On a beautiful day in San Francisco 16-year-old Laura Ruth Barry had no trouble defending her San Francisco Parkside tennis crown, beating fellow American Sam Barry (who is, in an extraordinary coincidence, her father) 6-1 and 6-2. The match was actually more lopsided than the score would indicate; basically, Barry kicked Barry’s ass. You might say that Barry, who has beaten Barry before, beat him some more.
And speaking of Moore, I saw Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story this weekend. I really liked it. I thought it was a great opinion piece. Many critics think the movie lacks nuance and that it provided half-truths; if they are of a certain worldview, they believe it is a complete misrepresentation of the facts. I think it works. I have evidence.
Around the time this movie was released I was on a Fox News web show called The Strategy Room for my book How to Play the Harmonica: and Other Life Lessons. The Strategy Room is one of those shows where people sit shoulder to shoulder, interrupting each other but mostly agreeing on one thing: they know the other guys are the problem. In Fox’s case, the other guys are anybody to the left of The Wall Street Journal’s opinion and editorial page. [Full disclosure: I work for HarperCollins, which is owned by NewsCorp, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, more or less. Murdoch, or, as we call him at work, Uncle Rupert, also owns Fox and the Wall Street Journal. It’s very possible that he owns the New York Yankees, Taiwan, and Michael Moore’s home.]
When I walked onto the set at The Strategy Room they were engaged in one of television and radio’s most popular current exercises: lofting each other softballs and smacking them out of the park. There was no doubt about the political leanings of the assembled group; all you had to do was say a handy word like “Clinton,” or “Obama,” or “democrat,” or “socialism,” and everybody dove in, teeth bared, rending the straw man to shreds in seconds.
Which made me wonder how I was going to fit in. If you read my book—and I really think you should, for the good of the world—you will notice a distinct lack of political polemic. This is not because I don’t have opinions; it’s just that a book called How to Play the Harmonica: and Other Life Lessons hardly seems the right vehicle for expressing such views. But maybe I missed my chance, because at one point the Strategy Room panel leader, Father Jonathan Morris (who Stephen Colbert called "Father Cute-Priest" and who I happen to kind-of know from my work—HarperOne published his book The Promise) managed to use my mentioning the fact that the Rock Bottom Remainders don’t get paid for what we do (because, frankly, we shouldn’t; instead we raise money for literacy) to score points aganst Moore. Father Jonathan approved of the Remainders charitable efforts so he could lambast Moore for simultaneously opposing capitalism and making money from his movie.
I don't know about the merits of that argument, but I do know that the heightened concern of all these right-leaning talking heads with smacking down Moore is proof that he made a good movie; they know it’s a message a lot of people want to hear, and so they attack the messenger.
Personally, I don't think you need to be a genius to see that we have a serious problem with greed in this country; my experience and observations also tell me we lack a safety net for the vulnerable among us. These two matters should be national priorities. I’m a middle class white guy with a lot of good friends and family, and I can see the yawning chasm of poverty not so far below. I had a bout with cancer, and were it not for the insurance provided by Uncle Rupert’s company I don’t know that I would be here today. I also can’t risk leaving my job, because I now have a few pre-existing conditions. (Not that I want to leave my job, NewsCorp—I love you! I love HarperCollins! But what if I did? Or what if *gulp* you tell me to leave?)
I don’t think that Michael Moore has the answers, but I am glad he preached his sermon and raised the questions. It’s easy for us—the masses (face it, that’s who we are, in the political arena)—to be distracted by the smoke and mirrors of powerful interests. It happens here in the country I love, and it happens elsewhere. For instance, my son Daniel is in Taiwan, where he reports:
“It's interesting that Chen Shui-Bian made off with obscene amounts of Taiwanese people's embezzled money after declaring that ‘Taiwanese politics is without a question of right or left, only a question of independence or re-unification.’ How beautiful! The Taiwanese are all sitting around thinking about ideas of Chinese identity and NOT about the redistribution of wealth, while Chen Shui-Bian takes all the wealth for himself!”
The haves will always take all the wealth for themselves, if they can. For more on this, look around. They have done so in the United States in my lifetime with great boldness and skill. The question is, how can we redress this imbalance? And if we do so in a way that is fair-minded and good for all the people, will that mean I’ll have another shot at finally beating my daughter in tennis?