It’s not every day that a Nobel Prize winner, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient walk into a bar – or in this case an apartment – but she did, into mine, Monday night: Toni Morrison.
It was a fundraiser for seven-term Congressman Rush Holt. Arguably the only scientist in Congress, he helped run Princeton’s Plasma Physics Laboratory for a decade before winning his seat in 1998. His constituents sport bumper stickers that read . . . “My Congressman IS a Rocket Scientist.”
Having been asked by the organizers to open the program with a few remarks on the “national political scene,” I welcomed everyone (especially the astonishing Ms. Morrison from whom we were about to hear) and then suggested the following:
That in terms of the “national political scene,” the choice we face November 6 is really all ABOUT Rush.
Rush HOLT, the modest, thoughtful, logical, rocket scientist Congressman, and HIS party . . .
. . . versus Rush LIMBAUGH, the blowhard leader, in many ways, of the Republican Party.
Rush Limbaugh whose face gets red with passion as he enumerates what he calls the “four pillars of deceit.”
Do you know what those four pillars of deceit are, I asked the assembled?
(It was a rhetorical question, but I actually got a couple folks shouting back – “tell us!” It was thrilling.)
They are: “GOVERNMENT” (I pointed to the Congressman) . . . “THE MEDIA” (not including Fox or Rush Limbaugh himself, one presumes) . . . “ACADEMIA” (I pointed to the former President of Harvard who had come with his wife to support Rush) . . . “and SCIENCE” (I pointed to the Congressman again.)
Science . . . a pillar of deceit.
When it was the candidate’s turn to speak, all he would say of my claim that he is the only scientist in Congress is that if we are lucky, we are about to get another – the rather astonishing Bill Foster (a member of the team that discovered the top quark) – and that, well, “it depends on how you define scientist.”
Which was the gentlest of jabs, I assume, at Representative Paul Broun (a Republican who styles himself a scientist and whom you can watch here saying that evolution and the big bang are “lies straight from the pit of hell”).
November 6 is a choice between the party that “believes in” science and the party whose chair of the House committee charged with dealing with climate change is a climate change denier who quotes from the Bible in debunking the scientific consensus.
Okay? So Rush Holt is going to win reelection for his eighth term (and if we’re lucky, the number of scientists in Congress will double to two, with the election of Bill Foster) – but will Rush have a gavel?
And will he have a President who wants to increase investment in research and education and alternative energy?
Or one who has vowed to cut those to make room to lower taxes on the wealthy (who may not pay a lesser SHARE of taxes, but will pay tens of billions less in TAXES) and to add $2 trillion in unrequested military spending. (Talk about government waste! This isn’t $600 on a hammer — it’s $2 trillion on hammers the Pentagon hasn’t even asked for.)
Rush spoke modestly and sensibly, but mainly about what an honor it was to have Toni Morrison there to support him.
And then Ms. Morrison read what she had written for the occasion:
I am extremely pleased to accept Congressman Rush Holt’s invitation because it gives me an opportunity to describe what I believe is classic, although endangered, democratic representation.
When I was young we used to be called citizens—American citizens. Some of us were called ‘second class’ citizens, yet the term, the category, the aspiration was citizenship.
Some time after the end of World War II another definition of Americans arose—’consumers.’ Every narrative, advertisement, political promise was to, for and about the powerful, courted and always obeyed American Consumer. So we did—consume. Happily, extravagantly, mindlessly—until the credit card, the mortgaged home or homes, the college tuition loans came due.
Now the category has changed again. We are now simply taxpayers or not-taxpayers.
Think of the difference, the cognitive and emotional difference between thinking of oneself as a citizen and regarding oneself as merely a taxpayer.
If I am simply an American taxpayer, I am alarmed about where my money goes; I may even resent the recipient, wonder whether he or she or it (the institution) is worthy of my money.
On the other hand, if I am principally an American citizen, I have to wonder about what’s best for my country, my state, my neighbors, the young, the elderly and the unfortunate.
That shift in national identity informs so much of the discourse and the political choices of our representatives. Obviously, I prefer the label ‘citizen,’ which is precisely why I admire Rush Holt. To me his works, his advocacy, his personal and political philosophy stem from the concept of citizenship and what it demands of us. From education to healthcare, to women’s rights, civil rights, support for artists—his concerns and labor are those of a citizen for citizens. And that commitment is rare these days.
If you help him, support him, with your resources and your own enthusiastic commitment, you will be a champion for that ancient and blessed definition: Citizen.
Needless to say, Ms. Morrison is not only for Rush Holt, she is for Barack Obama.
OUR candidate, whatever people may think of him as a debater, has an amazing record of accomplishments, all the more amazing given the hugely difficult circumstances under which they were accomplished.
THEIR candidate left Massachusetts with a 34% approval rating (in good economic times) – about the same as George W. Bush’s approval rating when HE left office (with the economy in free fall).
You know all that . . .
. . . which is why you may share my frustration that their side can simply lie – in 2000, candidate Bush SCOFFED at charges that he planned huge tax cuts for the rich with the same language Mitt Romney now uses to tell the same multi-trillion-dollar lie – and you may share my frustration that, thanks to Citizens United, their side can amplify those lies with virtually unlimited funds.
. . . and which is why, yes, if you can dig deep one last time, we need you to do it, here, now.
Thanks to many of you, we have 120 field offices open in Ohio alone (they have 30), an army of field organizers throughout the country, and raised $181 million just last month from 2 million donors.
And we have a superb President with by far the better vision for moving forward. So I think we’re going to win.
But there is zero risk that we’ll overshoot on the fundraising and win by “too much,” for three reasons: first, if 2000 is any guide, it’s important to win by enough for it to “stick”; second, it will help us hold the Senate and win back the House; third, it will send a message that America and the world need to hear.
It’s important that the right Rush win.