So the Congressional Supercommittee that was convened to lower the deficit has failed, as those who understand politics knew that it would. The Democrats offered a mixture of tax increases and spending cuts, some of the cuts to programs they care a lot about. The Republicans offered . . . spending cuts. Once one party insisted that revenues can be raised only one way, take it or leave it, the rest was a foregone conclusion.
Jonathan Chait, who blogs for New York Magazine’s on-line journal Intel, came up with the perfect film allusion to capture the situation. Can you identify the scene that he’s alluding to when he writes,
Not even the fee for the gaming license, which they’d appreciate if Democrats would put up personally.
It’s from Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather II. The corrupt Nevada Senator Pat Geary is trying to shake down the Corleones as they prepare to buy a gaming license for a hotel/casino they have acquired in Las Vegas. Here’s the interchange:
Senator Geary: I want your answer and the money by noon tomorrow. And one more thing. Don’t you contact me again, ever. From now on, you deal with Turnbull.
Michael Corleone: Senator? You can have my answer now, if you like. My final offer is this: nothing. Not even the fee for the gaming license, which I would appreciate if you would put up personally.
In short, the Republicans have not been interested in reciprocity, in give and take. Political experts figure that, if they take advantage of the wretched state of the economy and capture both the presidency and Congress in 2012, then this hard negotiating ploy may pay off. Why concede anything when you can get it all? Better in that case to bargain Corleone style.
In the film, Michael blackmails Senator Geary so that he does indeed pay the gaming fee. In this instance, however, Democratic backs have stiffened and they are playing hardball in return. Matthew Yglesias of Slate points out that the Republicans may have overplayed their hand and, in so doing, may have set the stage for a big Democratic budget victory in the future. If this unfolds as he predicts, then maybe one has to go to real life, not the movies, for a happy ending.
Of course, with all this talk of winning and losing, the country itself is losing. At a time when interest rates are at historic lows so that it would cost virtually nothing to stimulate the economy while addressing the country’s deteriorating infrastructure, we are watching the parties jockey over the equivalent of a casino license. Or rather, Republican refusal to allow us to consider anything else.
In other news, Jonathan Chait recently used another great film reference, this one to Monty Python and the Life of Brian, in a thoughtful article on liberal self loathing. Chait observes that liberal disenchantment with Barack Obama matches almost exactly liberal disenchantment with Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Lyndon Johnson, John F. Kennedy, Harry Truman, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. He says that conservatives are far more likely to circle the wagons than liberals (which he predicts conservatives will do with Romney), and he uses a scene from the Monty Python film to make his point:
Monty Python’s Life of Brian has a classic bit depicting the followers of “Brian,” a thinly disguised satire of Jesus, as left-wing activists. The movement contains bitterly feuding splinter groups with such names as the People’s Front of Judea, the Judean People’s Front, the Judean Popular People’s Front, the Campaign for a Free Galilee, and the Popular Front of Judea—the last consisting of one man—all of which hate each other more than the Romans.
The joke was that left-wing politics have always taken the same form: that lefties in Palestine 2,000 years ago would act pretty much like their counterparts in seventies Britain. Political psychologists have found for decades that the joke is pretty much true. Conservatives, compared with liberals, have higher levels of respect for and obedience to authority and prefer order over chaos and continuity over change. They are more likely than liberals to agree with statements like “It is more important to be a team player than to express yourself.” (Interestingly, libertarians tend to resemble liberals on these measures, which may explain why libertarian politics also so frequently resemble a Life of Brian–esque farce.)
To Chait’s allusion I offer another from the film. Reg (John Cleese), a leader of one of the groups, tries to galvanize an audience by asking, “What have the Romans ever done for us?” A series of answers are offered, each of which he concedes to be true before returning to his question.Here’s how the scene ends:
Reg: All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
Attendee: Brought peace?
Reg: Oh, peace – shut up!
Reg: There is not one of us who would not gladly suffer death to rid this country of the Romans once and for all.
Dissenter: Uh, well, one.
Reg: Oh, yeah, yeah, there’s one. But otherwise, we’re solid.
So other than Comprehensive Health Care, a stimulus package, the ending of torture, the ending of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the saving of the car companies, the killing of the Somali pirates, the expansion of the college loan program, the ending of the Iraqi War, the killing of Bin Laden, a disarmament agreement with Russia, the takedown of Qaddafi, deft handling of the Arab Spring, two good Supreme Court justices, and smooth natural disaster management, what has Obama ever done for us?
The news early this week is that not not everyone on the left is unhappy with Obama. The complaining pundits, in other words, do not represent the bulk of Democrats. Indeed, the “uh, well, one” is a solid 45% support for the president, which is no small achievement given the state of the economy. Obama’s challenge is to find the other 6%