Transcript

19:

Rich Guys
Transcript

Originally aired 04.12.1996

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/19

Act One. The Grizz.

Ira Glass

If you think about it, it's a strange thing for a very rich man to do to run for president because it means throwing yourself into a thousand tedious and potentially demeaning situations. For instance, you show up at a debate with the other millionaires who are running for president, and you try to make a joke out of the negative ads they are running against you. "You didn't even use a good picture of me," you protest, "so I brought you some pictures." You wave a few snapshots into the air. You try to turn this debate into something on your own terms. You try to seize the moment.

You pass the photos to one of your millionaire opponents. He does not even look at them. He tells you that no pretty pictures are going to change your lousy record on taxes. You come off terribly. Another bad moment. Well, this actually happened to Bob Dole just last February. Bob Dole, now the presumptive Republican nominee to the presidency.

Well, from WBEZ Chicago, it is This American Life, your weekly program documenting life in these here United States through whatever radio storytelling means we believe will amuse you and ourselves. I'm Ira Glass, and today we consider the stories of three men who had the option of comfortable, decent lives and decided to do something wildly eccentric instead, like run for president.

Act One concerns a politician you have probably never heard of. Act Two is a man who wrote a very strange letter to his yet unborn, yet unconceived, children. Act Three, another mixed legacy of a rich guy. Stay with us.

Act Two. Citizen Kane.

Ira Glass

Act One, The Grizz. Over the last few months, a reporter named Michael Lewis has been publishing campaign diaries in The New Republic. I don't know if you've seen these or not. They're pretty great. He's also a columnist for the New York Times, a commentator on Marketplace, author of three books including one called Liar's Poker that is a pretty hilarious account of Wall Street in the '80s.

This is a guy whose reporting reads like a novel, usually a pretty entertaining, funny novel. And on the campaign trail, he has noticed a hundred telling moments that no other reporter has documented. Like, for example, the day that Al Franken of Saturday Night Live showed up at a Pat Buchanan rally and picked a fight with some pro-Buchanan military cadets. Like, for example, Pat Buchanan railing against a Detroit steel mill closing but then quietly turning down the offer to actually sit on the board of directors of the mill and try to save it.

And then, at some point, Michael Lewis became fascinated with some of the candidates that everyone else was ignoring. And by everyone else, I include both the reporters and the voters, OK? There were nine Republican candidates back in Iowa. And if you can name all nine of those candidates right now, I've got a crisp $100 bill right here in my hand. Call this station, and no, I'm not going to give you the phone number.

Please consider now, when you consider these nine candidates, what could be a better subject for an entertaining, novelistic kind of writer than someone running for president who has pretty much no chance of making it? There you have a truly American story. There you have a classic American dreamer. And Lewis became so interested in one of these certain losers-- a guy named Morry Taylor-- that at some point, Lewis' editor got completely fed up with him and ordered him never to follow around Taylor anymore. "I did not send you out there to write Morry Taylor's biography," the guy said.

But it is easy to see why Lewis became so mesmerized with Taylor. Taylor would give away cash prizes to voters at his rallies. Taylor would burst onto stages reciting the words to his campaign theme song, Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark." He would say, "You need a spark to start a fire, and this gun's for hire."

Taylor spent $6 million of his own money on the campaign. As Lewis points out, of nine Republican candidates, Taylor was the only one who had actually been a success in the real business world. Taylor began as a tool and die maker, bought failing companies, made them profitable. And by last year, his own company, Titan Tire and Wheel International-- I'll just say that name again, let's just pause on that name, Titan Tire and Wheel International-- tallied $620 million in revenue, no debt, and one of the highest profit margins of any company on the New York Stock Exchange.

Morry Taylor has spent his whole life in the Midwest, and that is where Michael Lewis' diaries on him begin. Michael Lewis agreed to come into our studios and read.

Michael Lewis

January 11. Within minutes of landing in Des Moines, you know that you have arrived in the American Midwest. The Midwest is the straight man of the Western world, millions and millions of square miles peopled with Abbotts without their Costellos. It's not that Midwesterners lack a sense of humor. It's just that they regard humor as a second-rate behavior, the opposite of rather than a complement to seriousness. It's no wonder that professional Midwestern humorists like Garrison Keillor and David Letterman have a feel of men who have spun out of some orbit.

I've come to Iowa to find Morry Taylor, the man who by a landslide won the hearts of the United We Stand delegates at Ross Perot's convention last fall. After hearing him speak, 400 of the 2,000 people present signed up to work on his campaign. The strange thing about Taylor is that he hasn't gotten more play in the press or the polls. He's the real thing, an extremely successful businessmen who has behaved about as well as an extremely successful businessman can.

He employs 5,500 people at a wage rate of $12 to $17 an hour, all of whom are included in a profit sharing plan. He pays himself a modest salary and argues forcefully and often that CEOs of publicly held corporations should never be paid more than about 20 times the wages of their most menial workers. Actually, that's probably one of the reasons no one has heard of him until now.

January 12. We start our day just before 8 o'clock inside a motor home plastered all over with Morry's favorite screaming eagle logo, the one his campaign staffers plead with him to abandon. A ferocious-looking bird flies out of the T in Morry's last name, which is painted in huge letters across the side of the colossal machine.

Morry's campaign manager tried to talk him out of the expense, but Morry insisted that the best way to start running for president was to buy six RVs-- landyachts, they are called-- and race them in a convoy across each of Iowa's 99 counties and through every New Hampshire hamlet. Six monstrosities all jammed together and churning down the highway at 80 miles an hour with the Pointer Sisters blaring out of the lead vehicle, drowning out everything but Morry.

Morry figured that he'd roll them into town, surround the courthouse, flip on the loudspeakers, tap a few kegs of beer, and everyone for miles would be talking about Morry Taylor for the next two weeks. He was right.

Today, like every other day, Morry is wearing his American flag tie. He's shouting over music and the roar of the landyacht into a telephone at a radio talk show. "Anyone who wants to come and help, call 1-800-USABEAR. The talk show host asks him some question. "Well," replies Morry, "I use the bear number because my nickname is The Grizz."

"Why do they call you The Grizz?" I ask after he hangs up. "I got that when I took the company public," he shouts. "At the closing, they gave me this plaque. It says-- and they did it in Latin, which language I can't speak, but this is what it says-- in North America, there is no known predator to the grizzly. So I became The Grizz. Then I thought about it. Up until that time, I kind of liked my other nickname, Attila. People think Attila the Hun was a barbarian, but he's not. He's the guy who ran the Roman legion out of town.

At 9 o'clock, the landyacht rolls up beside the front door of the Ames High School and disgorges Morry. Morry then does his usual trick of startling the locals. He bursts through both double doors leading into the school, which, like all the doors he will open for the rest of the day, slam violently against the wall behind them. He marches off down a long corridor with the rest of us trying to keep up, leaving a trail of startled adolescents in his wake. He swaggers like a quarterback on the way to a huddle.

"Did you play sports in high school?" I ask Morry, or rather, the back of Morry's head. He doesn't even look around. He's shaking his head. I have no trouble imagining the scorn on his face. "Did I play sports?" he asks. "I am the biggest jock who ever ran for president. I can beat you in anything." And with that, he blows through the double doors leading into the auditorium.

About 30 kids file in, slump down into their seats, and settle in for a snooze they'll never have. "Your school is too big," booms Morry. "This is what is wrong with America," he says, pointing at the kids. "Big, big, big. A place like this breeds weirdos."

The students are now fully alert. "I never could enjoy going to a school like this," concludes Morry. The kids seem to concur. "How many of you ever take accounting?" he asks. The kids are now squirming and ducking. He's breaking down their resistance, making them nervous. Two hands go up. Morry shakes his head a little sadly.

His tone changes. "I know you've got a lot of these teachers." He waves nonchalantly at a couple of uneasy-looking older men in the rafters. "And they tell you a lot of--" he doesn't use the word "crap" but he might as well-- "things. But in your whole entire life, you're only going to use one or maybe two of those things." He pauses and seems to reconsider. "Now, we all agree that the most important thing in your life is your family," he says. "Your mama and your daddy, your brothers and your sisters. But right after that, there's something else. We all know what it is, and it's green."

With that, he reaches into his pocket and produces a fat roll of $100 bills. He holds it high so that everyone can see. Five grand, cash. The kids are now perched on the edge of their seats, giggling nervously. "It all comes down to accounting," says Morry. "Accounting and money. You can't live without it. And the minute you make it, someone is trying to take it away from you. So for god's sake, find out about money."

"Can I have some?" asks a kid in the front row. "It's mine!" shouts Morry and puts the money back in his pocket, a nice illustration of some general business principle.

Morry's positions are somewhat quixotic. He's running on a platform of balancing the budget in 18 months, not by eliminating programs but by firing a third of the best-paid government employees. "How many of you want to give the government 40% of what you earn after you get out of here?" he asks the crowd. One of the kids raises his hand. "Mark his name down," says Morry. "An institution needs him. We're going to study his brain. He's not human. He's an alien."

January 13. Tonight, we flew in one of Morry's private planes to a Republican county dinner at Storm Lake in Northwestern Iowa. After dinner, Morry rises to speak. He's on. Within minutes, he has the crowd laughing and clapping. They agree with him about everything, especially the lunacy of the Forbes tax plan. Then, in the midst of the fun, a woman rises and challenges his pro-choice position.

"It's a religious issue," Morry says, "not a matter for the federal government." She presses him. You can see she's used to making public speakers either come around to her way of thinking or regret ever opening their mouths. She's picked the wrong guy today. Instead of backing down or wiggling, Morry goes on the attack.

"Look, ma'am. I think 99% of women never want an abortion. They go through a lot of mental anguish. They suffer a lot. I say leave it to them." She tries to speak. Morry interrupts. "I said, leave it to the women." And there, at a banquet filled with Republican party hacks, the sort of people who are meant to be rabidly pro-life, who Morry expected to be rabidly pro-life, a volcano of spontaneous applause erupted. All over the room, women were clapping so hard I thought they'd break their hands. Here, I thought, is the benefit of having someone around who feels free to speak his mind. He liberates, however momentarily, those who don't.

January 14. I was waiting at the front desk of the Des Moines YMCA when Morry arrived just before 9:00 AM. "What, do you think I wouldn't show?" he says. The racquetball game took just under 22 minutes. Morry won, 15-zip, 15-5. I had figured that between the 25 extra pounds he's carrying around and the 16 years he has on me, I could out-hustle him. I was wrong. He knew every angle and trick on the court and played each one with relish. "Too good," he'd shout after he'd drop the ball into the corner for the 10th time.

As the rout progressed, he shouted to his aides. "14 to zip. Not bad for an old guy," he shouted. And then, under his breath, "Some of my guys are betting on you. Dip [BLEEP]." As we crawl through the hole out the back of the court, he says, "Don't you go write that you lost because you were nervous a presidential candidate was going to have a heart attack." Camus identified the love of winning at games as one of the prerequisites of happiness in the modern world. And he did that without ever meeting Morry.

Ira Glass

More of Michael Lewis' campaign diaries and Morry Taylor later in our show. Stay with us.

Continuation Of Act One. A Candidate, A Voter, And A Room Full Of Pigs.

Ira Glass

So Jack, let's start here. This is the case of Hecht v. California, right?

Jack Hitt

Right. The facts of the case-- and let me just go straight to the unaffected prose of the judges. This introduces all the characters and the essential events of the case. "At the age of 48, William Kane took his own life on October 30, 1991 in a Las Vegas hotel. For about five years prior to his death, he had been living with a petitioner, 38-year-old Deborah Hecht. Kane was survived by two college-age children of his former wife, whom he had divorced in 1976."

Ira Glass

OK, so now we have a dead guy, his girlfriend, two kids, and a former wife. But that is not all we have of citizen William Kane's life. We also have--

Jack Hitt

15 vials of his sperm in an account at California Cryobank, Inc.

Ira Glass

And this is where the story of this willful man with money begins. It is our contributing editor Jack Hitt who reviewed the case for us. Jack's work regularly appears not just on this program but in the New York Times Magazine, Harper's, Esquire, Lingua Franca, and too many other publications to name.

But let us get back to citizen William Kane. Mr. Kane does not have Morry Taylor's kind of money, but he did have enough. And in his will, he declared that if his girlfriend would use any of the--

Jack Hitt

15 vials of sperm.

Ira Glass

--and succeeded in getting pregnant, then the resulting child would get some of Kane's personal mementos and possibly the rights to some money. This is an odd case of American jurisprudence, and the legal opinion includes the letter that William Kane wrote to his unborn, yet to be conceived child, Wyatt. Jack Hitt reads.

"I address this to my children because although I have only two, Everett and Katie, it may be that Deborah will decide, as I hope she will, to have a child by me after my death. I've been assiduously generating frozen sperm samples for that eventuality. If she does, then this letter is for my posthumous offspring as well, with the thought that I have loved you in my dreams, even though I never got to see you born. If you are receiving this letter, it means that I am dead. Whether by my own hand or that of another makes very little difference.

I feel that my time has come, and I wanted to leave you with something more than a dead enigma that was your father. I am inordinately proud of who I've been, what I made of me. I'm so proud of that that I would rather take my own life now than be ground into a mediocre existence by my enemies who, because of my mistakes and bravado, have gained the power to finish me."

Ira Glass

How many people do we know in our lives, Jack, who can say a sentence like that?

Jack Hitt

Every sentence in this letter is worthy of study. I mean, from "I've been assiduously generating frozen sperm samples for that eventuality," to "If you are receiving this letter, it means that I am dead." And it goes on, Ira. Check this out.

So he has several pages about his childhood memories and the family history. And then, quote, "So why am I checking out now? Basically, betrayal, over and over again, has made me tired. I've picked up some heavyweight enemies along the way, ranging from the Kellys of the world to crazies with guns to insurance agencies to the lawyers that have sucked me dry. I don't want to die as a tired, perhaps defeated and bitter old man. I'd rather end it like I have lived it. On my time, when and where I will."

Ira Glass

[SINGING] Regrets, I have a few. But then again--

Jack Hitt

But Ira, listen to this next sentence.

Ira Glass

--too few to mention. I've lived a life that's full--

Jack Hitt

Oh, yeah.

Ira Glass

But we digress.

Jack Hitt

He says, "I'd rather end it like I have lived it. On my time, when and where I will, and while my life is still an object of self-sculpture, a personal creation with which I am still proud. In truth, death for me is not the opposite of life. It is a form of life's punctuation." End quote.

Ira Glass

I like him. It's like a Martin Scorsese film.

Jack Hitt

Yeah. And he's got this tough-guy thing. Here he is talking to his kid. I love that phrase, "So why am I checking out now?" Oh, by the way, just to make it even more interesting and soap opera-ish, the lawyer for the two kids, her name is Sandra Erwin. If you read carefully elsewhere, you find out that she is their mother. and Mr. Kane's original wife.

Ira Glass

Wow.

Jack Hitt

So the lawyer suing the girlfriend is, in fact, the first recipient of Mr. Kane's sperm. And then, in a footnote, you sort of discover just what the relationship is between the Kane children-- the existing children, as I call them-- and Deborah. So this is just a footnote just dropped in the text. And this pretty much says everything you need to know.

"On November 12, 1992, decedents children filed against Hecht a complaint for wrongful death and intentional infliction of emotional distress wherein they allege that their father, who had been unemployed for some time, became deeply depressed and began to seriously contemplate suicide about September 1, 1991. For six weeks before his death, Hecht was aware of decedent's quote, 'disturbed plan' end quote, to end his life, that Hecht convinced him to allow her to have his child after his death and leave her a substantial amount of his property to raise and care for this child. In the week before his death, Hecht encouraged and assisted decedent in transferring property to her."

And she also generously helped him, quote, "empty his personal checking account by issuing a check to Hecht for $80,000," which you learn elsewhere she signed herself. And then here's my favorite sentence. "Hecht assisted decedent in purchasing a one-way ticket to Las Vegas and took him to the airport."

Ira Glass

I wonder what that curbside conversation was like.

Jack Hitt

Can you imagine? She bought a one-way ticket to Las Vegas, knowing that he was going to go sit in a hotel, take pills. She also, by the way, bought him the plastic bag that he put over his head after he took the pills. She gave him a copy of Final Exit, which is a suicide manual.

Ira Glass

The plastic bag to put over his head after he takes the pills? Isn't that the whole point of pills is that you don't have to do the ugly thing of getting a gun or plastic bags? I mean, isn't that the whole point?

Jack Hitt

Ira, you're not up on your suicide manuals. According to Derek Humphry-- I believe that's the man's name who wrote Final Exit-- quite often, if you take a lot of pills, a lot of people will just end up getting sick, and you will live. So the idea is, yes, you take the pills to make sure that you will die, and then you suffocate yourself--

Ira Glass

With the plastic bag.

Jack Hitt

--in the bag so that you don't wake up and vomit. It's pretty grim and certainly not the province of this discussion.

Ira Glass

All right. Well, I'm learning just so much here.

Jack Hitt

Yes, right. So the thing is, they're not really concerned about the money, because they cut a deal with Debbie. The deal was, we get 80%, you get 20. What they're worried about is that if she gets pregnant-- and this is where this whole case opens up a bizarre form of new law-- what they're worried about is that the child would have a claim to the estate, to their 80%. And, in fact, the child probably would.

Ira Glass

And that's because under his will, he says that if she gets pregnant and has the child, then the child gets some dough?

Jack Hitt

Well, it's just that it's an unresolved matter. So it's likely that the child would be able to sue later on for the kind of benefits that any natural biological child would be able to sue for. Mr. Kane is the biological father. He just participated in this new science which is referred to in the case with the phrase "post-mortem insemination."

Ira Glass

We return to our own post-mortem examination when our program continues.

Act Two continues our discussion with journalist Jack Hitt about a dead man and his sperm.

Jack Hitt

So here's what the lawsuit's about. The lawsuit is the existing kids want to destroy the sperm, all of it. 15 vials "assiduously" deposited, as we know. In the course of their complaint, the existing kids say that they seek to, quote, "prevent the disruption of existing families by after-born children."

Ira Glass

"After-born children." There's another new-- this case, in terms of what it's doing to the English language, is just groundbreaking. Forget about what it does to the law. "After-born children."

Jack Hitt

Now, all of this is complicated by the fact that Debbie is 38 years old in 1991. And she makes the claim that she must have the sperm at once because of advanced maternal age.

Ira Glass

Right. In other words, if she gets a little bit older, she's not going to be able to have any babies.

Jack Hitt

So now, the court realizes that they've got a big issue at hand here. What is sperm? Is it property? Is it something bigger? I mean, it exists, at least symbolically, on this kind of Darwinian level about preservation of species and perpetuation of one's own genetic line. And they're very nervous about just saying, let's just destroy this sperm. They don't really want to do that. That's clear.

Ira Glass

Wait, let me just be sure I understand this. Because if they say that sperm is property, his wife and children probably can lay some sort of claim to it or say that this is property, and we have some sort of final word over this property. But if it is somehow part of his personhood, then it transcends the category of property.

Jack Hitt

Right. And so they go back to the precedent. And they find some law regarding human tissue. But most of the law regarding that says that once tissue has left your body, then it can be destroyed. It's not yours anymore because who cares, right?

But they point out that you can't just say that about this particular tissue because Mr. Kane, as we know, "assidulously deposited" these particular tissues outside of his body with the intention that it be used for procreation. It's not just, like, sperm sitting around. It's sperm sitting around with great intent. You understand what I'm saying? Intent to become a child.

Ira Glass

I charge you of sperm with intent.

Jack Hitt

Yes, right. Possession of sperm with the intent to inseminate. OK, so elsewhere in this case, the two existing kids plead with the court that it's just weird to have a kid after you're dead.

Ira Glass

Is that the word they use, or is that just kind of what it comes down to?

Jack Hitt

Well, no. They just say it's just wrong. They don't know what else to say.

Ira Glass

They just say, we all can just look at each other in the eye and we know what we mean we say this is just too weird. That's what it comes down to.

Jack Hitt

Exactly. Yeah. And in a funny way, on that level, I completely understand them. So the court reflects on this issue historically and points out something that you probably did not know, which is that, quote, "According to the Napoleonic Code from the early 19th century, any child born more than 300 days after the putative father's death is deemed illegitimate," end quote. And what that means is that the guy goes off to war, he gets killed.

Well, the clock starts ticking the last day he was in town. And 300 days after that-- in other words, nine months of pregnancy-- any child born after that can't claim the father's goods. In other words, nine months after the guy's dead, his estate is closed and shut, right? But this is where this case gets very troubling because it keeps it open for potentially ever. As long as the sperm is sitting in the bank with great intent, the estate can't be closed.

Ira Glass

So in other words, what seems like a very simple, though odd, family dispute actually raises quite a broad and profound question of the law.

Jack Hitt

Absolutely. In fact-- and I'll get to this in just a second because there's another thing here that might make your heart stop when I tell you what it is-- this thing, at first when I first read it, I thought OK, this is just a funny little case. No, no, no. This is overthrowing millennia of settled common law, in a funny way. Now, the existing kids, they make all these claims. But there's some that you just have to hear just to think about.

One is, quote, "The child could suffer psychologically from being conceived by a dead man." Now, I never really thought about that. But imagine if you grew up, and you knew that your father died five years before you were conceived. It's not like being adopted or where your parentage is somewhat mysterious. That's kind of glamorous in its own way. And at least it's a story you can tell yourself. You can fantasize about who your parents might have been.

Ira Glass

No, no. Well, I mean--

Jack Hitt

No, but I'm just saying that that has--

Ira Glass

--I believe that this-- Mr. Hitt?

Jack Hitt

Yeah?

Ira Glass

The courtroom of this radio studio rejects that argument on these grounds. Because your mom would tell you from the time that you are old enough to understand that your dad wanted to have a child with her and just for some reason was very, very busy and just couldn't get around to it in life. Which, I have to say, is one of the stranger parts of the case, that if he was so intent on having a baby with Ms. Hecht, why didn't he just--

Jack Hitt

Have a baby with Miss Hecht?

Ira Glass

Do we know that?

Jack Hitt

No, that's not even discussed.

Ira Glass

OK, let me just go back to our bigger-- the point that--

Jack Hitt

No, wait. You don't think that being conceived by a dead man-- I don't care what the mother's explanation is. I'm sort of on the existing kids' side on this particular part of the argument. It's just strange.

Ira Glass

Well, no, because I could imagine very easily the mother saying to the kid--

Jack Hitt

I don't know, Ira. I think the court of this correspondent just wants it stated for the record that it's weird, it's freaky. This guy, he "checked out" by his own description. He "checked out" because of all "the Kellys of the world" and all that. He couldn't even hang five years to see this kid into kindergarten, OK? I mean, I don't know. To me, something about being dead before you were conceived is very weird.

OK, here's what's beautiful. What's the resolution eventually? This court dilly dallies and hands it off to another court. But that court finally says, you know what? It's property. Frozen sperm is a special class of property. And so we divide it up according to the rules of the will. 20% goes to Deborah, 80% goes to the two existing kids. So Deborah got three of the 15 vials of sperm. And presumably, the existing children, not that they had anything to do with it, received 12 vials.

Then Deborah apparently, at age 42, last year, went into a clinic and proceeded to engage in the first instance in American law of post-mortem insemination. That was last fall, I believe. Now, I just want to say one quick thing here.

Ira Glass

I can't wait.

Jack Hitt

I just want you to consider, Ira, what this could lead to. As I said earlier, death was always the key indicator that an estate could be closed out. But now this loophole, frozen sperm, opens a door that could just keep these post-mortem lawsuits going for decades. It reminds me my friend, Peg Perry. She lives in Northern Connecticut and raises milk cows. And one time, I was up there visiting, and she was inseminating some of the cows. And it turns out the bull semen that she uses is from this bull. He had a name like Ferdinand.

Ira Glass

Oh, it was like Ferdinand.

Jack Hitt

It's the only bull name I know, Ira.

[LAUGHTER]

Ira Glass

I was going to say, I'm sure you were paying careful attention to that detail.

Jack Hitt

But this bull-- can I get to the point, Ira? This bull died, like, 40 years ago.

Ira Glass

He died in the '50s?

Jack Hitt

He did in 1956 or something. And he had spent his entire life, essentially, assiduously depositing sperm at the local bull bank. And apparently it's really, really good sperm. You really get good milk cows from this particular bull, OK? This bull has several thousand offspring, probably tens of thousands of offspring all over the country producing milk.

So as of this lawsuit, as of this case, as of this court's ruling, for example, a rich man in California could now leave an estate of, say, $1 billion and many vials of sperm, "assiduously deposited," with the instructions that any fair maiden who wished to carry one of his children to term would receive, let's just say, $500,000, a one-time gift. And given his estate, he could conceivably sire, what is that, 2,000 children over the next century, all now potentially legal in California.

Ira Glass

See, now, if this catches on, these guys are going to stop running for president.

Jack Hitt

Exactly. I was just going to say, Perot and Forbes could do something better with their time. They could assiduously-- well, anyway, let's go on.

[LAUGHTER]

Ira Glass

Yeah, let's just move on right past that joke.

Jack Hitt

Well, we'll just bring this to a close. I found a Legal Weekly in the library yesterday. And I did find that Wyatt Kane may find one other venue of existence after all. Apparently, Deborah Kane has been offered a handsome sum of money by Hollywood producers for the movie rights to this story.

Ira Glass

Well, that is the logical place for it. And I say--

Jack Hitt

Well, what is the proper medium for this story? I guess it is the TV movie of the week, really.

Ira Glass

No, Jack.

Jack Hitt

You think it's bigger than that?

Ira Glass

Jack, the proper medium for this story, as for any story, Jack Hitt, is radio. And we've just done it. And thank you very much for joining us on our program.

Jack Hitt

Thank you, Ira.

[MUSIC - "BEATUS VIR"]

Ira Glass

Well, this is "Beatus Vir." And when one of our producers, Nancy Updike, got the notes that came with the song, she was really excited because she looked it up. It apparently said that it was Psalm 3-- that was her interpretation. And she looked Psalm 3 in the Bible, and she was astonished at how perfectly ironic the words of Psalm 3 were when put against the story of Citizen Kane.

The words of Psalm 3, "Lord, how they are increased that trouble me. Many are they that rise up against me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people that have set themselves against me round about. Arise, O Lord. Save me, O my God. For Thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheekbone. Thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly." And the Kellys of the world. It doesn't really say that part.

Unfortunately, closer inspection of the notes that came with the song reveal that it is not Psalm 3, the words to this song. It's actually Psalm 111, whose words cannot possibly be read in any sort of ironic way against the story of Mr. Kane and his family. But by then, we had fallen so in love with this song, we just had to play it here.

Michael Lewis

February 8. A losing political campaign must at some point cease to be about winning and start to be about something else. A moral crusade, a chance to be on TV, a fundraiser for the next election. In Morry Taylor's case, that something else is fun.

Ira Glass

We now resume Michael Lewis' campaign diaries about failed Republican presidential candidate Morry Taylor. We entitle this act of our program A Candidate, a Voter, and a Room Full of Pigs. To attract attention during the Iowa caucuses, Morry Taylor held five rallies where he gave away a total of $25,000 in a lottery, $5,000 at each of these five rallies. And one of the winners of the $5,000 was a pig farmer named Wilfred McCreedy who just happened to be the host of the Iowa caucus for Republicans in the little town where he lived. These diary entries are from February when the Republican field was still full of people like Lamar Alexander, Phil Gramm, and Alan Keyes.

Michael Lewis

February 8. At last, we arrive at the airport. Waiting there are several vans and cars plastered with stickers for Lamar Alexander. Lamar is going places, but as he rises, he is coming under attack, not only from Morry but from Steve Forbes, who has a new commercial explaining how Lamar turned $1,000 into $620,000 with the help of a few friends.

We enter the terminal. Lamar's jet is circling overhead. He is preparing to land. Lamar does everything with exclamation points. At length, Alexander emerges and is surrounded by the cameras. You can see he is looking for some way to take advantage of the new camera crews. Spotting Morry, now lingering disinterestedly on the tarmac's fringe, Lamar strides over to shake hands.

He offers Morry a phony smile and a line from his stump speech. "Just bought my mud boots for all that negative advertising up in New Hampshire." Morry stares at him for a few seconds like he's some kind of nutcase. "That's not negative advertising," he says. "They're just telling you the truth."

Lamar's happy face vanishes. Poof. A truly nightmarish sound bite has just occurred. The CBS cameras are rolling. The familiar fight-or-flight instinct takes over. So what does Lamar do? He simply ends the conversation, turns, and racewalks into his car. "Got to go," he hollers over his shoulder as he disappears into the back of his car.

"That's what happens when you meet The Grizz," Morry booms after him.

But the night is still young. Thrilled by a rare, authentic moment, the CBS crew newly assigned to Lamar phones New York. New York orders the crew leave Alexander and to follow Morry wherever he goes next. Morry takes the crew on a tour of Alexander's jet, which looms massively beside Morry's own small plane. "Tell me what is wrong with this picture," I hear him say. "Here you've got a little plane made right here in America, belonging to a guy who has just made his own money. And over here, you've got a $25 million Falconer made in Canada being used by a politician."

Four or five carloads of Alexandrians gaze on, helplessly. Meanwhile, overhead, Bob Dole's jet is now circling. Unwisely, it decides to land. There on the tarmac, in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, one third of the Republican field has now assembled. Even more astonishing, the one national news network on hand is trailing around behind the surest loser. Dole's plane rolls inexorably towards Morry and CBS, oblivious to the danger.

"And here," says Morry, "we have another politician. Has he ever made any real money? No. So what's he flying in? A $19 million Challenger. This one is made in France."

But then, just as it appears that Morry will have one last chance to ask Dole about his $4 million government pension, the front runner spots Morry, dives straight into his car, and beats Alexander to the airport exit.

February 10. On to a church in Des Moines to celebrate heterosexual marriages and protest homosexual ones. Together with a crowd of maybe 800 people, Alan Keyes, Phil Gramm, and Pat Buchanan have all turned up to take their whacks. All the rest except Morry have agreed to sign some pledge to make homosexuals as miserable as possible. "Who gives a [BLEEP]?" Morry said when I asked him why he wasn't going. "If you want to be fruity-tooty, so what?"

February 12. When I phone Wilfred McCreedy, the winner of Morry's $5,000 drawing, to ask if I could observe the caucus on his farm, I could barely hear his response over the squealing of pigs. Upon my dropping of Morry's name, he said, "That Morry Taylor, he has it exactly right." I was in.

The McCreedys have been farming the same land in the middle of nowhere for 128 years. They have both traveled some, but it's been 10 years since the McCreedys last had a vacation. And their farm hours make investment banking seem like a walk in the park. Unlike their neighbors, and just about everyone else in Iowa, the McCreedys do not participate in any federal farm programs.

Before long, the talk drifts to politics. On the phone, McCreedy became a bit worked up about the marriage rally at the church in Des Moines. "Those gays and lesbians are going to protest that meeting?" he said in a tone of utter disbelief. "God damn, that makes me angry." He said he would've driven the two and a half hours to Des Moines to throw his support behind the straights, but his sows were pigging.

Now, once again, he says how angry the gays made him. But in the flesh, his anger comes across differently. At some level, he may be angry. But his prejudice seems mainly to give him pleasure. As he lays into Clinton, homosexuals, and the US government, his real emotion is more like delight, the delight of a good fan rooting for his team. Go straights!

"Is it true that Forbes owns a Mapplethorpe photograph?" he asks. I say it is. "Dad gum it," he says.

"Oh, Wilfred. What does that matter?" asks Mrs. McCreedy. "That man took pornographic photographs of homosexuals," bellows Mr. McCreedy, at which point Mrs. McCreedy just rolls her eyes. I've tried to make myself as agreeable as possible, but it's only a matter of time before I have to come clean with my left-leaning associations. The tension builds as Mr. McCreedy stakes out a political position on the other end of the spectrum from mine. But it's nearly two hours before I discover that the McCreedys have no idea where I am from or what I do, only that I am a friend of Morry Taylor's.

"You're not from PETA, are you?" asks Mrs. McCreedy, finally. I have no idea what she's talking about. "People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals," she explains. "You just never know when they're going to interrupt. Lately, they've gone to our schools dressed up as carrots to tell the kids not to eat meat."

It's truly astonishing. As far as these people knew, I was some protester who had come to disrupt their lives. And yet they still fed me and humored me before venturing to ask. One of the few things I recall from college was that in the Homeric universe, the mark of a civilized persons is his kindness to strangers. The good king feeds Odysseus first, then asks questions later. The cyclops questions him first, then tries to eat him. The McCreedys have the gift of kindness to strangers. I put PETA on the list of things to be against.

But now there's no getting around it. I must explain what the hell I'm doing in their kitchen. I mention The New Republic and hold my breath. "Is that Fred Barnes' place?" asks McCreedy. I say that until very recently, it was. "Oh, man," says McCreedy. "I love that guy. Really? Fred Barnes?" It is true. "He's my man," says Mr. McCreedy, slapping me on the shoulder.

It's all very Japanese. Neither of us wants to put a fine point on political disagreement, and so I've been granted the status of conservative by association. After a bit, Mr. McCreedy announces that it's time to "go choring." On the way over in the car, he gives me an idea of what it's like to host a caucus. In the past couple of days, Phil Gramm has called six times, Pat Buchanan twice, and Alan Keyes once. Lamar Alexander has sent McCreedy two books about himself and a videotape. Pollsters call the McCreedys about eight times a day.

On the way down the driveway, McCreedy spots a FedEx package poking out from his mail slot. "Maybe it's one of those shirts from Alexander," he says, laughing. It is, or at least it's a collection of Alexandriana. At length, I ask him who he's for. "I'm undecided," he says. "A week ago, I was for Forbes. Then I got my check. I was for Morry Taylor. Now I don't know. You've got to find me one who's going to beat Bill Clinton. Which one do you think?" "None of them," I say.

"Damn," he says, slapping his hand on the steering wheel. But he's a good sport about it. He's unhappy for about four seconds, and then he's rueful. At length, we arrive at the pig sheds, long, low-slung buildings lined with six-by-five-foot metal troughs filled to the brim with oinkers. McCreedy opens the first door. I recoil and gag. The blast of odor is the most moving thing I've experienced on the campaign trail since I last heard Alan Keyes speak.

While I choke in the corner of his office, McCreedy marches through the pens unfazed. "I don't understand," he hollers out over the noise of the pigs. "When that McLaughlin hollers out 'Fred Beetlebum Barnes', what is that 'Beetlebum' business? What's that about?" I have no idea.

In the first week of each piglet's short life, Wilfred takes a pair of steel clippers and cuts their eye teeth. "I'd like to do that Eleanor Clift," he booms out as I make my way down the row. "Clip her eye teeth. Get Fred Barnes to hold her down."

A few hours later, at around 7 o'clock, 25 voters arrive in the McCreedys' living room to discuss the candidates. Only three are even mentioned-- Richard Lugar, Bob Dole, and Alan Keyes. From the sounds of their talk, the people in the room are divided between Keyes and Dole. Just before 8 o'clock, Mr. McCreedy passes around a pad of yellow post-its. Two men then collect the votes in a silver pot and adjourn to the dining room table. There, they quietly add the totals. Dole, 11. Keyes, 7. Alexander, four. Lugar, three.

I ask Mr. McCreedy who he went for, and he laughs and says, "Guess." When the tally is announced to the room, there is a murmur. And then someone shouts, "Wilfred, does that mean you've got to give the $5,000 back?" It's clear they all think that Morry was a fool. He spent $5,000 on the guy, and he couldn't even buy his vote. I prefer to see it another way. Who else but Morry Taylor could give a guy $5,000 and still leave him free to vote for whom he pleases?

Ira Glass

When Morry Taylor finally dropped out of the presidential race on March 8, Michael Lewis wrote, "We all have a fantasy, and it is profitably exploited by Hollywood, that if only an honest and genuinely free man with a heart of gold ran for president, everything in the world would be put aright." Well, now we know what happens when an honest and genuinely free man with a heart of gold runs for president. He spends $6.5 million and gets 7,000 votes. Michael Lewis' campaign diaries will come out as a book next May from Knopf.

Act Three Another Mixed Legacy.

Ira Glass

Act Three, Another Mixed Legacy. What are we to make of the rich, the successful, the powerful? How should we think about them? Take Ron Brown. Ron Brown is someone who could have had a comfortable, low-stress life. But he is one of those people who threw himself into difficult tasks like, for example, taking over the Democratic Party at one of its lowest moments, uniting it, raising tons of money for it. And when his plane went down, it was a tragedy. But some people have been disturbed at the way many are now eulogizing the former Secretary of Commerce.

Brian Gilmore is a legal services attorney in Washington, DC, a writer, and a poet. And he says that in this moment, when so many people have been praising this successful, powerful man as a kind of post-Martin Luther King saint and role model, his feelings are more complicated.

Brian Gilmore

I would be a liar if I said I was a political disciple of Ron Brown. In fact, I cannot ever recall thinking that his particular approach to politics was the answer for the widening woes of black America, or anyone who is deprived in this society, for that matter. It might enable a few privileged, upper-middle-class African-Americans to get richer or gain a foothold into the walls of power and might provide some jobs to a small segment of the population, but I have grave doubts that this approach alone can ever change the fundamental problems the masses of African-Americans face on a daily basis.

But despite this glaring difference in our political ideals, I was deeply saddened by the death of the man who I admired greatly and who was clearly a role model for me. In his own way, on his own terms, he seemed to solve the W.E.B. DuBois dilemma of double consciousness that we African-Americans are born with and face our every waking moment in this country. He was a man who mastered the art of floating carefully between black America and white America. His way of accomplishing this most difficult task was to get inside the huddle and become a player in American politics and society.

Though my life is seemingly taking a vastly different path than his, I have to admit that in a lot of ways, Brown and I are very similar. Both of us were born in Washington, DC, attended private schools where middle-class kids were urged to succeed. And like him, I, too, have become a lawyer. But that is where many of our similarities end. Ron Brown was a partner in a law firm that represented some of the richest clients in the world. I have been an attorney for the past three years representing some of Washington's poorest and most destitute residents.

Brown came along at that brief, magical time in American history when the civil rights movement had reshaped the country and opportunities for educated African-Americans seemed to be unlimited. He worked for a traditional civil rights organization, the Washington Urban League, and eventually became part of Edward Kennedy's congressional staff. Like so many other minority professionals at that time, he honestly believed in America and its opportunities following the '60s.

By contrast, when I came along in search of my position in the world, Ronald Reagan had become president, and the civil rights movement was over. My friends and I were convinced he was going to cut all educational funding for African-Americans and make us join the Army. I can never forget hearing, while I was in college, of the Reagan administration's open assault on educational grants and social programs that would ultimately change the face of the country.

To me, Ron Brown represented a certain type of African-American politician, the kind that emerged from the riots of the '60s, with so much promise in the '70s, only to watch black communities nationwide crumble and self-destruct in the '80s under Reagan.

This is the world of my clients. A public housing tenant that I represented had her apartment taken over by drug dealers. The city refused to help her get the dealers out, but they did try to evict her. Another tenant's ceiling caves in and injures her daughter after she had complained for months about a leaky ceiling, and the city doesn't respond. The city sued her too.

One wonders why we have scenes like these all over Afro-America with so many African-Americans now inside the huddle just like Ron Brown was. Seeing the headlines about his plane crash, I'm struck now by how black America has deteriorated to the greatest extent economically, spiritually, and socially, precisely in the years since so many black Americans gained access to the club.

Ira Glass

Brian Gilmore is a legal services attorney and author of Elvis Presley is Alive and Well and Living in Harlem.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Our program was produced by Nancy Updike and myself today, with Peter Clowney, Alix Spiegel, and Dolores Wilber, contributing editors Paul Tough, Jack Hitt and Margy Rochlin. Musical help from Rumpty Rattles and the Blues Before Sunrise Radio Network with Steve Cushing. Some music today in our Michael Lewis story was composed for our program by Chicago composer Eric Leonardson.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia. I'm Ira Glass. See you next week with more true stories of This American Life.