My father arrived in the U.S. in 1964 as a Fulbright Scholar with less than $10 in his pocket. When he was leaving Pakistan he was forced to empty his wallet by a greedy customs officer at the Karachi airport. My dad didn’t have money for soap or toothpaste when he began his residency at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, but he had intellect, faith in himself and the stubborn ability to work terrifically hard. He was 23 years old.
He continued studying medicine around the globe, including in England, where I was born. Eventually my parents settled in Canada and I grew up there.
My father turns 70 in November and although he sold his practice in 2006, he’s not fully retired. He operates, repairing torn rotator cuffs and damaged hips, he works in walk-in clinics, he oversees medical trials, and he catches up with old patients.
For a time I feared he might be getting eccentric, his trousers belted too high over his tummy, hills of medical journals tumbling around his bed, the unusual stories he likes to repeat. One afternoon, a longtime patient dropped by to get advice about a prescription his new doctor had given him. Dad knew it was the wrong medication for this gentleman, called the pharmacy, and balance was restored. And it sunk in. Ah, it’s 40-plus years of experience. My dad is an illness detective, the CSI of disease. And semi-retirement can’t take away his intelligence or enthusiasm for assisting the infirm.
As we burble along and celebrate my dad’s birthday next month I’ll also be feeling a little tense as California – where fate plopped me six years ago – holds a crucial election for a new Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, state Senators, and other statewide officers. The race I’m watching closest is the gubernatorial one.
In fact, I’ve been madly campaigning for Jerry Brown – incidentally a septuagenarian like my dad – and the two-time former Governor and current Attorney General. I’ve Twittered during debates and updated my Facebook status non-stop to rave about his ideas. I talk to almost everyone I meet about him.
My enthusiasm is tempered by one brutal fact: I can't vote. I have my green card but I’m not a citizen. Instead, I seek validation in conversation. I wander around Orange County prodding folks. I ask them about the candidates who are crowing about being outsiders. They don’t think lack of political experience is a liability but a strength. Candidates like Meg Whitman lack legislative experience (and in some cases intellectually strenuous arguments) and they’re proud to be campaigning on that fact. It’s as if the thought bubble above their head reads, “knowledge is bad.” I can’t think of a single career where lack of training or exposure are selling features. My father came to the U.S. seeking knowledge. But apparently knowledge isn’t trendy anymore.
Well it’s not like it hasn’t happened before. The Cultural Revolution despised intellectuals and professors. Thousands were tortured and executed. And Pol Pot had many professors and scientists savagely murdered because he thought they were reactionaries who could undermine state power.
We’ve not descended into that sort of madness in the U.S., but clearly a lot of candidates are feeling inferior, and attacking intellectualism is a popular sport. These same candidates are exceptionally good at marrying fear with taxes so that the idea of spreading the wealth in the community seems insane. I’ll ask my neighbors: ‘How is it that California has the eighth largest economy in the world yet perpetually seems to be teetering on the edge of bankruptcy?’ Blame the Dems, they say. The truth is it’s taxes. Taxes are precisely what pay for roads, education, the police, and parks. But taxes aren’t terrible. I’m from Canada where I paid 35% in a smorgasbord of taxes when I made $72,000 a year living in Toronto, one of the most expensive cities. And I was far from destitute.
I am astonished that people here appear to be blind to the fact that it’s the poor and middle class who are supporting the stupendously wealthy. I say, tax the dude in Newport Beach who makes $3-million annually, but worries he’ll pay so much in taxes that he won’t have enough dough left to hire someone to hang his Lamborghini from the wall. Oh, the horror. What will his guests think if he doesn’t have any metallic artwork? Tax the mom who drives a Range Rover on Monday, a Lexus on Tuesday, and a Mercedes on Wednesday, shuttling her daughters to cheer or tumbling practice, horseback riding lessons, modeling or photo shoots, and acting lessons. Then she takes three-day holidays to the Bahamas. She can afford to pay a generous increase in taxes although she doesn’t want to pay a penny. These are the conversations and complaints I’m hearing in the O.C. It’s a slick bubble down here. Has the sun scorched the bulbs in everyone’s brains? I’m being wretchedly insulting. But not xenophobic.
I’m in agony. If I was legally allowed to, I’d vote for Jerry Brown. A political veteran, he has pretty much seen it all. In a word: experience. Another word: knowledge.
I know Brown isn’t a miracle worker, but consider the alternative. Meg Whitman who wants people to work until they fall to the ground, dead as flogged donkeys, while she, an eBay billionaire, sits in her glittering mansion immaculately maintained by illegal Latina maids. What a twisted-up mess. Meg Whitman wants to eliminate the capital gains tax, a multi-billion dollar revenue source for the state, with more than 80% of money coming from the wealthiest 1% of Californians (making more than $500,000 per year). Anyone who gets $120-million in salary, bonus, and options, before laying off 10% of the workforce, is a wretch.
Brown, on the other hand, reminds me of my father who gets out of bed and goes to the clinic even during a February blizzard. I suppose it’s common to look for similarities when we’re voting, to look for people who are like us. But Brown, on the surface at least, ain’t nothing like me. If you insist on labels, give me an award because I’m covered in them. (But, alas, I still can’t vote.) I’m Canadian of Pakistani heritage and have a European Union passport because I was born in England. I have a nose ring. I have a huge tattoo. I support gay marriage. I’m absurdly Liberal. I want to protect the environment. I believe in taxing millionaires to help the poor and the middle class.
Next month, we’ll celebrate my father’s birthday and with any luck, we’ll raise a toast when Jerry Brown becomes governor of this fabulous state, which, for a spell, has been brought to its knees. It's clear to me that Brown has intellect and the stubborn ability to work terrifically hard. Like I said, it's killing me that I can't vote. But if you can, cast one for experience.