There's a darkly humor ous joke one of my Cancer doctors once told me they tell at the major hospital where I was treated. It goes something like this: A man runs in to the lobby off the street yelling "Help me! My wife is sick!" A kind nurse calmly asks him what's wrong. "She has cancer," he says. The nurse hands him a clipboard, "Everybody has Cancer here," he says.
Nobody ever explained the joke to me but they don't have to. It all makes perfect sense when you're a patient there and you've been told you might very die, that if you don't you'll lose your right lung and right there in the middle of your own private pity party, you meet your new roomie, the mother of two adorable kids under five too sweet for words whose hand-crayoned pictures are taped to her suitcase who whose husband has decided now is a good time to move out, arrives with a shaved head and a broad smile, the night before her fourth brain cancer operation in two years.
See, as bad as that word must have sounded when you first heard it, you're suddenly aware that not only aren't you a lone but chances are someone out there has it really bad. Oh, and you're in the right place because if anybody knows what to do with Cancer, it's a place where the very term has become rote. I like the idea of demystifying the Big C. The truth is we're curing it at higher rate than ever before and that there are something like 8 million people among us who are not only Cancer survivors but are living full and thriving lives. You might think Lance Armstrong as a superhuman exception but to a Cancer survivor, he is doing what the rest of us are doing, he's just doing it at a higher level.
Cancer has been in the news a lot the last two weeks. First Elizabeth Edwards' announcement (you go, girl) and then last week's revelation that White House spokesman Tony Snow's Colon cancer has returned and spread.
This blog isn't about cancer though. It's selfishly about me.
I knew Tony Snow back when we were both working for the Washington Times. He was the Editorial Page editor and I was a lowly staff writer. I always liked Tony. Truth is I sort of had a crush on him. He was just the sort of preppy Washington guy I used to go for and he was smart and funny and despite our wide political differences, we found common ground in the lunch room about issues that interested us, music, sports, stuff like that. I found him very human and even as he rose through the ranks along with a host of other conservative pundits, I watched his career with interest and, sometimes, rooted for him. It seemed to me that while he had right wing bonafides, he often seemed rational, like he'd thought stuff through, like he wasn't about spewing Karl Rove's talking points.
I'm not sure when that all changed, but it did. It wasn't a big surprise to me then when he ended up fronting for the Bush White House. I thought he would be different than the previous mouthpiece and in many ways he is. For one, he's brilliant and he can speak eloquently and there are times when I think reading between the lines, he has been less willing to lie outright, more understanding that even our current extremely gullible press corps. aren't going to swallow just anything.
But over time, I've seen a change in his demeanor, too. He's angrier and his attitude toward the White House press corps is more dismissive, like he's the schoolmaster and they're the unruly little rich kids who won't behave. Maybe this whole press secretary thing is just too soul-crushing for him. Maybe his humanity is taking a beating. Maybe he really is a good guy who is collapsing underneath the weight of so much ... twisting of the truth. Or maybe he's just he's a true believer now. Maybe he always was.
Should it matter to me now? It does and that's my problem here.
Back when I heard he had Cancer the first time, I sent a note to him (though I've no idea if he ever got it or even remembered me). I admit to feeling ambiguous about sending a letter now. Of course it sucks he's sick -- I wouldn't wish that on anybody. I truly hope he gets better but God help me, here's the rub. There's a part of me -- a big part of me -- that thinks sending him a get well card endorses what he does for a living, which I find morally reprehensible.
Politics morally reprehensible? I get it. It's all morally repugnant. Even I think Clinton was sleazy at his worst. I have friends who argue that all politics is like this, that almost none of them have any great ideas beyond those that help their re-election campaigns. That there's not much measurable difference between a Republican and a Democrat. Maybe he's right most of the time. But I say these particularly Republicans are different. They have changed the game in a way that sets them far apart from their counterparts (who I might add, let them change the freaking game but that is for another blog post). I say there comes moments in our history, personal and societal, when you/we have to make a choice between what is right and what is wrong. We have to cross a line, take a stand, call the bad people on their shit.
And let's be very clear here. This Administration is the most cynical of our generation. Whenever they got a chance to play dirty, reward a friend or punish an enemy, help a business crony or cover up the truth, the Bushies didn't hesitate. And think about this: if this is, as many experts claim, the most secretive administration in the history of this nation, then there's gotta be a whole lotta shit we haven't even heard about yet. That ought to help you sleep at night.
So I can feel bad about Tony Snow's Cancer and I can wish him well in my heart. But I'm not going to acknowledge it, I think. I don't know if I'm being rude or ridiculous or righteous but Snow made his choice and I'm making mine.