Friday March 8, 2013

Some of us thought that Washington had devolved into a never-ending Pearl White serial with the American people tied to the tracks every few months and then rescued at the last minute as the train hurtled towards us. I guess no one was available to scoop us up from under the wheels of the Sequester Express.

The name "sequester" gives the implication that something beneficial and infinitely wise is being formulated in the interim; that we will be stronger as a nation for staying the course as long as the course doesn’t exact too much inconvenience on those not used to being inconvenienced. The wait at airports can be a real drag as it is.

Of course, the less-embellished truth is that a small clique of Tea Party intransigents in the House, who don’t understand the word "no" and are perfectly comfortable with making a mockery of the fact that this government was designed to function through mutual compromise in order to gloriously defend their singular interpretation of the Constitution like it was the north wall of the Alamo.

What does it matter that some kids will go hungry when Grand Principles hang in the balance? One of the standard bearers of this worthy crew - who was ungraciously shown the exit door by voters last November - couldn’t be bothered with making child support payments to his own children. The Tea Party has always looked at things from a Panavision perspective.


Advertisement

They tend to forget the fact that it is the close-ups that can be the most revealing.

Continuing along with these surprisingly durable movie analogies, I’m sure that most people have seen -- or at least heard of - Frank Capra’s 1939 morale booster, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." The film was intended, I’m sure, as a tribute to the innate goodness that exists in the spirit -- even if it isn’t always apparent in the letter - of Washington politics. It is still an encouraging, charming, and emotionally-charged movie, but today it seems more like a fable, having little more to do with 21st century reality than Jimmy Stewart’s being shown what life would be like in Bedford Falls if he had never been born.

In 1939, the country looked to the estimable Mr. Stewart for inspiration. The actor played Jefferson Smith, a freshman senator from an unnamed western state who gets embroiled in a graft scheme that is supported by revered elder statesman, Senator Joseph Paine (Claude Rains). Smith decides to filibuster the appropriations bill that promotes the swindle and, in the interim, prove he is the victim of a smear campaign conducted by people who will benefit from the corruption.

The movie is, in some ways, the ultimate refinement of what came to be known as Capra-corn: Life as we wish it was - in Washington and everywhere else.

Fast forward to 2013. In Jimmy Stewart’s role, we have Rand Paul, the junior senator from the named state of Kentucky, famed for its horses of which Mr. Paul is an appropriate representative of the rear half. He has decided to filibuster the nomination of John Brennan as CIA director because he is upset by the flagrant abuses to civil liberties committed by the Obama administration. It’s a shame there isn’t a stake in the senate chamber. Mr. Paul could surround it with dry kindling, chain himself to it, and more handily evoke the name of Joan of Arc.

"I will speak until I can no longer speak," he grandly intones, subliminally granting one of the American peoples’ fondest wishes as far as most of our lawmakers are concerned. Among the many subjects he has droned on about are the use of drones, which seem to cause no end of squeamishness from members of the same political party that, among other things, thought that the Iraqi war was a good idea, that Dick Cheney was the voice of wisdom, and that what constitutes torture is open for interpretation. I suppose it is a sign of desperation when Paul feigns some concern that Jane Fonda might someday be targeted, although a lot of people who have managed to paint Vietnam in patriotically rosy hues probably wouldn’t shed too many tears over that prospect. 

The end result of these self-promoting sideshows is that the business of running a country comes to a screeching halt while they are played out. That doesn’t seem to have much importance to Mr. Paul or, at least, it doesn’t override the import of promoting a political ideology that most people discard as societal nonsense shortly after high school.

"If there were an ounce of courage in this body, I would be joined by many other senators," Rand said. "Are we to give up our rights to politicians?"

Funny, I thought we had done that a long time ago.

Alden Graves is a regular Banner columnist.