Joseph Wiseman died back on October 19. He was 91. You’ll be forgiven if his name isn’t top of mind. After all, he was only what they call a
character actor. It’s a label that has always mystified me. Isn’t playing characters exactly what all actors do? Whatever. Wiseman’s career spanned almost seven decades, and he was superb
at his craft. I remember taking note of
him first in Elia Kazan’s classic Viva
Zapata. But his best known
role came ten years later when he played Dr.
No in the first, and some feel best, James Bond film. So we may not all remember his name,
but who could forget that emblematic 1962 performance? Despite Wiseman’s
demise, an invigorated Dr. No remains
with us, especially these days.
As we approach the final weeks of 2009 and await a vote on the Senate
healthcare bill, I don’t think of Ben Bernanke, Time’s Person of the Year, but
of Dr No. When we looked toward the inauguration of President Obama last
December and of a widened majority for Democrats in both the House and Senate,
we had high hopes for the year to come.
We had a leader who seemed bent on ending divisiveness and a Congress
that finally could address some long smoldering problems and do so with decisiveness. That hasn’t quite happened. This is not to suggest that there
weren’t significant accomplishments across many fronts, but each has fallen
short, been less (sometimes much less) than it might or should have been.
Yes we can. How quickly a euphoric chant can fade
into distant memory, or more accurately be forced off the stage. As controversial as he was, George W.
Bush could count on a few Democrats, often more than a few, to support The President on matters of national
interest, including his budget busting tax cuts and ill conceived venture into
Iraq. That was not to be for
Barack Obama. Considering that this President came in with a decisive popular and Electoral College
victory compared with Bush’s disputed elevation, that’s really
astounding. In some measure of
course it reflects the unintended consequences of the Democrats regaining
power, much of it at the expense of the few moderate
Republicans that were still around.
In fact, while the now majority party is even more diversified, the GOP is increasingly
homogeneous; a party that is ideologically right of right.
It’s been clear from the early votes on rescuing a tanking economy to
this moment that Republicans have made a strategic decision to play Dr. No. They have always been better than Democrats at finding the
right battle cries and preemptive self-serving descriptors – partial birth abortion, death tax – but
now they have imposed a single voice rule that is truly impressive and equally disquieting. It demands lockstep adherence to the
party line with an ever-present threat of primary challenges to any elected
official to strays from their now clearly defined reservation. It’s a calculated gamble that may pay
off ideologically in the short term and perhaps even at the polls in 2010, but
a high risk calculation nonetheless.
It’s a stance that in the end is neither good from them or, I would
argue, for us.
Thoughtful opposition and alternative ideas are a necessary component in
making democracy work best. It
isn’t merely checks and balances that are required but a broadening and
enrichment of legislation. By
catering to their so-called ideological base, it has been said that the
Republicans are marginalizing themselves and embedding their minority status
into concrete. Predictions like
that are often the product of wishful thinking or one of those media inventions
aimed at hyping and insuring the drama of those critical revenue-producing
election cycles. What astounds me and challenges credulity is that there is not a single Republican Senator
ready to vote for better healthcare.
What’s going on with Snowe and Collins from Maine or the otherwise non-ideological
(onetime mayor) Lugar of Indiana? One
has to wonder how these people, and probably some unnamed others, really feel about their actions, how they can look themselves in the mirror. It’s truly hard to forgive them for seemingly
thinking more about their own reelection than the good of their fellow citizens,
so many of them lacking healthcare.
No Profiles in Courage here.
And Dr. No is not limited to
Republicans. The duplicitous
arrogance of Joe Lieberman and the personal religiously motivated stance of Ben
Nelson who have used unvarnished blackmail to gain their 15 minutes of fame is
equally reprehensible. The pious
Senator from Connecticut may deny influence by the fat cat Insurance companies
that make their home in his state. Yes and there is a Santa and the Red Sea really parted at the raising of a staff. Nelson’s stance, in this case used for
his own leverage and display of self-importance, represents yet another assault
on the wall of separation between church and state. These two men apparently are not going to stand in the way
of passing a bill, but must be held accountable for a bill that is
significantly less than it should have been. In that Lieberman may be the worst offender because his
stance denying a public option or an extension of Medicare affects the underlying
structure of the system, delaying the inevitable and destined to hurt a lot of
people in the interim. Nelson’s
draconian abortion funding restrictions may well be Unconstitutional.
Come let us reason together. These words have faded even more into
history than yes we can. They were spoken by Lyndon Johnson, a
man who knew how to reach legislative consensus but who in the end may be responsible
for sewing the very seeds of division that plague us now. It’s not too soon to suggest that the poison of mistrust in
this country began with Viet Nam, a war that absolutely tore us apart. It was a time of hardening positions
for both citizens and politicians, something that now has morphed into an
environment driven and characterized by conflicting absolutes. He was Vice President at Dr. No’s release, but assuredly could
never have dreamed how enduring the idea embodied in the villainous Ian Fleming named
character could be. Watching this
year’s events has truly been experiencing a movie in real time. Don't expect an Academy Award for this one.