Advocacy, Culture, Politics

Schadenfreude – pleasure derived from another person’s misfortune

Democrats and Progressives (distinct but overlapping groups) have been awash in schadenfreude since the Paul Ryan / Donald Trump Repeal and Replace legislation went down in glorious flames last Friday.

But don’t be fooled.  We didn’t win Friday.

No one who didn’t have health insurance got it last Friday.   No one’s premiums became more affordable last Friday.   No Medicaid recipient got easier access to the too few physicians who accept Medicaid.

Which begs the question: what does winning look like?   If it simply means beating Trump, Ryan and the Republican Congress, then it’s about power not progress.

But for those of us who call ourselves progressives, Friday was a big loss.  We failed to improve the healthcare system.   And we confirmed the worst suspicions of those voters who felt so locked out, so screwed by the system that they were willing to blow it up by electing a mentally unstable failed tycoon.  Their lives won’t be getting any better, which means they’ve been screwed again.

Those of us who call ourselves progressives need to fight FOR something.

RESIST isn’t an agenda.

Here’s a glimmer of hope, from my home state whose motto is Hope.

Rhode Island Town Hall Meetings

Let’s start talking about the public option.   Not single payer, but the public option right along side private insurance.

This from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) — paraphrasing Benjamin Franklin, he said that a government-managed insurer would reveal what games private insurers had been playing. “The best way to show that a stick is crooked is to put a straight stick next to it. If you do that, the private sector can’t manipulate the market by withdrawing.”

We’ll need to fix what’s wrong with Medicare, like sweetheart deals that prevent the government from bargaining with pharmaceutical firms the way the private insurers do.  But Medicare works – providing good care to seniors and fair reimbursement to doctors and hospitals.

Let’s do something real to improve the lives of those people who think the system has given up on them.

Let’s make progress.   Let’s win.

Culture, Politics

The Arc of Justice

“The Arc of the Moral Universe Is Long, but It Bends Toward Justice”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

“This disease will be the end of many of us, but not nearly all, and the dead will be commemorated and will struggle on with the living, and we are not going away.

 We won’t die secret deaths anymore.

The world only spins forward.

We will be citizens. The time has come.”

“Angels In America”

In the 80’s, I protested two Presidents, picketed two Presidents, blamed two Presidents for ignoring my brothers dying all around me from AIDS.

In the 90’s, I supported the President, but was disappointed that he couldn’t magically make it all better.

In the first decade of this century, frankly, I tried to ignore the President, even as he made the AIDS epidemic a centerpiece of his foreign policy.

Today, after almost 30 years of the AIDS epidemic, I welcomed a President to join with us as a volunteer.

As part of the September 11th Day of Service, President Obama chose to volunteer at Food and Friends, an organization started 25 years ago to provide food and nutrition to people with AIDS.  Today, the organization serves people with all life threatening illnesses – an institution built largely by the gay community, and now shared with the entire community.  Erik Hower, the Board Chair, Craig Shniderman the Executive Director and I had the honor of welcoming President Obama as he arrived.

I struggle to quantify how far we have come, because to do so, I have to take stock of where we started, and how horrible those days were.  Struggle to take stock of a time when even in hospitals, food was left in the hallway because of the fear of a person with AIDS.  Struggle to recall the depth of fear we felt as the disease cut through our friends.  Our own sense of personal vulnerability.  My own sense of my personal vulnerability.

I struggle with the memories of great people lost — great leaders, great thinkers, great friends.  In my first outline for this piece, I began to catalogue many of them.  But I couldn’t go through with it.

At the same time, I take heart from the inspiration of the people who stepped up and filled the vacuum with their own leadership.  There were heroes among us.  Today, when Food and Friends delivers a meal to a woman struggling with breast cancer, or an elderly couple struggling to stay in their home as one of them faces dementia, we honor the legacy of 25 years of heroes.

Today, the President of the United States volunteered to fill containers with soup.  Any by doing so, bent the moral arc of the universe closer to justice.

Obama F&F

We have become citizens.  The time has indeed come.

Culture, Politics

Of Course…………

In Jane Wagner and Lily Tomlin’s brilliant play, Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe , Trudy the Bag Lady has been giving a tour of New York to a group of intergalactic visitors. She began by showing them a picture of Andy Warhol’s iconic Campell’s Soup can, and a picture of an actual can, and challenging them to tell the difference between soup and art. Near the end of the play, she returns to that theme in this fun moment:

“Did I tell you what happened at the play? We were at the back of the theater, standing there in the dark, all of a sudden I feel one of ’em tug my sleeve, whispers, “Trudy, look.” I said, “Yeah, goose bumps. You definitely got goose bumps. You really like the play that much?” They said it wasn’t gave ’em goose bumps, it was the audience.

I forgot to tell ’em to watch the play; they’d been watching the audience!

Yeah, to see a group of strangers sitting together in the dark, laughing and crying about the same things…that just knocked ’em out. They said, “Trudy, the play was soup…the audience…art.”

It’s easy and fun to focus on Paula Deen and her recent controversy, but not surprisingly, she’s the soup.

Instead focus on the art, the audience, and our collective role in the issues the controversy evokes.

When asked if she’s used the “N” word, Paula Deen famously answered “Of course.” The implication was clear – she was saying of course she had, and of course we knew she had. Her moment of moral obliviousness was actually a powerful accusation against the audience – “you’ve known or certainly suspected this about me and yet you didn’t care!”

What does that say about us?

The same point was made in June of 2010 when she participated in a New York Times forum.  Putting aside her Fractured Fairy Tales view of history, how did the audience sit through her calling out a black colleague, asking him to step away from a black backdrop so that he could be seen, and then dragging him up on stage to acknowledge the Missus? We can’t lay this off on the South. This was a supposedly sophisticated New York audience that sat through it, and then applauded.

Of course they did.

As a nation we tolerate without even noticing a sustained undercurrent of racism.

We tolerate a public education system that fails to graduate close to 1 out of every 3 black kids, and in some states its 1 of every 2. When the education system produces those same results year in and year out, it suggests not that the system is failing, but rather that the system is designed to fail those students.

We tolerate the televised spectacle of a black man hauled into the public square and required to display his papers to prove his citizenship. That it happened in the Briefing Room of the White House to the President of the United States is morally irrelevant. That we tolerated it is morally indefensible.

We’ve tolerated a growing sophistication in voter suppression of African Americans across the country. The Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act opens the floodgates to more widespread and systematic denial of the franchise to African Americans and Latinos. Yet the moral outrage last week was rather muted.

We’ve been paying a lot of attention to the soup. But that’s missing the point. If we turned our attention to the art, the audience, ourselves, then wouldn’t we be forced to grapple with our own racism, our own complicity?

Of course.


Liberal flag-wavers…………

I had an interesting experience last week.

A friend who knows me pretty well but had never been to my home was dropping something off. She had the address, but wasn’t sure she had the right house.

Walking up the steps she saw the American flag hanging by the front door, and immediately thought: “This can’t be Mike’s house.” Then she saw a little terra cotta rabbit in the front garden, and said “This definitely isn’t Mike’s house!”


Putting aside the rabbit for a minute………….what is it about me that would cause a smart and sophisticated person to conclude that I would never have an American flag flying outside my home?

When she told me the story, I explained that as a liberal, I wasn’t willing to cede patriotism to conservatives, and that I didn’t think she should either. A rich and wonderful conversation ensued.

I am a proud liberal. I believe that government action can be a powerful tool to improve the lives of the poor, to advance the cause of civil rights for all Americans, to protect our food supply, to educate our children, even to provide our healthcare. I’m often frustrated by the pace of advancement, but never do I lose hope. I fly our flag as a symbol of my hope in America.

In my life I’ve seen enormous change, almost more than I can fathom. How can you consider the speed with which our armed forces have implemented the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and not see irrefutable evidence of our power as a nation to move forward quickly, together? I fly our flag as a symbol of my confidence in America.

My father, like most men of his generation, served in World War II as radio man in a bomber. My aunt was a nurse in the Pacific. Other uncles served also, in one of the monumental struggles of good against evil, where this country defended freedom for the entire world. I fly our flag in gratitude for their service to America.

Yet “flag waver” evokes in liberals a type of person that we’re too quick to diminish and dismiss. If we’re truly the advocates for progress and the holders of hope, then we should be waving the flag higher than anyone.  

Oh, and the rabbit? My mother gave it to me, and it’s cute. Give me a break!

Bunny Rabbit