Warning: The following contains what anyone who has never spent 15 minutes in a public high school might consider profanity. No one has ever accused me of social correctness. No one is forcing you to read this. If you have delicate sensibilities, go read Jane Austen.
By the time you read this a new government will have been sworn in, which is to say, that we’ll have the same old government we’ve always had with a few new players. The new players will have had their day raising their hands and swearing to uphold the whatevers, and then we’ll get back to business as usual.
This pseudo-monumental event would, since I’ve managed to kick my pre-election addiction to cable news pundits, have escaped my notice altogether except for the fact that someone I know was actually involved in all the swearing and upholding. I’m sure it was great photo op and a scrapbook field day.
Now before you go off making completely warranted assumptions about my personality, let’s look at what happened in the thank-God, no-longer-upcoming election: which is to say very damn little.
We have the same president we had before. He has, more or less, the same staff, although this may change any day now. The house is still controlled by the Republicans which a misguided portion of the electorate voted in a couple of years ago, and while the Democrats managed to pick up a few seats in the senate, they really don’t have the votes to do anything on their own. The house is still fractionalized and the speaker still can’t get them to fall in line.
More importantly, Citizens United is still the law of the land. The NRA is still, even though they are “under fire” at the moment, the largest lobby in the game, and crazies are still killing kids in small-town America. Even more importantly, the lobbyists are still calling the shots, the wealthiest Americans are still trying to buy elections, and our elected officials are still, whether by choice or necessity, more concerned about raising money for their next campaign than they are about the issues facing our country.
Business as usual. After all we had to suffer through in this past election – and I include the 10 robo calls a day at my home in that -we do not have a new government. We have played musical chairs.
Now, while the government hasn’t changed, there are glimmers of hope that the country may be trying to clear the cobwebs out of its collective, pea-sized cranium.
A couple more states managed to realize that, Mayan calendars aside, the world was not going to end if they allowed those sweet 60-year old-ladies down the street to finally get married. And a couple more came to the conclusion that paying for more prisons to hold kids convicted of smoking a joint at last Saturday’s frat party was just as stupid as the whole “War on Drugs” thing and legalized possession of small amounts of Mary Jane. You can be sure that the business-as-usual folks in DC will make both of those decisions difficult to implement in the short run, but it’s a start.
This past election was more notable for what didn’t happen than what did.
First of all, all those anonymous millions of dollars that the super pacs invested to ensure the election of their favorite sons and daughters didn’t. It was almost worth the onslaught of robo calls to see the look on Karl Rove’s face as he tried to pull Ohio out of his ass for Mittens on election night. A good indication of how important Mitt Romney was to the American political scene is how quickly he has disappeared from it in defeat.
Rove, along with almost every other conservative pundit, was so far beyond reality in his expectations of what money could buy that it was entertaining! These guys believed their own bullshit!
Given that this is a deeply divided country and not-withstanding the need of the media to manufacture drama, this was never a really close presidential election. The idea that the American electorate would choose to put the Bain Capital mogul and his equestrian wife in the White House would have given me an ulcer by October had I not discovered Nate Silver early in the process.
While the conservatives and their pundits were busy rubbing each other’s …egos, Mr. Silver was out there looking at the data and putting it out for everyone to see. Everyone, apparently, except for the conservative crony-crowd and the talking heads on Fox News, who were shocked – shocked I say – to discover they were living in a limbo land of delusional self-importance.
Another thing that didn’t happen was that the good-ole-boy network didn’t ensure success. Ex-Republican governor Tommy Thompson with all of his out-of-state funding lost to a feisty Wisconsin congresswoman – and she is, oh horror, a lesbian to boot!
There may be a glimmer of hope seeping in around the edges, but it’s still a pretty dark and stormy night in politics.
For those of you old enough to remember “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” – and if you are NOT old enough, you certainly have one of those “smart” gizmos becoming attached to your ear, so use it – we have a benchmark.
Back in 1939 Frank Capra created something of a stir with his depiction of politics in this country. Jefferson Smith (played by Jimmy Stewart), leader of the Boy Rangers (because the Boy Scouts refused to allow their name to be used) is chosen by a corrupt governor to replace a deceased senator. Of course, 74 years later, we no longer have corrupt governors. Well, there was He-Whose-Name-Cannot-Be-Pronounced, but he’s now safely in an overcrowded prison with the potheads.
So, Mr. Smith goes off to Washington where, this being Frank Capra, he falls for the daughter of a senator who knew his father and is secretly just as corrupt as the governor. This senator, one Joseph Paine, is part of a graft scheme involving the building of a dam (see the plot line of Evan Almighty for the details). Mr. Smith, naive smoo that he is (use the smart thingee, kids), is taken advantage of by the media and branded a bumpkin. In an effort to overcome the bad press and his bumpkin image he tries to sponsor a bill to build a campsite for the youth of the world in his home state. Unfortunately, that conflicts with the graft scheme and the political powers-that-be spread lies and rumors about him, discrediting both Mr. Smith and his bill.
Here, of course, is an area where some progress has been made in the past three quarters of a century. Today we not only have senators and other politicians spreading lies and smearing the names of well-intentioned individuals, we also have an entire cable news network devoted to it.
Jefferson Smith is convinced by his secretary to mount a one-man filibuster against the appropriations bill which is the heart of the graft scheme in order to expose the evil doers and save his good name. He talks for nearly 24 hours, but none of the senators believe him. Jim Taylor, the political boss pulling the strings of the graft scheme, uses all the radio stations and newspapers he owns to further discredit Smith and distort all he says on the floor of the senate. (Is any of this sounding contemporary yet?) When the Boy Rangers try to come to Smith’s aid and tell the real story, hand setting type and printing fliers, they are physically driven off the road by Taylor’s men. Their papers are confiscated right off the press.
Bags of fraudulent letters from Smith’s home state are produced by Taylor’s goons demanding Smith be expelled from the senate. Exhausted, Smith collapses at the rostrum and, this being a Capra film, his corrupt, senator-mentor–father-of-the-love-interest has a change of heart, tries to commit suicide, and when that fails, he rushes onto the senate floor and tells all, clearing Smith’s name. Slow fade to victory for the little guy, truth, justice, and the (at least in fantasy) American Way.
The film premiered in Constitution Hall, DC. Supposedly, there were senators who walked out during the screening. The Senate Majority Leader, a Democrat named Alben Barkley, called the film “silly and stupid,” adding that it “…showed the Senate as the biggest aggregation of nincompoops on record!”
Again, using this film as a benchmark, progress has been made. I’ve heard the senate called all sorts of things in the past few years, but never anything as mild as “aggregation of nincompoops.” We’ve had 74 years to work on our epithets!
At one time “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” was required viewing in high school civics and government classes. That was back when we had civics and government classes in public high schools, of course.
It ought to be required viewing at those swearing and upholding functions held every couple of years in DC. Sure, it’s a fantasy about good triumphing over evil in American politics, but wouldn’t that be nice for once?
There are any number of good, well-intentioned members of the house and senate. Unfortunately there are a good many more who are being led astray by the current incarnations of Jim Taylor.
We can elect all the senators and representatives we want to, but until some of them stand up and, like Jefferson Smith, tell the truth, refusing to yield the floor until they are heard, what’s really being accomplished? Business as usual.
Your Humble Servant,
Roger A. Shipley,
The Willowbrook Curmudgeon