Thursday, July 30, 2009

Frustration, again

Second-type democratic frustration is setting in rapidly now; here's Sullivan:

I think Obama will get something real, modest and very weak when it comes to cost-cutting. The American political system simply does not have the capacity to deliver anything more. It will when we have no choice. We're very close to that. But disaster is necessary for this country to do anything that might actually work.

But that's hardly true. The American system has mobilized big changes many times without disaster. Old people used to be poor; then Johnson and the massive Democratic majorities in Congress changed things. Civil rights...well, it was a disaster, but there was no specific new disaster that prompted massive change. On a much smaller scale, but closer to Sullivan's concerns: deficits were large and impossible to affect, and then G.H.W. Bush, Clinton, and a series of Congresses decided to do something about it and -- presto! -- surplus.

Sullivan is on much firmer ground when he says that "the truth is: this [health care] is a very, very hard political issue." That's exactly right. Health care is hard, climate change is hard, banking stability is hard, and even a seemingly straightforward issue such as unilateral detention turns out to be a lot more complex than one might think. There are winners and losers, and (part of) the genius of the American system is that it gives potential losers lots of chances to cut their best deal. In a nation of 300 million, that's a very good thing.

The reason that it's tricky thinking about these things is that for the outside observer, it's important to remember that there are rarely good guys and bad guys, but for the involved actor it's normal and understandable to think of one's side as good and everyone else as bad.

OK, enough with the abstract stuff. The real point of this post is for me to learn to add some visual to the blog...I talked about Mr. Smith and distopias in the previous post on this subject, so the visual is from one of the latter. Which, oddly enough, I had never seen until the last few days. Not one of Heston's best performances, but that's a high bar; he was an excellent and underrated actor.

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