“But it does benefit senior citizens,” I said a bit timidly, knowing exactly what I was getting into.
“State lotteries prey disproportionately on the poor and credulous,” Mr. Magundi replied. “Our lottery takes bread out of the mouths of the very people it supposedly benefits, and gives some of them a few state-funded programs in return. They lose far more than they gain.
“But worse than that, the lottery involves us all in a dreadful moral contradiction. We send thousands of people to jail every year for breaking laws against gambling, but we put up billboards in the poorest neighborhoods saying ‘Don’t forget to play every day.’ If gambling is not a vice, then why are people in jail for it? If gambling is a vice, why is our government begging us to indulge in it?
“Now, think how much better off we all would be if that money stayed in the neighborhoods, instead of going to Harrisburg to feed a vast bureaucracy. Neighborhood stores might flourish, so the old and helpless would have some place to buy their bread; more pedestrian traffic in the neighborhood business district would make crime go down, and would encourage more businesses to fill empty storefronts. Money spent locally makes everyone a little richer. And that’s why I say we need to take the numbers racket away from the state and put it back in the barber shops where it belongs.”
“What I worry about is that we’ll end up putting in people who are just as bad as the ones we kick out,” Mrs. Bowman said.
“But that’s the nearly inevitable result of picking a side in a civil war,” Mr. Magundi declared. “By choosing to support one of the combatants, we have chosen to throw our weight behind people who have publicly declared that the way to solve political problems is by killing other people. We say that we intervene on behalf of the millions of suffering innocents; but, as a practical matter, if we support one side or the other, we must intervene on behalf of warmongers who are causing at least some of the suffering. The only alternative is to conquer the place and install our own government, which is what we used to do—and you remember how that worked out in Cuba and the Philippines.”
“So what did you think of the debate, Magundi?” Mr. Bates asked, with an arch of his eyebrows that suggested he thought he might be poking a hornet’s nest.
“I didn’t watch any of the debates,” Mr. Magundi replied, “and I can’t imagine why anyone else would, either. They’re ludicrously artificial performances that tell us nothing about what the candidates really intend to do, and do not simulate the actual activity of governing in any way. We’d learn exactly as much about the candidates if we put them in frilly tutus and made them dance the part of the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker.”
“But I don’t think our president should worry about what they want,” Mr. Bates was saying. “His job is to serve our country, not theirs. America first, that’s what I say.”
“I agree,” Mr. Magundi said. “In fact, I apply the same patriotic principle to my own everyday life. Whenever there’s a long line over at the IGA store, I always push my way to the front, shouting ‘Magundi first!’ all the way. Other people don’t like it much, but I don’t think I should worry about what they want.”
“So I’ll be glad when the whole thing is over,” Mrs. Bowman told us, “so I can stop answering the phone every five minutes.”
“I get those phone calls, too,” Mr. Magundi said. “It’s always some candidate for state representative telling me how honest and aboveboard he is, how his whole record is an open book. But the Caller ID always says ‘Unknown Number,’ which I think tells us more about his real honesty and aboveboardness than any of his rhetoric does.”
“I know his type,” Mr. Bates was saying. “He’s an expert at playing the Washington-insiders game. What a hypocrite! I say, vote for anyone else, but not him.”
“But that’s the perfect description of what I want in a president,” Mr. Magundi replied. “Honestly, do you want someone in the White House who’ll be handily outwitted by the lobbyist for the Nickel Plating Manufacturers’ Association or the Southeastern Georgia Collards Board? No. You want one who knows how Washington works. If I can’t have an honest president, and experience suggests that I can’t, then I’ll take an expert in playing the Washington-insiders game, thank you very much.”
“The city even passed a resolution in favor of amending the Constitution to abolish corporate personhood,” I said. “At least I’m not the only one who thinks something has to be done.”
“I’m not sure I’d be so quick to abandon the notion of corporate personhood,” Mr. Magundi replied. “It seems to me that it opens up intriguing possibilities in legal theory. For example, if a corporation engages in obviously sociopathic behavior, what’s to prevent us from having it declared legally insane and locking it up in an asylum? If it’s a person, it deserves nothing less than to be treated the way we treat any other citizen.”