Last fall I drove around America and wrote a book about it. One reason I did that is that the traditional institutions whose role has been to explain to us what's going on and why are both confused about their mission and in disarray on the business side (a case in point being the Washington Post, which Jeff Bezos recently bought for the running-around money that he happened to have in his pocket at the time). I took to the road last year because I figured I might as well pull up my socks and do whatever partial and imperfect reporting and explaining I was in a position to do, since (for example) the Washington Post wasn't really doing it for me.
In the same spirit, and also in the spirit of the London Letters that George Orwell sent to the Partisan Review during World War II, I'm starting a diary with the same title as my just-published book, Home Free. The idea is to keep tabs on at least some of the never-ending torrent of public crises we continue being walloped by from week to week. It will inevitably be personal and partial, and it will often be with reference to the people I met on my American road trip during and just after the 2012 presidential election, and the stories and points of view that they shared with me. It will be, among other things, self-administered therapy for the emotional and intellectual fatigue inflicted by the chronic presumption that, somehow, one needs to have a view on every crisis real or ersatz that comes down the pike.
As I write this, in the wake of Ted Cruz's long speech in the Senate, a glance at my smartphone screen yields two New York Times headlines: "House G.O.P. Leaders List Conditions for Raising Debt Ceiling" and "Obama Makes Impassioned Defense of Health Law." I need to stop glancing at my smartphone screen. I'm not the sort of writer who makes a practice of parsing New York Times headlines, but that particular juxtaposition is too telling to let pass. The Republicans' conditions for not shutting down the government include delaying implementation of the Affordable Care Act by a year. The act is/was supposed to be implemented this October 1 - isn't/wasn't it? And how is it that the president is reduced to making an impassioned defense of it on the eve of its supposed implementation? Who's in charge, anyway?
I'm prepared to believe that, if it ever were to get implemented, the Affordable Care Act would be a wonderful thing for America and a great accomplishment on President Obama's part. Shahab Sehgal, an insurance agent I met last November in Orlando, Florida, helped convince me of that. "Another good thing that Obama did," Shahab told me,
which no other president has ever done, what has never been done in this country, is that he introduced what is known as PCIP, the pre-existing condition insurance plan. He said, "If you have been declined insurance because of a pre-existing condition, if you are uninsurable, then you will get a policy very similar to what the House and the Senate have." Any client who's had cancer or a triple bypass or is typically uninsurable, we show them the PCIP web page, which is from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. We tell them, "This is the premium, and actually it's cheaper than what we're selling." But we don't get a commission. We do that as a courtesy and say, "This is what you can have." But some of our clients say, "Well, what is this? If it's from Obama, we don't want it. We don't want anything to do with that man." It is unbelievable! Until July 31st, 2010, the PCIP didn't exist. The guy's a saint. And you've got these frickin' redneck clients who have got cancer, and they will not take Obama's plan.
My personal problem as a citizen is that, anymore, I'm just weary. Another thing that popped up on my smartphone on Thursday was an email from those tireless liberals at MoveOn.org, urging me to give them just $3 towards the $250,000 they say they need to combat the "multi-million-dollar campaign to torpedo Obamacare before it even gets started" that they tell me right-wing groups have launched.
I deleted the email. Sure, I'm for the Affordable Care Act. Of course I'm for it. I've been for it for years now. But I find it hard to believe that either my political involvement or my three dollars will do much good. I want to believe, but at the moment I don't, really. Not only the ruthless Republicans, but also the feckless and leaderless Democrats, have nearly used up my capacity to care. That's another part of the problem.
Ethan Casey is the author of Home Free: An American Road Trip (2013). About Home Free, Paul Rogat Loeb, author of Soul of a Citizen, says, "Ethan Casey listened hard and well in his books on Haiti and Pakistan. Now he's listening to America." Ethan Casey's other books include Bearing the Bruise: A Life Graced by Haiti ("Heartfelt" - Paul Farmer) and Alive and Well in Pakistan ("Magnificent" - Ahmed Rashid). Web: www.ethancasey.com. Facebook: www.facebook.com/ethancasey.author.