Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Nostalgia Blvd.

I found it slightly amusing to read the Senators and Congressmen hearkening for a more distant time in the Smith reading, nostalgic for the days when they could legislate without having to talk to their constituents or deal with interest groups, and back when they could go to dinner parties with their colleagues and all of their wives. I see their point and during particularly tense moments of the 111th Congress when the Republicans wielded the filibuster as a haymaker, there were a lot of articles written about how all of the 'civility' of Tip O'Neil or Lyndon Johnson's era are long gone. But stodgy nostalgia only goes so far, and reading these legislators whine about people crowding the nation's capital as social mobility became possible for more people in the country feels a little tone deaf to me. Particularly when you remember that these Senators and Congressmen who could do nothing but think about the good old days where good old boys themselves, unfailingly wealthy white males reacting to a country that was starting to make itself a

The insights into the Reagan presidency were fascinating, as well. Smith's descriptions of the relative lack of power Reagan had at so many different points during his presidency, even though today revisionist history paints him as an instinctive cowboy who floated around the White House putting out crisis after crisis with nothing more than Midwestern sensibility and a staunch belief in supply side economics.

Thinking about the real limits of executive power (even if in some sectors, such as national security, power is being concentrated more and more in the executive branch) as opposed to its perceived boundlessness won't stop being relevant. Even looking at something like President Obama's State of the Union speech. An unbelievable amount of focus was put on the SOTU by the media, with every commentator on every channel from CNN to Fox News to Telemundo to ESPN having to register an opinion on whether they thought it was a good speech or not, whether it accomplished what Obama needed it to accomplish. But the fact is, people never remember SOTU speeches, even though every year it gets a ton of hype, because tomorrow morning, things will go back to business as usual. Tomorrow morning, Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill will re-draw their lines in the sand and continue playing chicken with the country's future, because even the most articulate and forceful of presidents, capable of reducing the Speaker of the House to tears (alright, so that's not actually much of an accomplishment), isn't going to change that.

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