I was settling into the rhythm of the campaign now. I had started to get out into the community, knocking on doors and walking precincts. I’d visited nursing homes and barber shops and even Hanover County’s only halal meat market, where the people were very nice until I told them that I was a vegetarian. And I was actually starting to drop some of the pounds I’d gained after going on a serious sugary-cereal binge after the New York Times ran that microaggressive piece making fun of me. The internal polls were looking good. And neither my campaign manager nor my wife had called me an idiot for at least six days. So there was that.
The last event of that day was an interview with the editorial board at the daily newspaper of Ellington College, which was known as The Tarquin, which I initially thought was a reference to ancient Greece but turned out to be the name of one of Old Man Ellington’s dogs. The student journalists were very embarrassed by this, mostly because they hadn’t been able to get the name changed.
"Why not?" I asked.
"We couldn’t agree on an alternate name," the editor said. "I wanted to call the paper Death to White Privilege, but that would never fly with the administration. Our next choice was to call it The Pelosi, but the BDS crowd pointed out that she’d made plenty of pro-Israel comments. So we’ve formed a sub-committee to research a name that reflects the values of the Ellington community, except that there are so many of them that we’re having a hard time prioritizing."
"Maybe you could call it The Resistance," I said.
"Typical Eurocentric crap," the assistant editor for gender balance said.
"You see? It’s harder than you think," the editor said.
We then got to the Q&A, which for some reason focused around what we could do about right-wing zealots affixing the hurtful label of "special snowflakes" onto committed student activists. But other than agreeing on how racist and climatist the whole thing was, we couldn’t figure out what to do about it. Then the conversation turned to policy.
"Do you support the effort led by Senator Sanders to make sure that college education is free for everyone?" the assistant editor for social equity asked.
"Yes, I do," I said. "The best way we could achieve social equality in this century is to give everyone an equal opportunity at a college education. Everyone should have the right to better himself or herself by going to college."
"And zherself," the associate editor for transgender pronouns interrupted.
"Of course," I said. "The only difficulty is getting the one percent to agree to pay for it."
"Well, you’re part of the one percent, aren’t you?" someone asked.
"I am, and you have to remember that the one percent get to be the one percent by understanding how the system works. Take this university. It was founded by Daniel Ellington as a way to perpetuate social inequality by salting away a big chunk of his money into the endowment rather than have it go into estate taxes, where it could be used for the common good."
"So what should we do? Confiscate the endowments?"
"You could," I explained, but you could only do that once. The smart play would be to tax the income from the endowments–over a certain threshold, that is, so you don’t hurt the smaller colleges. Say, a twenty-five percent tax on all income for endowments over ten million dollars. That would help offset the cost of free tuition. You might even get the Republicans to support it, because it wouldn’t impact the one percent directly."
"Would that be something you would try to do in Congress?" the managing editor asked.
"Yes, absolutely," I said. "You can quote me on that."
*
"What did you do?" Polly asked me.
"What do you mean, what did I do?" I said.
"I have been on the phone all morning with ten thousand different development associates from everybody from Bowdoin to Pepperdine," she said. "Every single private university in the country is calling here about what you said the other day."
"All I did was to get interviewed by a student newspaper at a dinky private college," I said. "You have to be kidding me."
"I am not kidding you," Polly said. "Somebody at The Chronicle of Higher Education must have a Google alert set up for any proposal to tax endowments. They ran the article this morning, and posted it on their Facebook site, so naturally it went viral in that community."
"Well, okay," I said. "You can see why they’d be interested. What percentage of the calls were in favor of the legislation?"
"You are not serious," Polly said.
"Well, sure I am," I said.
"Justin, you idiot," Polly said. "Every single one of them was negative. And by negative, I mean that they all want to jump down your throat and pull out your gizzard."
So that was the end of the not-being-called-an-idiot streak. "That doesn’t make sense," I said. "These are people from private universities. They’re progressives. They ought to welcome my proposal."
"They’re progressives who want to beat you with a bag of rotten oranges. That’s not me making that up. That’s a direct quote from someone at Oberlin."
"That’s shocking," I said. "We are in an era of shared sacrifice here. These endowment managers have to get in line with everyone else, if we’re going to fund free tuition for everyone."
"Nobody likes paying taxes, Justin," Polly said. "Even your mom complained about it on her blog. She likes the idea, but she just wants you to exempt liberal arts programs."
"Even so, how many people out there are development officers at private universities? Especially compared to students?"
"Justin, do you know how many students have called in to thank you for wanting to loot the endowments at their universities? Zero. You’re not helping yourself here."
"So what do I do?" I asked.
"I would start by grabbing a phone and talking to some of these people. I’ve got Amherst holding on line one, Harvard on line two, Rice on line three, and a very excitable person from Sarah Lawrence on line four who would like to personally impale your gonads on a stick."
"Okay," I said. "Let’s start with line one and get it over with."
*
"So, how was your day?" Emma asked.
"I somehow managed to tick off every single development officer at every large private university in the country. And some of the small ones. And then I started getting calls from college presidents."
"What did you do this time?" she asked.
"I suggested that their endowments should be taxed to help pay for free tuition for everyone," I said.
"Oh, well, that would set them off, wouldn’t it? But it’s still the right thing to do. It would promote social equality, and help level the playing field between private schools and public schools."
"Says the Rutgers graduate."
"More people in this district went to Rutgers than went to Amherst, Justin. It’s a good proposal. You should stick with it."
"But these are progressives," I said. "They’re progressives, and they’re all mad at me. It seems like that’s been the story of the campaign."
"You’re the one who wanted to go into politics," Emma said. "You knew you were going to make enemies. You can either stick with what you want to do, and try to make a difference, or give up when things get difficult."
"Somebody from Sarah Lawrence wanted to toast my gonads over an open fire. On a stick."
"Then she’s not a real progressive, is she? It’s a good proposal. Stick with it. Go the distance."
I took a bite of my artichoke risotto. I wanted to go the distance. But I thought I would have the wind at my back, and I was discovering that I didn’t. How much harder would it get? I didn’t know, but I was determined to make it through another whole week without anyone calling me an idiot.
****
Next episode, Week Thirteen: The Transit Authority
Check out the previous installments:
Last year:
Week Forty-Nine:The True North
Week Fifty:The Garden State
This year:
Week Four:The Brain Trust
Week Six:The Snow Day

Week Seven:The Coin Flip

Week Eight:The Wicked Witch
Week Eleven:The State Dinner
Week Twelve: The Maple Leaf Rag
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