Saturday, March 01, 2008

The "C" Word

It's been a tough week, to say the least. Yesterday, the plastic surgeon removed the pressure bandages and slapped a bandaid on my nose, and described what he will likely have to do on Tuesday after the second tumor is excised from inside my nostril. The doctor asked me to remove my shirt, since he might spill some of my blood on it. I told him no.

Well, the office was cold!

I sort of took this whole thing lightly. I even joked with the plastic surgeon about giving me Heath Ledger's nose since, you know, he wasn't doing anything with it. In my history no one had cancer in my family, and disease was always something you "cured". God knows, I've faced down death before many times.

Cancer doesn't work like that. You can't cure it, you can only stop it from growing and taking you, bit by bit.

When I thought about my stupid little lesion and how friends of mine have battled "real cancers", like breast and ovarian or lung, I guess I assumed a basal cell carcinoma was small potatoes: you know, excise it, it's gone and you make sure you never get anymore. I wasn't afraid. I figured this was a step up from a root canal. I was waiting for the inevitable prostate cancer before I got scared.

Indeed, the surgery has a 99% success rate. I guess I know now what it's like to be in the one percent. This has shook my confidence a lot. I mean, here's the doctor, testing each slice as it comes off my nose, and finally clearing me after the third one. If it wasn't for the plastic surgeon noticing something was wrong, I would have been patched up with a nose full of cancer still.

I consider that to be luck: if the carcinoma had been even a millimeter away from the spot he was looking, he might have missed it too.

Your body is something that gives you diminishing returns as you get older. It becomes more and more useful to you until you reach a point when it starts to eat itself up in order to keep you on your headlong dash in to the brick wall of mortality. You have to work harder and harder to maintain it as you grow older, until finally one day you realize the effort isn't worth it anymore, that you can't work hard enough to stay in the kind of shape you want.

So you ratchet back your expectations, maybe I don't need to benchpress four hundred pounds: three hundred, no, two hundred will do. The stresses of daily living are enough to make the choice of ennui an easy one.

Ennui and hope. To look for the next snake oil, the next "miracle cure," the next fruitless waste of energy, when all this requires is work, and lots of it, and the acknowledgement that one can only do what one can do.

I've reached the age where I can say I have about as many days ahead of me as behind me, and I now head into this fearful autumn with just about all the tools I can muster. I likely won't be able to learn any "new tricks," old dog that I am. Time is neither my ally nor my friend. It is my signpost on a road that we all must travel, and it's telling me to make my mark before I have to.

I guess all this is why I fight so hard to keep my hopes up of a Clinton presidency, despite the fact that I am clearly in a shrinking number. I get the attraction of Barack Obama. Hell, I was Barack Obama...middle class kid growing up on an urban street, surrounded by all kinds of temptations and distractions, yet highly intelligent and skilled. It's precisely for this background I would never contemplate politics as a profession: too many deals done to survive, too many skeletons in my closet.

Good with words, too, which is how I know that words ARE meaningless, until you throw down and show you can back them up. I don't think Obama has done this, and the darling attention he has received doesn't seem to reflect this. He's the star quarterback for the high school football team that hasn't even taken the field to win a game yet. He can bullshit and bluff his way through a campaign alright, but when the chips are down, he's all "Bueller...Bueller...Bueller", or so his legislative record shows.

What's he done? Planted some flowers in a housing project for three years and called that a "career"? Hell, I planted carrots in the city's first urban garden in kindergarten. Elect me for world king!

What has he built? What monuments has he left in his wake? What fight has he fought where he's rolled up his sleeves, and gotten those perfectly manicured fingernails into the dirt?

Where's the blood on his shirt? Because if he thinks he can lead in a bipartisan fight by being cleaner than those he's fighting with, he's got a big big surprise ahead of him. People will test him. And test him. And there will be blood on his shirt, figuratively speaking, until he's shown he has the mettle to fight back harder (something his thin-skinned reactions thus far indicate he does not have) or he throws in the towel.

If he had cancer tomorrow, what would be left of him but a footnote to history of being the first serious minority candidate for President? We've had eight years of a career gross underachiever masquerading as a president. The unfortunate truth is that George Bush aspired to this mostly because it was his last shot at any kind of fame, which I suspect was in his head from the beginning (...with apologies to Stephen Colbert, before anyone accuses me of plagiarism): "Poppy was pres'dient, then so can I." It wasn't from any sense of "I can do this."

If Hillary died tomorrow of cancer, she'd leave behind a wealth of life and lives that she has touched. All her fights, all the dried blood on her blouse, speak of a woman who gets it and gets her hands dirty to fix things.

If my car broke down on the highway, I'd rather see Hillary pull up than Barack. Hillary would hand me a wrench. Barack, a cellphone.

I picture heaven as having a giant poker game, and if Hillary sat down at the table near me, I'd be very wary of her and count my chips. If Barack sat down, I'd be salivating, practically rubbing my hands with glee.

I think running a country in the face of an organized and disloyal opposition is a lot like that card game: you have to have the wherewithal to bluff a few times meaningfully, and every once in a while, take people at face value, all while protecting your cards and chips.

Too, I think Hillary gets that we don't have time to play nice anymore, until the other side gets that "nice" is the only way to play. Already, the Republicans are arming themselves. The Jonah Goldberg book was not the first shot across the bow at revisionist history, but it won't be the last and it may be the most important, despite our mocking of him here on the left. We can't possibly understand what effect this trope is having on the 24 percent who still support Bush and the maybe fifteen percent more that only need a small excuse to return to the fold. That's enough to rebuild a coalition on.

McCain is not out of the race, no matter whom he might face in November. He polls well against both Obama and Clinton, and is within the margin of error of winning against either of them. If you take the "Olbermann numbers" (MOE + Undecided), McCain could conceivably wipe the floor with the Democrats, and he has strength in territory that's normally considered safely blue, like California and the Northeast.

It won't take much to beat either candidate.

While it's true it's harder now to hurt Obama...after all, you cant really shoot down an empty suit that's flitting across the ceiling on a's also pathetically easy should they find even the slightest hint of scandal in his past that they can exploit.

The problem with being an empty suit is, once that suit is torn, you're exposed. Ask Mitt Romney.

Keep in mind that Clinton, Edwards, et al, have kept the gloves on in the primaries. They had to. The Republicans do not, and will not. They play to win and they play hard. The cocaine issue...well, let's put it this way: the sense I get is that Hillary could have gone after that a lot harder, that she had something in the tank to bring out. After all, I can't imagine that people like Al Gore in 1992 didn't know about the Paula Jones case in the primaries, but let the Gennifer Flowers case stand in lieu of it, figuring Americans would get it.

This is what I find so distressing about this election cycle: here, you have arguably the best qualified human being on the planet to be President, someone with blood on her blouse, being short-shrifted by an awful lot of people who are looking to Obama for hope, and not much else, and who knows what kind of backlash there will be once he's had to stand the grueling torture of the methodical 99% effective surgery of a general election campaign.

Imagine the psychology of these young folks if Obama, like McGovern before him, gets tangled up in mental health issues while he's supposed to b focusing on the campaign, as McCain pulls away in the polls. People don't like to be afraid, and if they are afraid, they'll turn to someone who they can be assured will protect them. If the Republicans can successfully paint Obama in this same fashion they painted that other anti-war candidate, it will be decades before Democrats will win the White House again.

Maybe under Chelsea Clinton...