I don't want to do this. I shouldn't have to do this. But the burden is well-settled upon me; the letters and telephone calls and E-mail messages from the several hundred mostly strangers who have given numerous of my previous essays their praise and who have told me that I must continue to write when I am as troubled as I now find myself-these persons deserve what small insight or comfort or advice I can generate for them. Would that I could summon for them, for us all, some reason to hope.
Yes, it will be just that sort of essay. But it will be uncharacteristically brief. I am now, Wednesday evening, debilitated from the third long day of my annual tour with the Alna, Maine roadside brush clearing crew.
We are seven. Michael Trask, forty in a month, I have known since he was five. He is our road commissioner and son of our late road commissioner, Austin Trask. David Seigars, selectman coming upon the end of the first year of a two-year term at town meeting Saturday, is also a volunteer fireman; he takes orders from Road Commissioner Trask and Fire Chief Trask, a situation many men could not endure. Jon Bardo, owner-operator of the cleanest, best-maintained excavator in Lincoln County, takes considerable load off the animal element through his skillful application of hydraulic amplification.
Of Herman Lovejoy, old, lame, knees shot to hell, but the first on the job, the most capable, the least ill-tempered, the most generous, I cannot allow myself the space here now to tell you how much he means to us all or how vital his involvement in our community is to its continued health and progress.
We employ two young men from Wiscasset, Nick and T.J., brothers. They are very interested in the varieties of sexual conjunction and will express themselves thereupon at length. Herman is trying to get them to focus more closely on the difference between the tension and compression sides of a log. They are our cutters, a job I once held, but my back now hurts too much while lurching through puckerbrush with a ten-pound saw to be productive. So I drag brush and trees and feed the chipper, a fourteen-inch Morbark that will grind a hardwood tree effortlessly if loudly.
Our lovely, if sometimes sarcastic, town clerk, Amy Warner, whom I have been educating most recently concerning the music of John Eddie and Tom Russell and Tom Lehrer, delivered us a coffee cake she baked just this morning.
Why do I tell you this? Why might you care? Because I really am too tired, too lame, too broken to give over an hour or more of this evening to writing this sad, disgusted little essay, and you need to understand that I have been up to a fine, productive thing these early spring days, in the company of men who know what they were hired to do, understand what they must do, whether it hurts or doesn't, and feel that there is honor and dignity in rough, heavy, dirty, crude, unlovely work if a goodness comes of it.
There will be a payday, of course. I expect to receive about two dollars an hour less for this week than I would at my customary work. Bardo could likely make more rebuilding engines. Lovejoy is retired! We will get our money, but you could probably shave even a couple dollars more and we'd still be in the ditches, among the stumps, listening to the chain saws' whining and the big chipper grinding. We are, in our way, voting, as surely as we'll vote Saturday afternoon (I'll be moderating and expect I'll clear nearly another hundred dollars for that public expression of my parliamentary ignorance.) Each of us has joined this happy company to let in some light on our back roads, to open the ditches, to further the common welfare. It's no use lobbying us to vary our approach or turn one way or another. We receive no contributions from the Morbark company and there will be no good job waiting for us with a paving firm, chainsaw manufacturer or consortium of back and knee doctors. We are citizens of Alna. We serve when we are asked.
So I heard on the radio as I drove home that one Congressman had decided to vote Yes on the great gift to the health insurance industry that the Democratic party leadership and president assure us is the very best we can hope for as an alternative to our current system. Dennis Kucinich has climbed aboard this loathsome bill after plainly declaring he would not vote for any bill that did not contain a "public option", such an option being, of course, a very weak alternative to the national health care (generally known as "single-payer") candidate Obama said repeatedly he favored, but President Obama discovered upon taking the oath of office was no longer "feasible."
Well, another Congressman folds. So what? Obama leaned on him, he was reminded that Democrats have to stick together, and another Democrat did indeed find his vote failing to support his own statements, his own beliefs, his own certain knowledge that he was not doing the right thing as he understood it. So I took some ibuprofen and I read all of the statement of Mr. Kucinich. We are very clear, he and I both: this announcement is a clear reversal of his explicit promise to vote against this bill. Congressman Kucinich is no Karl Rove. He is no liar, no Dick Cheney, no Rush Limbaugh. He is not despicable. He is an immensely more principled human being than Nancy Pelosi or tired old sad sack Harry Reid.
But there it is, clear and precise. "[I said] that I would not support the bill unless it had a strong public option and unless it protected the right of people to pursue single payer at a state level."
And: "I still have doubts about the bill. I do not think it is a first step toward anything I have supported in the past. "
Then: "I have decided to cast a vote in favor of the legislation."
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OK, look. I'm not looking to beat up poor Dennis Kucinich. I think it almost unutterably sad that perhaps the most principled man in Congress, in what I'm guessing must be a stomach-churning admission of his own helplessness, understanding the futility of playing ball with the team he can't get up the nerve or the disgust to quit, on a field laid out to the specifications of the corrupt owners of the other team, under rules designed to preclude the possibility of a fair, clean game, still, finally, gives up and goes along. But he so clearly knows it is the wrong thing to do.
I struggle, even after several close readings, to find the reason for this disturbing reversal. The bill does not contain the essential elements he articulated as necessary for him to support it. He and I and many of you know that if this is passed and people are forced to buy the inadequate, overpriced products of a blatantly corrupt industry that has over the years bought and paid for both political parties and quite clearly the current occupant of the White House, insurance premiums will continue to escalate, access to care will not materially improve, millions will remain without decent care, costs will not be controlled, and unnecessary, ineffective (but lucrative) procedures not be curtailed. Insurance company profits will rise. But the continuing excess profits and poor care and wastefulness will now be ascribed by every right-wing radio talk show host and ignoramus-at-large to "Obamacare."
Dennis Kucinich is right-this is "not the first step toward anything" except more of the screwing we're getting now. It will only serve to convince even more people that government has no place in health care. We will not "fix it later." The push is on to "pass a bill", to "get something done." So this piece of shit is what we're going to get, Dennis, and now you're going to vote for it. Not that I was ever a follower of the dream, but for the millions who were, and who voted their hearts and consciences just a year and a third ago, I wonder if the squeaky little voice of beauty-queen ex-governor former-veep- candidate Palin doesn't haunt your reveries: "How's that hopey-changey thing workin' out fer ya?"
Here's all I could find in Why I'm Voting 'Yes' by Congressman Kucinich. See what you make of it.
"This fear has so infected our politics, our economics and our international relations that as a nation we are losing sight of the expanded vision, the electrifying potential we caught a glimpse of with the election of Barack Obama. The transformational potential of his presidency, and of ourselves, can still be courageously summoned in ways that will reconnect America to our hopes for expanded opportunities for jobs, housing, education, peace, and yes, health care."
It looks to me as though the one man a great many truly desperate liberal Americans thought could be counted on to take a principled stand without worry about the political consequences to himself or to the miserable party he'd signed up with has sold us all out so he can Support the President. It's that expanded vision, electrifying potential and transformational potential that have ended our useless wars, stopped blowing up civilians, prosecuted our domestic war criminals, restored the rule of law, closed Guantanamo, ended rendition, brought transparency to Washington and entertained the insurance executives at the White House while barring the door to nurses and single-payer proponents that Congressman Kucinich finds more important and necessary and convincing than just doing the right thing.
So suppose the road crew was four Democrats and three Republicans and Chief Trask and I were both Democrats (never again for me and I think never for him). Suppose further that he didn't want to antagonize the Republican members or the resident of Bailey Road who had given him two hundred thousand dollars for last year's re-election campaign. Then imagine that he took me to a strip joint in Portland and bought me all the gin I could hold without puking and paid two very cute young Asian hostesses and one older but very bosomy blond American to treat me to several most excellent lap dances. After such a splendid evening, on the way home, he might ask me very earnestly to vote with him in caucus the next morning to leave all the scrub willows, leaning, heart-rotted poplars, layered alders, multi-trunked red maples, cabbage-headed pines and plow-broken hawthorns for a half-mile stretch of Bailey Road.
Would I agree? Maybe. I'd be pretty drunk after all. But the next morning, at twenty-six degrees, shivering under my three shirts and ludicrous lime-green safety vest, I couldn't do it. Lovejoy would think very much less of me. And he'd be very much right.
It is not the job of Dennis Kucinich to prop up this disappointing president or the rotten, useless Democratic party. It is not the job of progressive voters to support lame candidates who lie to them and use them because "the other party is worse." It is not the job of the American public to "make a space for the president", to support "incremental improvements" in our wretched situation or to "force the president" to use his alleged giant brain and forceful oratory in pursuit of real and useful and meaningful governance by sending him letters or contributions or by "supporting him" just because he's not George Bush or John McCain.
This country is falling apart. People are dying. Despair is settled upon the land. These clowns are frigging around for no purpose better than the enrichment of Wall Street bankers and Connecticut insurance tycoons. There has been no change. There is no hope.
OK, so it isn't short. I tried. Good night. Good luck. Go to work and do your job honestly and well. Just don't expect anybody much more elevated than your first selectman to do so. I do devoutly wish it were otherwise.
Cooper was once first selectman of Alna, Maine. He expects never again to attain such high office. He will cut bushes so long as he can and Commissioner Trask will have him. He may answer some mail sent to him. He will read and consider all. Just please don't ask him for advice. All he can see to do is to teach his boy well, keep his woods in good order, prune his trees and plant more. And listen to the songs of Tom Lehrer, of course.