, I listened and read, and ultimately believed that invading Iraq was wrong.  I wrote letters, went to protests.  The U.S. invaded Iraq anyway. 

I hoped like crazy that my judgment was faulty.  I hoped that the peace demonstrators would be proven wrong.  I hoped that the people being mentally, physically, and emotionally scarred would be balanced by a clear purpose and the larger good that would come out of the war.  I hoped Bush was right and I was wrong.  I wanted Bush’s war to succeed.  I’d rather be wrong than have people suffer.

House Republican Whip Eric Cantor is a grown up.  “I don’t think anyone wants anything to fail right now,” the Grown-up says.  Thank you, Eric Cantor.  Just because you think the Democrats’ plan won’t work doesn’t mean you want it to fail.  Reference again here, I didn’t think the Iraq plan would work, but I desperately want it to succeed.

I am, and will remain, deeply opinionated; however, my opinions aren’t intended to be used for worship or as weapons.  If I’m wrong, I’m wrong.  Being wrong helps you learn, and it keeps you humble.

Mr. Limbaugh, on the other hand, must personify his opinions to entertain people, rather than being a grown-up.  At least, he thinks that he must.  I wonder if a person with an open mind exploring ideas would be entertaining.  I guess that’s why we have “60 Minutes.”