The Moment of Truth — April 8, 2006

Insurance, Bush’s Modesty, Judas, and American Clevernessism

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: while everyone else was trying to decipher the Da Vinci Code, we got Da Vinci’s pin number.

Last year was tragic for so many reasons, but probably the most visible public tragedy in the United States was the destruction of New Orleans. Anyone observing the events during and immediately after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast states could easily perceive who would end up suffering most in the aftermath of the disaster: the insurance companies.

But Americans, as we between Mexico and Canada style ourselves, are a resilient people, so it was no surprise to learn that, in the very same year as the Katrina catastrophe, the insurance industry made record profits. It’s certainly a testament to American clevernessism that, in spite of a year of record property destruction, record profits were earned by those who were supposed to pay to repair it.

And indeed, the insurance industry is an American capitalist success story like no other. What other business charges you for something you hope never to be in a position to receive? What other business sells a product it only delivers to a minority of its customers, and even then only grudgingly, if at all? What other business has customers who pay so much but who, for the most part, are content with little more than proof that they paid? If you paid for a car, and the car company didn’t give it to you, you wouldn’t run around bragging to your friends that all you got for your money was a receipt. But for most of us, the proof that we paid for the insurance is just as important as the company’s ability to provide the service it charges us for. If I show a cop proof that I paid for insurance, we’re both happy. But if I proudly showed him a receipt for open-heart surgery that I paid for but never underwent—never even needed—he might beat me up just for being an idiot. And I ought to expect nothing less from anyone else I were to wave that receipt in front of. In fact, it is considered every American’s duty to at the very least mock those who enter into monumentally stupid financial arrangements. But somehow that stigma has never attached itself to buying insurance.

Insurance is supposed to pay victims of accident, injury, illness and loss of property so they can afford to do what’s necessary to recover from those misfortunes. What’s great from the point of view of an insurance company, though, is that the very people most likely to suffer accident, injury, illness and property damage and require help recovering from them are also the people who can’t afford insurance. No one knows how the insurance companies got so lucky. It’s just one of those economic accidents of nature that somehow hurts those already hurting and favors those already favored.

But that’s what nature does, except when it doesn’t. Though as a nation we are skeptical of the theory of evolution as a biological principle, we like survival-of-the-fittest as a method of organizing our economy. It’s so natural. People and corporations are just like organisms in nature—though organisms in nature aren’t like that. I mean, our economic system is fair because it’s natural, if nature were like Darwin said it was, which it isn’t. But our economic system is like Darwin said nature is, which is natural, although it’s a kind of natural that isn’t reflected in the natural world, because Darwin was wrong. What I mean is, it’s okay to allow natural selection to determine who succeeds in our economy, because that’s natural, but nature itself doesn’t select by natural selection. Because in nature, natural selection is unnatural. Is that clear? Good.

Similar clevernessisms are being applied to the investigation into attempts by the Bush administration to smear Joe Wilson, who pointed out Bush was lying in a speech to the nation about why we were going to invade Iraq, even though we weren’t sure we were going to. In searching for the source of the illegal leak of Wilson’s wife’s classified job, we finally got to the very top of the administration—the president himself. Except, if the president did it, it’s not illegal, because he has the constitutional power to declassify classified information. So, although Bush did something perfectly legal, because he’s president, he let a grand jury indict his vice president’s chief of staff for something that would have been very very illegal if anyone but the president had done it. I guess the president was just being modest. He didn’t want to take all the credit for doing something perfectly legal. So he shyly and demurely hung back on the sidelines while a grand jury probed around to find out who did the very illegal thing our president was too shy to admit he’d done legally. Because it’s perfectly legal for the president to smear one of his critics by divulging secrets about that critic’s family, as long as those secrets are classified. Classified secrets are exactly the kind of secrets the president can divulge legally, because when he does it he’s declassifying them. Whereas anyone else divulging the same secrets is in big trouble.

So it turns out it was all on the up-and-up, and the Special Prosecutor was just wasting everyone’s time and money, because he should have been able to read Bush’s mind and know that Bush had declassified that information. But Bush isn’t one to toot his own horn, so he must have figured he’d let nature take its course, and eventually someone lower in the administration would be indicted and face criminal trial and maybe even prison and the whole, perfectly legal, wholesome truth would emerge.

And of course Scooter Libby wasn’t going to just come out and say he had the president’s permission to smear Joe Wilson, because that would have exposed the president to applause and praise for doing something so legal. Libby was protecting the president from too much public admiration.

This seems to be a pattern with this administration. They are far too modest. They had really wanted to get into and out of Iraq in three months and leave a perfectly peaceful democracy there. After Hurricane Katrina their natural inclination, at first, was to go in and rescue everyone, put them in temporary dwellings, provide them with food and water, and then rebuild so the victims could return home. They would even have gone so far as to refrain from tapping phones, imprisoning people without formally charging them with crimes, and transporting prisoners to torture camps in secret locations abroad. But had they done those things, the public would have cheered them, and they would have been embarrassed. Like the artist who purposely includes a flaw in her masterpiece, the Bush administration resisted the hubris of being more perfect than God. Because they’re just that humble.

It’s no coincidence that the Gospel of Judas is coming out as a National Geographic TV special right about now. Judas is just the kind of hero this administration has modeled itself after. Looks like a villain, but secretly he’s God’s best friend.

In fact, I bet if you took every Gnostic text, all four Gospels, and Dante’s Inferno, and replaced the name Judas with the words “The Bush Administration,” you would end up with a bunch of texts reflecting what future historians will say about how the USA was run during the first eight years of the Twenty-first Century. The thing about future history, though, is you won’t be able to read it in books. In order for you to protect the fine finishes of your furniture while you drown the sorrows caused by reading future history, it will be printed on cocktail napkins.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!