If you follow politics, you probably hear a lot of people saying that the central debate in American politics is about the size of government.
Those people are wrong.
Most of them are not lying, however; they are just repeating something they heard from someone else. And they even have some evidence for the claim. After all, the Democrats tend to favor expanding Federal social programs, whereas Republicans favor cutting these programs.
But the tip-off that this really is not the central debate is that sometimes these positions get reversed. For example, the Republicans generally support increasing military spending, whereas Democrats favor cutting it. As fielding an army is one of the oldest and most basic functions of government, this clearly shows that the divide is a bit more complex than just some random debate over what percentage of GDP the Federal government outlays should comprise.
“Size of Government” is a vague concept anyway. What does it mean? Government outlays as a percentage of GDP? Number of people employed by the government? Even then, it’s not like “government” is some monolithic entity–is it spending most of its money on education or on the military, for example?
Then there are those who say the debate is over the “role of government”. This is so vague that you can’t really call it a lie, but you also cannot call it terribly useful. The role of government is to govern–the questions are, what kind of society shall it govern, and how shall it govern it?
In a strange coincidence with Thingy’s post, there was some kind of Jimmy Stewart marathon on TV yesterday. I saw the end of Anatomy of a Murder and then Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. I won’t comment much on Anatomy, since I didn’t see the whole thing, but what I did see was superbly acted.
The same was true of Mr. Smith. I knew the basic plot going in: A naive everyman goes to Washington and ends up fighting corruption in the Senate. The details are that the naive everyman is a Boy
Scout Ranger leader who wants to establish a “Ranger” camp on a piece of land in his state. but the land is reserved for a graft scheme being run by Senator Joe Paine, Smith’s mentor, and the powerful political interests in his state.
As the political interest groups try to destroy Sen. Smith, Sen. Paine and the rest of the political machine fabricate evidence to have him expelled from the Senate. It culminates in the famous filibuster scene, where Smith talks for nearly 24 hours to hold up the bill. (Aside: How different would the current political scene be if Senators had to abide by the strict filibuster rules that Mr. Smith did?)
Finally, Senator Paine is so overwhelmed by Mr. Smith’s last impassioned plea before collapsing on the Senate floor, that he admits to the whole corrupt scheme and Smith is vindicated.
As I said, the acting is excellent. Jimmy Stewart is naively earnest without ever being annoying, and his exhausted speech at the end and witty comments throughout his filibuster are quite good. Jean Arthur is excellent as the cynical but good-natured Senate secretary who helps Smith learn the inner-workings of Washington.
Harry Carey is very likeable in the minor role of the bemused President of the Senate. Edward Arnold is excellent as the jolly-but-heartless corrupt political boss. (Interestingly, Wikipedia says Arnold was actually considered as a possible Republican Senate candidate in the 1940s.)
But the best performance I think is that of Claude Rains. I’ve written before about what a great actor he was, and he is excellent as Senator Paine. He does a great job being both a corrupt career man who tries to rationalize compromising his principle, while still showing some genuine fatherly affection for Mr. Smith, that sets up his admission a the end.
The Senate was apparently not terribly thrilled with the movie when it came out. They felt it would cause people to lose faith in the institution. I’m guessing the most stinging part for wasn’t the over-the-top villainy of Boss Taylor, but rather Paine’s melancholy speech to Smith about how, in order to serve and do good for their state, he had to “compromise” certain things. It’s a good speech, because he clearly means it as honest advice, but at the same time, it’s almost like he’s trying to persuade himself.
Ever since the movie came out, various politicians tried to paint themselves as “the real-life Mr. Smith.” The “earnest outsider” card has been played too many times to count. But the thing is, the whole fantasy of the movie is that someone like Smith could ever get to Washington. (It requires a coin flip landing on “edge”.)
But the truth is, there are no Mr. Smiths in Washington–just endless, competing Senator Paines.
I was initially put off from the book because of the post-apocalyptic setting, which frankly I feel has been done to death at this point. But the foreign element–it’s set in the Moscow subway system–made it feel fresh to me. The idea is that after a nuclear war, people settled in the Metro, using the various stations as towns of sorts.
The story is about a man named Artyom who sets off to get help for his home station when it is being attacked by monsters. It is very much a “Hero’s Journey”/Odyssey type of story, that follows Artyom as he stops at many stations within the haunted metro and meets assorted characters who provide their observations and musings.
Although it has many (very well done) horror and thriller elements, the book is actually very philosophical, and there are some sections that are just long speeches, conversations or debates. But it’s never overly didactic, and it never became dull or tedious for me. In particular, there is one conflict towards the end that concerns the meaning and utility of religion in society that I think is absolutely brilliant.
As you can gather, I enjoyed the book very much and highly recommend it. I felt there were a few weak points–Artyom constantly being pulled from Death’s door by Some New Character got a bit repetitive, though usually the character was interesting enough to make me excuse it. Also, there were no really notable female characters, but this isn’t necessarily a problem per se, since the setting sort of implies that the women and children are deliberately kept in the towns, and most of the story takes place in the dangerous Metro tunnels. (I have more issues with how female characters are handled in the video games–maybe I’ll do a post about that.)
The main problem I had was the translation from the original Russian. There were times when the dialogue was rather awkward sounding, and unfortunately the errors become more widespread as the story reaches its otherwise brilliantly-executed climax. There was one key line on the last page where they apparently couldn’t decide whether to write “understand” or “understood” and settled on “understandood”. It kind of killed the tension of the moment, which was superbly built.
All told, I think it is a terrific book, and I actually gained new respect for the game having read it. It is a tough story to adapt to a video game, and I think they did about as well as could have been hoped.
Some Republicans have been throwing around the idea of repealing the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. This is the amendment that allows for the direct election of Senators, instead of having them appointed by State legislatures. It was passed in 1913, after decades of groups like the Populist party arguing for it.
The Republican version of American history does seem to really hinge on the year 1913. that was the year that the power of the Federal government began to increase. In addition to the direct election of Senators, it was the year the 16th Amendment–the income tax–was passed. (This was also something the Populists had wanted.) It also was when the Federal Reserve was created, thus paving the way for many a libertarian conspiracy theory.
I’m assuming this why the Republicans want to do this–it’s a first step towards repealing the so-called “Progressive Era”. I think the real point they’re driving at is the repeal of the income tax, as part of a “Starve the Beast” strategy.
That said, I do actually see some reason for opposing the direct election of Senators. I don’t endorse it, but I can see some logic to it. The Senate was supposed to be a less polarized place than the House of Representatives–the idea being the Senators could compromise with each other more than the elected Representatives in the House. Probably having the members be appointed rather than elected might decrease the amount of fighting among Senators.
This might be a good step towards reducing the gridlock in Washington, especially since the current trend is the Senate becoming more like the House, and ending up just as deadlocked.
Then again, there’s no reason to assume giving control of appointing senators back to the State Legislatures would help anything. Whichever Party controls the legislature will just appoint their favorite cronies, and we’ll end up in the same predicament.
In addition, I don’t know how you would ever get people to vote for someone advocating this. It essentially boils down to saying “I think you people vote for lousy candidates, and so am going to take away your ability to do so. Vote for me!”
I suppose the legislatures could call for a Constitutional convention and try to get it changed that way, though who knows what else they might end up changing in the process. (This is another scheme the Republicans have been toying with for some time.)
The setting sun cast a reddish glow on the Clock Tower
that loomed ominously upon the shore.
As the fishermen returned, a howl rose up
from the distant dark forest.
A few heads turned in the crowd,
and a few mutterings were heard.
But the noise was forgotten,
as the torches were lit in the village streets.
As darkness fell, and storms clouds
obscured the faint crescent moon,
again the chilling howl was heard.
And then a cold gale blew across the lake
as the storm rolled near.
And amidst the lashing rains and howling wind
that assaulted the village dwellings
and uprooted the trees,
there was a sound of fluttering
as of wings, and a growling
like no sound any one had ever heard.
And all the torches were extinguished
In the awful flood of death and ruin.
And when at last it ended,
and the clouds rolled past,
and the faint glow of dawn fell once more upon the streets,
only the Clock Tower still remained,
like a dead Titan, its hands twisted
in meaningless directions.
Not merely bent, but melted
in the awful nighttime storm
that had claimed all within the village boundaries.
And in the forest, all was quiet again.