Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

A wanton waste of talent

Posted by Charles II on November 16, 2014

Via Atrios, journalist William McPherson:

Like a lot of other people, I started life comfortably middle-class, maybe upper-middle class; now, like a lot of other people walking the streets of America today, I am poor. To put it directly, I have no money. Does this embarrass me? Of course, it embarrasses me—and a lot of other things as well. It’s humiliating to be poor, to be dependent on the kindness of family and friends and government subsidies. But it sure is an education.

My income consists of a Social Security check and a miserable pension from the Washington Post, where I worked intermittently for a total of about twenty-five years, interrupted by a stint at a publishing house in New York just before my profit-sharing would have taken effect. I returned to the Post, won a Pulitzer Prize, continued working for another eight years, with a leave of absence now and then. As the last leave rolled on, the Post suggested I come back to work or, alternatively, the company would allow me to take an early retirement. I was fifty-three at the time. I chose retirement because I was under the illusion—perhaps delusion is the more accurate word—that I could make a living as a writer and the Post offered to keep me on their medical insurance program, which at the time was very good and very cheap.

Sometimes this country disgusts me, for its wanton waste of talent, for its hateful moralizing about poverty, for its prosperity gospel.

6 Responses to “A wanton waste of talent”

  1. spocko said

    Agreed. I hate reading this stuff. I brush up against the we are rich and it will always be like this bubble at times and they actively don’t want to do the “there but through the grace of FDR go I.
    Yet when you are in the bubble you think, I’m special. You get kicked out you are trained to blame yourself because to blame the system is to admit it was wrong. You blamed others for their lack of work before when the. worked for you, so now you are that person even if “you did everything right”

    • onyxpnina said


      With a side order of “this is what the American phobia around socialism led to.”

      • Charles II said

        Yes. Although I do not believe that socialism can serve as a governing philosophy, I believe it is an essential part of a political ecology to prevent the sort of creeping monarchism that has put base people like the Koch brothers in charge of the country. The old saying is that without a left wing, the American eagle flies in circles. At this point, it’s just spiraling down.

    • Charles II said

      I am especially disgusted that the WaPo would let one of their Pulitzer Prize winners end up living hand to mouth. The Graham family can’t have any self-respect if they’d let it happen. They’ll certainly get none from me.

      • Susan said

        Did you read the entire article? Mr. McPherson doesn’t blame the WaPo; he takes personal responsibility for his current financial position. He chose to take early retirement; he chose to [in his own words] dip into his capital instead of saving it for old age.
        Don’t get me wrong: I think the system as is does more to create poverty than to create jobs. But I just don’t get, from McPherson’s article, that the Graham family is responsible for his current status.

      • Charles II said

        I did read the entire article, Susan.

        And when a system produces millions and tens of millions of such “personal failures,” it’s a pretty clear that the system itself is failing. When the statistics say that,

        Twenty-four percent of those aged 65 and over live in families that depend on Social Security benefits for 90 percent or more of their income. Another 26 percent receive at least half but less than 90 percent of their family income from Social Security

        then one can either believe that most Americans are losers or one can believe that wages have not risen in forty years even as community and family support structures have fractured under the pressures of so-called globalization. The latter is based on fact. The former is the sort of ugly moral blindness of Mr. Romney and the Republican Party.

        McPherson blames himself because to admit to himself how people he thought of as colleagues and friends screwed him would be to spend himself in rage.

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