Whales and Sextants

Recently I was discussing the Democratic primaries with some close friends (all of us well preserved but aging Baby Boomers). “Who do you think has the best healthcare plan, Hillary or Barack?” someone asked (are we really getting that old?). “Neither,” I replied. “Both plans rely too heavily on insurance companies.” Perhaps because I grew up in England with free health care for all, I have never felt comfortable with the idea of anyone profiting from the misfortune of others. Health care should be about compassion not personal enrichment. A government’s primary responsibility should be to ensure the health and happiness of its citizens. This is not just a humanitarian concern, it also makes economic sense. A huge chunk of the cost of manufacturing cars in Detroit, for example, goes towards the worker’s health care. If workers were healthier, cars would be cheaper.

The next day, I bumped into another friend in the Second Street Cafe. Buck is a Lakota Sioux and a Vietnam Vet who earns his living from ceremonial dancing and the occasional movie role. (He once had the thrill of killing off Colonel Custer in a reenactment of the battle of Little Big Horn). Over coffee, he told me about meeting an old Inuit native from Alaska. When he was young, the old man boasted, he was the strongest man in the tribe. Using only flimsy kayaks tied together in a line, he and his friends would trap and harpoon huge whales, sometimes getting dragged a hundred miles across the ocean before the whale finally expired. The meat from the whales would feed his people for months. The greatest feeling in life, the old man proudly explained, was providing food for the whole village.

So I’m looking for a leader who thinks and acts like that old man. And although I may not agree with all of Barack’s policies, I see in him the kind of compassionate vision and care for others we so desperately need in this country. “We must learn to see ourselves in others,” he once said. For those words alone, he gets my vote.

Postscript: The old Inuit also told Buck there were never any arguments in his village. In fact, he said, you would have had to leave Alaska to find any dispute. One day, back in the 1920’s, a group of anthropologists from south of the 48th parallel came to study his people. When they departed they left behind a sextant, thinking that it would be a useful tool for the village. The question of who was to own the sextant created the first argument his people had ever experienced. The next day they all fell ill.