Friday, December 17, 2010


A film that redefines American political calculus
despite a muddled, overworn plea at the curtain

A major American political party can be, by one definition, a multiparty system unto itself. This is most evident in primary elections, when candidates vie for their party's "core constituencies" -- and officials adjust the party's platform, striving for a palatable structure that will house as many sub-groups as possible. Political pundits will, for instance, describe the Republican party as being comprised of the religious right, the wealthy, big business, fiscal conservatives, moderates, and the burgeoning Tea Party movement, among others, and these groups can threaten to abandon (i.e., fail to support) the coalition if they feel that the purity of their message is being compromised. The Democratic party may contain even more pieces. Every two years, after the government has been assembled, an expert socio-mathematician could attempt to define just how many blocs are in operation. Some governments can be more unified than others, and surprising partnerships can spring-up around certain issues, and a popular president can squander his mandate overnight. All true. In the end, though, if you want to vote for President, or for Senator, or for Representative, with few exceptions, you either have to vote Democrat or Republican; those are your choices: a two party umbrella. The sum of the little parties out there, simply, doesn't amount to much, beyond, for instance, a single seat in Vermont. A new documentary film, Inside Job, concludes, however, that America might have but a single party, when considering one of the most important facets of our society: the management of our vast, complex financial system. Despite the change in administration -- and the promises to the contrary that have accompanied this change -- the same kinds of faces wind up at the helm of Treasury, the Federal Reserve system, the SEC, and so forth; professionals who have been bred, apparently, on the boards or in the speculative environments of massive financial outfits. While Obama was not elected by his own party alone, and owes his presidency, at the very least, to a coalition that also included "swing voters" from other terrain, he was, nevertheless, nominated by a reinvigorated Democratic party which was driven by its fervor to rid the nation of various policies, support them or not, enacted under the presidency of Bush #2. When Democrats and Republicans alike elected candidate Obama, during a period of extreme economic distress, did they vote for him to appoint the same mold of individual appointed by the likes of Reagan, Bush #1, and Bush #2? (All Republicans.) In some cases, Obama appointed or re-appointed the very same people who served in those -- as well as centrist / similar Clinton -- administrations. One could argue that the Republicans who crossed the aisle to vote for Obama were doing so, in short, because they wanted a different kind of leadership, especially with respect to the economy. "Is there no other kind of economic leadership?" one might ask. Are there no other people? To bolster its suggestion that no, there aren't, Inside Job takes its viewers to the halls of academe where, it asserts, many faculty members employed in top-rated business schools and topnotch economics departments also serve or have served on the boards of major financial corporations, and espouse the viewpoint, to students, i.e., future leaders, that deregulation of the financial sector -- a major culprit behind the 2008 meltdown -- is sound policy. The film was, largely, a strong and frightening documentary, yet ended on a weak note. The actor Matt Damon, who served as the film's narrator, tells the audience that Americans should fight for a new kind of government, while the Statue of Liberty luxuriates in its brave stance, having been filmed, presumably, from a helicopter. It was a mixed message, at best: the voice of a wealthy actor imploring an amorphous "us" to buck for change, while an overly familiar, green and rippling French donation poses for a closeup taken from the cargo bay of an expensive, whirling gadget. The inability of the filmmaker to properly close the film unwittingly serves as a metaphor for the nation's political quagmire. The film probably meant to underscore the need for an "independent" but significant third party to arise, one to steer us Americans with the simplicity of good ideas, but it doesn't explore that slant. It doesn't ask whether independent politics are even possible, in the era of our Wall Street governance. Are we stuck, that is, with corrupt financial leadership that seems to -- magically -- reappoint itself?