Sunday, November 20, 2005

Leaving Hogwarts: Back to School

I saw the new Harry Potter in one weekend, with my 11-year old daughter. We agreed that it's an outstanding film that still doesn't quite do justice to Rowling's epic story. The dragon scene was perhaps overcooked; the Pensieve scene—one of the more haunting moments in the Potter literature—fell just short of transmitting the metaphorical magic of Rowling's prose; characters and scenes that seemed perfectly fit for cinema (such as the midnight chase through the school after the bathroom scene, climaxed by Harry's fall into the staircase) were absent; and the graveyard scene was curiously truncated and lacked perspective (that light-web and the phoenix song of the story were but weakly rendered by Newell's forcefully understated CGI). But the overall flow of the story was compelling; the pangs-of-adolescence theme was humorously explored but without being overdone; what little we got of Alan Rickman (Snape) was hilarious; certain brief visual portents were beautifully set (such as the stained glass portrait shedding tears); and most of all, the acting was crisp, professional, and occasionally absorbing. Brendan Gleeson as Mad-Eye is an Oscar-worthy performance (I'm not kidding); and the three kids have made quantum leaps from film to film in their skills and imagination. Emma Watson (Hermione) in particular has a long and distinguised career ahead of her. Everything considered, this is a film worth seeing—and then seeing again. Highly recommended, for Potter fans and anyone else as well.

Now, for us here at Daily Rev, it's back to school as we leave Hogwarts behind for a while. The Bush administration and its lackies are doing such a marvelous job of self-destructing that it sometimes seems the rest of us can safely sit on the sidelines and simply enjoy the show. But just to be on the safe side, we'd better help them along a bit. In fact, let's help them a lot—as much as we can. People's lives—those living today and into the next generation—depend on it.

We'll begin this week with a contribution from our regular correspondent, Terry McKenna. Terry is touching on a theme that I've broached before (check here and here). This is how I summed it up in one post from earlier this year:

The center is a personal and organic space that's unique to each individual; it is nothing less crucial than the inner reference point of a life successfully and fully lived. When a person is in his or her center, others around them can feel it, and benefit. But when the center is lost, or buried under the stinking loam of ideology, there is danger. If you want to know how much danger, just consider Bush and bin Laden, or Rumsfeld and al-Zarqawi: these are significant and tragic examples of people who have lost all contact with the center of being.

So let's see how Terry presents the current case for the center, and how we might get—and stay—there. We'll no doubt be picking up the discussion further from there over the course of this week. Mr. McKenna, the blog is yours:

Another passionate essay in favor of the middle.

When I turned 17, the country was so polarized by the war, that Republicans were able to elect a creep like Nixon. By the end of the Clinton years, the country was again polarized and the Republicans again found a way to exploit the situation. Thus we elected the idiot-king/ideologue, George Bush. Yes, I know that Bush was handed 2000 by the Supreme Court, but he wouldn’t have gotten close without a crippling political dynamic.

Now more than ever, America needs an effective Democratic Party. To become more effective, the party needs to move to away from extremism and toward the moderate middle. To do so will take creativity, compromise and leadership.

I’m not talking about a limp-wristed moderation that is mere compromise; what I envision is a robust centrist moderation that revisits and strengthens our once strong commitment to solid government and social welfare.

How do we select centrist views, and how do we stay away from the edges? Instead of defining it, I’ll illustrate it. An example of a problem that is recognized by the center is the problem of those who have no health insurance. Even conservatives agree that we must construct a solution to this dilemma - where they go wrong is by suggesting a solution based on tax credits and savings. The Democrats should take this one on, by developing a strong position in favor of a single payor national health system. Another example of a problem that is recognized in the center is the deficit. But instead of rampant budget cutting, the democrats should look at the supply side of the equation – tax revenue. Over the past 30 years, taxes have shrunk as a share of GDP. Overall taxes have declined by 1/3, but corporate taxes have shrunk by ½. Democrats can march in with a strong program of real tax reform – make corporations pay their fair share for the benefits they get from residing here. And return personal taxation to its former progressivism.

What is an extreme position? Let’s look at abortion. While many (Most?) Americans believe in the right to early abortion, it is not clear that Americans agree about the limits that a state can place upon use of this procedure. Yet when the smallest restraint is proposed, the left comes in with almost the same zeal that the right brings to the issue of hand guns. Of course most of the proposed abortion laws are dishonest attempts to challenge Roe Vs Wade, but the American people are left behind by the arguments.

The Democrats are already in a position to change. They have a strong moderate wing, represented by folks like Jimmie Carter and Bill Clinton. And the need for change is made more obvious when we consider the long term demographic shift to the Sunbelt and away from cities. For the past half century, cities have declined both in population and in relative influence. While a few cities retain their hold on America’s psyche (New York, San Francisco are two examples) many others are but a shadow of their pre 1960’s selves (think of Cleveland, St. Louis – even pre Katrina New Orleans). Remember, outside of cities and a few close suburbs, folks don’t vote for the Democrats. Of course Democrats may never regain the old slave holding South, but it is really a shame to also lose places like Morris County (New Jersey) from year to year.

And the benefit of just 2 successes (taxes and healthcare) would be profound. How many poor young teens would need to resort to an abortion if they had access to a pediatrician before they became sexually active (and received timely advice about contraception). And how many more US manufacturing businesses could stay afloat if they shared the burden of employee benefits costs with the entire nation (especially with competitors who now don’t provide benefits).

And wouldn’t management of the Federal Government be much more effective if it had a robust income stream from which it could afford to fund its basic operations.

The course of moderation might piss off all of the interest groups that currently fund the party, but if the party stays where it is, it remains on the sidelines.

—T. McKenna

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