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How Much Is Enough?

I have a friend whose husband won the Nobel Prize.  We were all thrilled, but he didn’t interpret it as success: he thought he needed two before the restless face in the mirror, the critical voice in the head, stopped saying, “You’re basically a failure.”

I cringed at the time, mostly because I really did feel his pain–I have a good career, I have good success, but I must not really be any good because Fred and Lily and Cindy outsell me, or are on op-ed pages more often, or have more friends than me, or can do more headstands, or–whatever.

Like most writers, I do what I can to promote myself and my work.  For Hardball, I hired a  skilled publicist to help me.  Her name is Kimberly Burns, and she created a bit of a stir in the blogosphere when she responded to a New York Times piece about how publishers are falling over themselves to get their writers on Glenn Beck’s show.  The piece listed a number of highly successful writers who’ve appeared with Beck.  They mostly write thrillers in the Ludlum vein; they’re all male, they’re all white.  I know some of them, and they’re decent guys.

Kimberly wrote on her facebook page that she’d rather have dental work without novocaine than book one of her clients on Beck’s show–that’s what caused the outburst.  He sells books, and you shouldn’t turn your back on him, plus, you’re a censor, seemed to be the consensus.

Me, I’m proud of Kimberly.  But the furore made me think about my own insecurities, how badly I want to be as successful as the guys I know  (they outsell me by about 15:1).  And then I thought of my friend Michael Lewin, and his mantra that “sometimes money is just too expensive to buy.”  You can pay too high a price in self-respect to consort with someone you believe is a danger to the Republic.

I believe that Beck uses the same tactics that worked so well for the National Socialists in the 1930’s.  He repeats slander and inuendo, loudly, and repeatedly, and takes advantage of a part of the population that is terrified already by change, by the economic meltdown, and the threat of terrorism, and plays on their fears.  Like the National Socialists, he finds scapegoats that his listeners can blame for their own fears.  When I see a ragtag group of poor people protesting health care reform, I know he’s been a success: these are the people who will become homeless if they have a catastrophic illness, but they are sure that Beck, and his cronies like O’Reilly and Hannity, are right to oppose government-sponsored health care, because all of these broadcasters have identified the real problem as belonging to feminists, or Muslims, or blacks, or President Obama, or all of the above.  These broadcasters have persuaded a significant fraction of America that President Obama is a Muslim and a terrorist, that he wasn’t born in the U.S., and even that he has set up concentration camps in Arizona.

Even if an appearance on Glenn Beck would put me in the heady company of list-leading writers, I don’t see how I could appear with him.  Even if the penalty is ending up like Winston Smith, poor, broken-down, feebly weeping at Big Brother’s face on the screen, I’d still feel better at the end of the day.  I guess it’s good to know, in the middle of my insecurities and longing for success, that there’s at least one thing I won’t do.

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