In Terry Gilliam’s artsy futurist film “The Zero Theorem” (2013), precocious and charismatic teen Bob (Lucas Hedges) tells the besieged computer operator Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz), “I’m nobody’s tool”. (Hedges would play a similar role in “Manchester by the Sea”.)
It’s true, I “went public” with a controversial persona narrative with my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book in the 1990s – specifically striking a nexus between the past history of conscription with the debate over gays in the military (as it had evolved then under Bill Clinton). I would wrap every other issue, mapped onto the tension between individualism and the need to belong to the group, around it and become a commentator, a pundit, someone who, however, needed to keep a certain objectivity and distance (even emotional aloofness) expected of journalists.
As President Trump complains, it’s too easy to criticize when you sit on the bench ad don’t play.
So, in the “aftermath” of the book(s), websites, blogs and now social media accounts, I have made it absolutely impossible for me to earn money (in “retirement”) by selling somebody else’s message, or being someone else’s spokesperson. No, I can’t have Sean Spicer’s job.
After my layoff and forced retirement from old-style mainframe I.T. as a post 9/11 sequel at the end of 2001, at age 58 (73 now), I learned “the truth” about what the world seemed to expect of retirees: Sell! One of the earlier interviews (while I was still in Minnesota) as with PrimeVest The interviewer became defensive about my questions over his presentation, even though I agree that for some consumers, converting whole life to term is a reasonable strategy. But a $40 trillion market? The interview was concerned over how “analytical” I seemed. I checked and investigated everything. “We give you the words,” he said. To a writer who has followed his own direction, that phrase sounded very insulting, like throwing an inadequate tip at a bartender (which I once did).
There would other attempted offers to throw husckerism at me. True, life insurance agent or financial planner sounds legitimate enough. But I don’t want to troll people’s Internet ad hits in order to cold call them.
I also find myself resisting attempts to get me to “join a resistance”. HRC is on my regular donation list, but I felt a little taken back by a recent email inviting me to be trained to become a grassroots activist or part of a resistance. I know that Barack Obama was a “community organizer” in Chicago at one time, I have my own message set. I don’t need to have an organization tell me what to say.
Even worse was a similar ploy from the political right. GOP candidate for a runoff in a Georgia House race, Karen Handel, writes, addressing me personally (by an automated plugin – again insulting) “This is the email I didn’t want to have to write. But after seeing the latest public polls – I have no choice.” She whines that bigwing Democrats have raised so much money for her opponent, so “Will you help me fight back?”
No, I like to think of myself as better than that. But of course I know the argument. I saved well when I was working. But I also have some of what the left-wing considers a poison pill, inherited wealth. I don’t have to make everything I do pay for itself. I don’t have to sell other people’s messages for a living. But I can imagine people thinking, if there weren’t people like me around to dilute them, they could make a living by “selling” because everyone else would have to.
I’ve railed about identity politics here before, but the way I argue policy issues is relevant here. Of course, I agree that current GOP plans for health care (variations of the Americam Healthcare Act) could, as structured now, throw millions off affordable health insurance, while solving problems of premium hikes for unneeded coverages for some people adversely affected by Obamacare’s implementation (and probably exacerbated by some states). I agree that the changes could affect racial minorities adversely. They could also affect gay men (depending on what happens with PrEP and protease inhibitors). But I don’t argue something because it hurts “me” or anyone as a “member of a group” (even though “belonging to groups” has become, unfortunately, the legal cornerstone of the way equal protection of the laws works). One of the reasons AHCA would affect people in certain groups is the way it would shift the responsibility for Medicaid back to the states. So it becomes a federalism problem. States should do the right things, but we know from the history of Civil Rights through the 1960s that sometimes they didn’t (and we lost young men like Goodman, Schwerner and Cheney as a result in what was the moral equivalent of crucifixion).
I don’t respond personally to “Leftist” appeals for “resistance” because this policy hurts members of their particular client groups (even if I belong to one of them, and everyone belongs to something). I think you have to solve the problem analytically. Some countries, like Switzerland, have kept an effective private health care sector in a way that works, and we could do that. I think you can have assigned risk pools again, so that rich people with pre-existing conditions can pay their own way (an inherent advantage of the GOP setup) but you have to subsidize the premiums of people in the middle class and below (tax cuts alone aren’t enough, you need subsidies, but you don’t need to use Medicaid as the vehicle for subsidies), or use reinsurance for excess claims. You have to be determined to make it work, and you have to pay for it. So maybe you can’t give the rich all their tax cuts.
Likewise, I reject group-oriented resistance politics on an issue like police profiling. I understand Rudy Giuliani’s claims about how “broken windows” policing in the 1990s made New York City much safer than it had been in the 1970s when I lived there. But I have so say, that particularly a couple of independent films (“Whose Streets?” and “The Prison in Twelve Landscapes” and well as “I A Not Your Negro”) have pointed out that in some communities, police departments have regularly extorted fines from black residents with the “garbage jail” approach. This is illegal and even criminal and not acceptable. Why won’t the usual system of litigation put a stop to this?
I’m left to ponder the mentality of the doomsday preppers, who think that civilization cannot be depended on, and that it is morally imperative for everyone to learn to become self-sufficient locally and within the family.
(Posted: Monday, May 22, 2017 at 11:30 AM EDT)