April 2007

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…if she is the Democratic nominee. Hillary is the most qualified candidate in the race. There may be nobody in the world who is better qualified, other than someone who has already been President.

The problem with Hillary Clinton is not her qualifications. The problem is that she is not a leader. Like her husband, she is averse to taking tough stands. She does not make the American public take its cod liver oil. The one time I saw Bill Clinton speak in person, he called for supporting disabled children and railed against deadbeat dads. Hillary continues in this non-offensive tradition. She employs the finger-to-the-wind method of governance. That makes her a follower.

There is an excellent article about Hillary by Joshua Green in November 2006’s Atlantic magazine. Green shows how Hillary learned from her health care reform experience and how she has become a successful Senator who is respected on both sides of the aisle. Green confronts her with the criticism that she has not taken any tough stands, despite the fact that she has a long record of accomplishment in the Senate. As Green puts it:

After we’d gone through her positions and policies in some detail, I suggested that for all she’d been busy doing in the Senate, I couldn’t find an instance where she had taken a politically unpopular stance or championed a big idea, like health-care reform, that might not yield immediate benefits but that was the right thing to do. Interviews with colleagues and observers seemed to imply an unspoken disappointment that her talents promised a record of more height and substance than she had displayed. The one consistent criticism I heard was that her record was marked by overwhelming caution. Could she refute their doubts, and point to a few examples of politically brave votes?

After dancing around the issue a bit, here is how she answers this critique:

“Everything I do carries political risk because nobody gets the scrutiny that I get,” she said finally. “It’s not like I have any margin for error whatsoever. I don’t. Everybody else does, and I don’t. And that’s fine. That’s just who I am, and that’s what I live with.”

It’s true that she is watched more than others. It’s true that she has less margin for error. But is that a good excuse to not act like a leader? She has long been a lightning rod for the conservative bashing machine. But now, the fact that she is a front-runner for President is why she is so watched and has less margin for error. Like all the serious candidates, she cannot make mistakes for fear that the media will magnify them into massive blunders, but why can’t she show leadership?

Watching the debate last week in South Carolina, she seemed the most Presidential of the candidates. My guy Barack Obama, on the other hand, was disappointing. He seemed amateurish and showed his political inexperience. A few people have commented to me about my Obama bandwagon post, saying that they like him but wish he had more experience. I do too! I’d like to see him serve several more terms in the Senate before he runs for President. The Presidency is or should be the pinnacle of one’s career. One should train one’s entire life to be President and then run at just the right moment. (Not too soon, not too late.) I don’t think Obama has reached that moment. But after reading Obama’s policy book, The Audacity of Hope, I’m convinced he’s a leader. He wants to change the world, not game the current system. And the world needs changing.

If the choice is between an inexperienced leader and an experienced follower, I think I’d rather vote for the inexperienced leader. But if Hillary is the nominee, I will vote for her. Regardless of who the Republican candidate is, he will bring too much Republican baggage with him. We need to recover and rebuild after the Bush hurricane, particularly when it comes to our democratic institutions. Maybe the country needs a good “caretaker” President like I imagine Hillary Clinton would be.

Yesterday marked seven weeks since my surgery so I figure it’s time for an update.

Phase I of my recovery (the first two weeks) happened in the hospital. It went pretty smoothly, with the exception of the Predator triple valve situation (a speed bump) and the stuck chest tube (a bigger speed bump). Everyone has one complication or another. Mine could have been a lot worse.

As regular readers know, I spent Phase II of my recovery (weeks three through six) at Chez Mere. I cannot think of a better place for Phase II. First, there is the “home” aspect of Chez Mere, the familiar surroundings, the house I grew up in. You can’t underestimate the value of that atmosphere and it was fun to spend quality time with my Mom.

During Phase II, I got my incision staples and neck and chest tube stitches out. I had to go to the outpatient clinic twice or more a week but the visits were not onerous. The downside is that I was not gaining any weight, despite all the good food my Mom was feeding me. I think my body was having a more difficult time recovering from surgery than I expected. I thought I would be driving away from an oil change and really I underwent more of an engine overhaul. I was expending all my energy on healing and could not seem to move beyond healing. I don’t think I really moved beyond healing until about week five.

As a twist, I was dealing with steroid-induced (and possibly immunosuppressant-induced) diabetes. Diabetes is very common in Cystic Fibrosis patients but I have been lucky enough to avoid it thus far in my life (except for steroid-induced diabetes during hospital admissions when I was getting IV steroids in the form of Solumedrol). This time, the diabetes effect was lasting longer. Just what I need, an addition to my disease set. As my steroid level has gone down, my blood sugar has fallen too. Hopefully, once my steroid and immunosuppressant levels get reduced, I will be nearly back to my “normal.” Still, my days of imbibing in daily morning Mountain Dew injections might be over. It has occurred to me I might have to start drinking coffee.

At the end of Phase II (i.e., at six weeks out), I began driving again. A few days later, I moved back to my own house and began Phase III (week seven+). It was tough to leave the comfort zone of Chez Mere, but it is nice to be back in my own house. And McCaffrey is back home with me again after vacationing at my sister’s house where he was spoiled by my nephew Max. I know McC misses his favorite near-six-year-old.

As I enter week eight, I’ve been working on getting my life reorganized. I’ve been taking walks around my neighborhood and making trips to the grocery store, Target, various eateries (time for a new lunch spot list) and some other spots like Barnes & Noble.

I wear my mask when I’m outside the house (unless I’m eating) and I often wonder what people think when they see me. Nobody has said anything. The only comments anyone has ever made to me about wearing a mask in public came nine years ago after my first transplant, both on the same walk down the 16th Street Mall. One kid mocked me for being excessively afraid of pollution. I can’t remember if I corrected him or not. And a young woman asked if I had had a lung transplant. She knew someone who had. I do get fewer strange looks these days. I think people are more accustomed to seeing people wearing masks than nine years ago though it’s still unusual.

I wonder if they think I wear it because I’m sick. In other words, I wonder if they think I am wearing a mask to protect them from me when in fact I am wearing it to protect myself from them. Every time I hear a cough I resist the urge to yell, “Incoming!” and hit the deck. I don’t resist the urge to make tracks. But all this got me thinking, wouldn’t it be nice if sick people would wear masks when they leave their house? If people insist on taking their sickness out into the world (to work or wherever), it’s the least they could do.

I was watching an impressively bad movie the other day, Flyboys, when my eye started wandering around the room and landed on the basement bookshelf. There are bookshelves all over Chez Mere. Collectively, they comprise what I call the family library. The great thing about the family library is that you never have to go far to find a good book.

In the basement, we have the current events, religion and travel sections and in the middle of a pile of travel guidebooks I saw Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country. I picked it up and gave it the once-over. Sometimes you just know you’ve found a good book. I don’t know how, but you do. In a Sunburned Country is a travel memoir about Australia. I don’t have a lot of interest in Australia, but I’m always on the lookout for a well-written book. It almost doesn’t matter what the book is about.

Another thing I love about books: I had never heard of Bill Bryson before I picked up this one and now he’s my new favorite author and there are at least two other books of his I already want to read. In fact, I walked to Tattered Cover yesterday and bought one of them. It was quite an expedition, got some good exercise and ate lunch at the Chipotle there across from East High.

Here’s a funny passage from In a Sunburned Country that reminded me of what it was like to have my life in a limbo of sorts while waiting for a transplant. Bryson is talking about riding the Indian Pacific train across Australia from Sydney to Perth:

With all your needs attended to and no real decisions to make, you soon find yourself wholly absorbed with the few tiny matters that are actually at your discretion–whether to have your morning shower now or in a while, whether to get up from your chair and pour yourself another complimentary cup of tea or be a devil and have a bottle of Victoria Bitter, whether to stroll back to your cabin for the book you forgot or just sit and watch the landscape for emus and kangaroos. If this sounds like a living death, don’t be misled. I was having the time of my life. There is something wonderfully lulling about being stuck for a long spell on a train. It was like being given a preview of what it will be like to be in your eighties. All those things eighty-year-olds appear to enjoy–staring vacantly out windows, dozing in a chair, boring the pants off anyone foolish enough to sit beside them–took on a special treasured meaning for me. This was the life!

I am reminded of the whole atmosphere of waiting for transplant but specifically this reminds me of sitting at my kitchen table and staring out my front window. Unfortunately, I never saw any kangaroos out there.

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