Saturday, November 02, 2013

Written Yesterday

April 27, 2011
Charles Isherwood, in his New York Times review of the Broadway revival of Born Yesterday, feels the play is creaky.  It was a huge hit in the 40s, but it's true, comedies from that era often feel dated.  But at the end of the review (and I do mean the end of the review--it's over and Isherwood keeps going), he sees fit to lecture us on politics.

More than a half-century of Washington scandals later, Americans absorb disillusion with every morning sip of Starbucks coffee. [....] Now the idea that two spunky small fry could successfully fight against the influence of money in politics feels decidedly quaint.

[Character] Harry Brock, on the other hand, with his proud vulgarianism and insistence on his fundamental right to bend the law to his monetary will, feels unpleasantly timeless. [....]

“I don’t see what I’m doin’ so wrong,” Harry grouses when his methods are questioned. “This is America ain’t it? Where’s all this free enterprise they’re always talkin’ about?”

Add a few g’s here and there — or maybe don’t? — and that could be the windup to a speech given by any number of C.E.O.’s turned politicians, aimed at finding common ground with the common man. Today Harry wouldn’t be spending his millions to buy himself a senator. He’d be spending them on his own campaign to become one. And I wouldn’t bet against him.

1)  There were plenty of scandals back then, and, if anything, politics was dirtier. It was still the era of the smoke-filled back room, and the political machines that ran cities and states make today's corruption seem almost sweet. If the public felt differently about politics then, perhaps it was due more to how government was portrayed in the media and popular culture.  Or maybe the public just accepted the corruption more easily.  Or maybe with the growth in government, it's harder not to be cynical about it today.

2)  Two small fry have never had it easy fighting corruption, but, thanks to the internet and other technology, I'm guessing they do it a lot better now than they used to. When everyone's got a blog or a Twitter account or a Facebook page, it's a lot tougher to slip stuff past the public. I could name quite a few powerful people who have been brought down in the past decade because of something that began with a few small fry who didn't want to take it any more.

3)  Harry Brock's lines show us a crook who doesn't see what's wrong with getting what he wants from politicians he's given money to.  Yes, this is timeless, but these days (partly thanks to campaign finance laws), it's less about individual rich guys and more about groups that give money. And though Isherwood may not know it, most of the biggest donors among these are generally supported by The New York Times.

4)  Maybe I'm missing something, but I'm guessing if a rich guy is trying to appeal to the "common man," whining about free enterprise won't do it.

5) Isherwood's topper is nowadays, the rich guy wouldn't buy the politician, he'd be the politician. a)  Once again, this is partly due to campaign finance laws. b) There have always been a fair number of well-off people in politics--FDR comes to mind.  Guess that's okay because he wasn't a corrupt capitalist like Harry Brock, who had to fight his way to the top, but a child of privilege. c)  Most tycoons don't run for high office, but if they wish to serve the public that way, more power to them.


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