Sunday, August 20, 2006

Power, Politics, Principle and Overpriced Latex Gloves

It was autumn 1992 and I was out of college for a year. Like many undergraduates from liberal art schools I was well educated but didn’t possess any skills for the “real world.” So I telemarketed for a hideous company that sold overpriced latex gloves to nursing homes while living in the East Village.

The market value for these gloves was approximately $30 per case (10 boxes per case) and we sold them for $400. I earned either $8 an hour or 5% per sale if commissions exceeded my base salary. The company provided us with names of nursing homes nationwide on index cards and we read from a script.

The script was useless and typically anyone we called wasn’t seduced by our offer of a free coffee maker with a purchase. Once price was mentioned the conversation usually ended abruptly. Sales were not being made and management wasn’t interested in our excuses about selling a grotesquely overpriced product.

With no jobs on the horizon and George Herbert Walker Bush waging class warfare against working people from the White House, I was desperate. So, I improvised and deviated from the script.

I used fear mongering and told the purchasing managers diseases where everywhere! AIDS! You had to be careful. Our gloves cost more because they met OSHA requirements and prevented the transmission of blood borne pathogens! Most gloves didn’t and nursing homes owed it to their staffs to use our gloves instead.

All lies that I just pulled out of my ass to make sales. It worked. For nearly three weeks I was making sales and others adopted my methods. The company even changed our script and utilized my words. I was ashamed but needed money and rationalized I had no choice.

However, after three weeks the company wasn’t providing new leads anymore. Instead they redistributed the same index cards listing nursing homes we called previously. The second time around our solicitation calls provoked hostility. Several threatened lawsuits. One woman in Colorado even threatened to send her brother Luke to New York and beat me up. She noted that our gloves were identical to any she purchased previously from her regular suppliers at $30 and the free coffee maker didn’t work either.

I stopped making sales. Others stopped making sales. The company blamed me and I moved on to another job. Such was my life back then. It wasn’t until the Clinton years that I had steadier pay and more respectable work. Fourteen years later the memories remain fresh.

It took those nursing homes three weeks to realize they were paying through the nose for lies and scare tactics. Americans are finally waking up from their coma after five plus years of Republican propaganda and fear mongering. I hope the public is not simply fed up with the Bush era but having an epiphany about the legacy of modern conservatism. Sadly, a generation of conservative hateful manipulation and the American public’s gullibility produced brutal repercussions.

Stateless and decentralized thugs threaten civilization in the name of God. Global warming is eroding the world’s water supply while America’s governing party denies that human behavior is the cause. Christian radicals in America contest the teaching of evolution and assault the human rights of women and gays. We’re currently engaged in two wars going badly and right wing ideologues are hungry for more. Obviously, a coalition of corporate militarism and Christian radicals is ill equipped to govern with tolerance and good sense.

The forces of religious extremism in the Islamic world are ascending. Meanwhile, the neo-cons in Washington perceive America as a modern Rome and Islamic radicals as 21st century Visigoths poised to undermine our birthright of hegemony. Corporations such as Blackwater USA continue to make money hand over fist while blood spills and the religious right cheers for the “end of days.” Approximately one year ago we failed to look after our own during a hurricane while nation building in Iraq.

America’s unique blending of corporate militarism and Christian radicalism has resulted in a dysfunctional culture of plutocracy and Puritanism. As the mega rich avoid paying taxes and playing by the same rules as everyone else, the middle class and working poor can’t earn a living wage or afford healthcare. A corporation such as Kaiser Permanente is not accountable for their misdeeds but there are women who can’t buy morning after pills from their local pharmacies.

This duality of maximum autonomy for corporations and plutocrats while eroding civil liberties and prosperity for individuals is producing an era of entropy. Entropy at home and abroad is the legacy of modern conservatism and our collective susceptibility to their assault on truth. Meanwhile, the so-called libertarians and “moderates” dismiss their culpability for empowering a reign of indecency and decay.

What is the antidote to this condition? We need more than a “new direction” or change from Republican rule to Democrats. America needs a progressive reformation that detoxifies our culture from corporate militarism and Christian theocrats. The time has come for a modern enlightenment.

The world is crying for America to lead as the guiding light of enlightenment instead of pouring more kerosene on the world’s fire of disorder and facilitating greed based globalization. In this instance leading means becoming better global citizens and nurturing a culture of community values at home. The time has come to jettison the failed ethos of hyper individualism in our country as well as the hubris of imperialism abroad.

This may become possible because American conservatism is discredited and sucking wind. All that remains is defining the terms of their surrender and what comes next. That is what the next two election cycles are truly about. The struggle for what replaces conservatism is underway. Republicans may survive if they adapt in coming years. Democrats may prevail in the short term. Regardless, the center of political gravity is poised to change.

If we truly want a progressive reformation based upon truth, merit and social justice to prevail then we must never surrender integrity for expediency. As a progressive pragmatist I don’t want to lose this opportunity to establish a governing philosophy based upon social justice and realism. It is incumbent upon progressive activists and the netroots community to remain vigilant and committed to our principles after victory. Strange as it seems, in the coming years we may become the establishment.

Once upon a time conservatives championed some worthy principles such as fiscal responsibility, values and individual responsibility. They squandered them in favor of expediency and patronage. They forgot where they came from and lied as if truth were an endless supply of counterfeit money. I hope we never forget where we come from and abandon our principles at the first taste of power. To do so would be catastrophic. My personal reality check is remembering the gloves.
My thanks to "Suan G." for once again rescuing my cross posting on Daily Kos. I estimate she's done this for me at least six times this year and it's highly appreciated.


Bill said...

Great post, Rob.

Let's hope you're right about becoming the establishment.

Manifest Dignity said...

I agree with Bill - This is a GREAT post!

I think the cure for the era starts simply with truth-telling. The culture of cronyism is a culture of fear, where people refrain from telling the truth because of the implied threat of unemployment. If more people told these stories and rocked the business-as-usual boat, the world would be a very different place.

ross_horowitz said...


I see your years of telemarketing have taught you mucy. You know it's evils well.

Now we just need to require our politicians to telemarket and see what they learn.

Deirdre Helfferich said...

It's an interesting thing to look back on moments like these and to realize how much betraying one's own values has damaged oneself. At the time it seems necessary, or excuseable, but later, the lesson stands out starkly, and one can either learn from it, turn shame into a constructive force, or pretend it never happened or continue to rationalize that it was appropriate, and become corrupted. This is what has happened to our politics, and it's not just the Republicans that have failed to learn from their errors. There's an interesting article on Common Dreams about Hillary Clinton's failure to learn, failure to go on to greatness. George Bush came into office the first time from a campaign full of great promises ("I'm a uniter, not a divider")--but has never accepted responsibility for a mistake, never once seemed to understand the value of changing one's mind in the face of new evidence. Or even the reconsideration of old evidence.

Given the track record of the Democratic National Committee and so many Democrats in Congress, I'm worried that a change in the political composition of Congress and elsewhere will, while at first resembling a breath of fresh air, deteriorate into regular old cruddy DC politics. I doubt it will be quite as bad as what we've got now, though, even after an election season or two, but I still worry.

Richard said...

Really good post, and thanks for cross-lining to my blog at Politics plus Stuff.

To add to your call for progressive politics, we need to recognize that the so-called Centrist Democrats are in fact nothing more than Democratic versions of corporate whores. I discuss this and link to a very good article on this here.