Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Magnificent Ambersons

What happens when an aristocracy faces change not of its own design and a rapidly expanding democracy? In The Magnificent Ambersons, Orson Welles depicts the response of the ruling class when facing a terminal crisis in leadership. The protagonist, George Minafer, is a spoiled young man secure of his place because of his old family name and connections. Disequilibrium results when he meets and is charmed by a young Lucy whose father has come into new wealth through the automobile industry. In the economic acceleration following the Civil War, landowners were displaced by men able to harness new technologies.

Early on, I mistook Hillary and Bill Clinton's obstinate defiance as a marker for their own particular psychological defects. But over at Jack and Jill Politics, Rikyrah has nailed it. Folks who say that there is no difference between Democrat and Republican are wrong. The Republicans had there own version of Obama in the form of Mike Huckabee but he was quickly marginalized in favor of a candidate who enjoyed less enthusiastic support but wasn't a threat to their pecuniary interest like Governor Huckabee and didn't arouse the tensions associated with Mitt Romney's Mormon faith.

On the Democrat side, Barack Obama's ability to outmaneuver Hillary Rodham Clinton poses an existential threat to the dominance of her ultra rich supporters. For what is the value of being a multimillionaire if an upstart politician can circumvent you and gather more money by appealing directly to voters? What is the use of controlling a traditional media outlet if a politician's supporters can use the Internet to reach the masses without filters and counter skewed portraits?

What has traditionally been marketed as a democracy has really been a carefully fashioned product given to the public and called a choice. Sometimes the leash guiding the voter is bypassed in favor of direct control the way it was in 2000 with Bush versus Gore. But you can't do that more than once a generation so for the most part we're gently led toward our heart's desire. The money men and women have divided their purses fairly evenly with a modest tilt toward Republicans.

But a renaissance of democracy and open source input has challenged this approach. It was only through Youtube that Ron Paul was able to moderately overcome obstacles to getting access on network and cable television. And Obama's political capital is derived in great measure from his skillful use of the Internet. That does not obviate the truth that Barack has been carefully vetted and has his own crew of embedded insiders.

There is a difference, however, between a realist willing to accommodate a new and more inclusive and transparent order with a revanchist unwilling to give up a lost cause based on political infighting and brokered arrangements suited to the era before the blogosphere. Despite all the talk about enfranchising the voters, Hillary and her supporters are seeking to do just the opposite at this summer's convention. But let's hope that not too many accept the largess Hillary's closest friends. After all, they were willing to drop $12 million on Michigan and I'm sure they'll bring their wallets with them to Denver.

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