The Breakfast Table

Inspirational Failures

I brought my own pillow to my college reunion, thinking it would help the situation in the dormitory room. I tend to carry my down pillow almost anywhere a foam rubber pillow might possibly be the standard offering, and in most places, it helps considerably. But as it turned out, I’d pretty much have to have brought along a mattress and box springs in addition in order to get anything resembling a decent night’s sleep. (This, incidentally, is one of the things I think about when I wonder what it would be like to be in prison: I probably wouldn’t be able to bring my down pillow with me. I must remember this the next time I consider saving the sales tax on my next Monet.)

My favorite thing about our current president is that he brings his own pillow everywhere.

My second favorite thing about him: His favorite restaurant in Austin, Jeffrey’s, happens to be my favorite restaurant in Austin.

And that just about wraps it up for me and W.

And my point yesterday wasn’t that if Gore were doing the same thing he would be flayed mercilessly and relentlessly by the right; the sad part is that Gore would be doing a much better job, and we’d be flaying him, too—we on the left, or, in my case, on the leftish. But both men would fail, I’m afraid, as inspirational leaders—Bush because he has no real ability to lead or make decisions, and Gore because no one wants to follow him anywhere, even when he’s got a good idea about where to go.

As for the Overclass (see Andrew Sullivan’s piece for the London Sunday Times on his Web site), I think there should be wild and fabulous tax incentives for charitable giving (“Shame the stingy and the selfish,” Sullivan writes), a strict cap on inherited wealth, and a movement among responsible corporate leaders to rethink a whole range of values that have become standard operating procedure in recent years, including ludicrously high salaries and lavish stock options. And higher taxes for the wealthy, absolutely, even if it’s true that the 400 wealthiest Americans are paying as much tax as the 40 million poorest, as Sullivan writes.

Reading the Andrew Sullivan piece reminds me: The private plane is certainly everyone’s favorite example of just how rich the superrich are. The last time the two of us did “The Breakfast Table,” we spent some time discussing its explicit sexual allure; a G-5, it seems to me, is almost always the answer to the question “What does she see in him?” when such questions refer to beautiful young women married to unattractive older men. But here’s a serious thing: There was a time, not long ago, when there were all sorts of things that everyone, rich or poor, had to endure. Flying commercial was one (which included waiting for baggage to come down the chute). The United States mail was another. Standing on long lines was another (at the passport office, for example). Now the rich fly private, use FedEx, and hire people to stand on lines for them. I’m not suggesting we abolish Federal Express and go back to waiting for snail mail to arrive, but these are things that in some way made us all citizens, and perhaps it was a delusion, but they made us think we were all in the same boat.

Do you realize that almost the entire New York Times business section today is about crime? Enron, Tyco, Adelphia, Andersen, ImClone, Perot Systems. And on the front page of the paper is the head of Goldman Sachs calling for corporate reforms “in order to restore investor confidence.” But reform shouldn’t come in order to restore investor confidence; it should happen because it’s the right thing to do. It’s the unrelenting desire for “investor confidence” that causes companies to respond to declining profits by firing employees. Is someone ever going to stand up and urge American corporations to put the job security of their employees above profit? Not the president, for sure.