Friday, June 25, 2010

How Democracy Works Now (2)

More reactions to the films featured in the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. Two nights ago was the final film in the 12-part series called "How Democracy Works Now." These 12 films were made over a six year period in which the filmmakers obsessively followed the United States Senate's efforts to address immigration reform, particularly from the point of view of the Senate's then leader on these issues - Edward M. Kennedy. As pointed out in an earlier post, this legislative process does not just involve the senators but also very much includes the staffs of the senators and a variety of interest groups committed to immigration reform.

The lesson about how democracy works now is ironically that democracy still works as it has always worked - through the building of interpersonal relationships and in relentless pursuit of what is possible, not what is ideal. Those relationships that in some cases take many years to build are delicate and easily undermined. They must be attended to with care and devotion and they must never be overworked or exploited to excess. Interestingly, that Master of the Senate - Lyndon Baines Johnson - was a consummate politician by virtue of his relationships with other senators. It was LBJ's willingness to do whatever it took to get legislation passed that in many ways resulted in America's finest hour with respect to justice and equality and yet one of its darkest hours when it came to the fine art of persuasion, an art that Johnson practiced with such ruthlessness that he strained it to its breaking point, leading arrogantly to the tragedy of Vietnam.

Today, there is no one in the Senate like LBJ. It is both terrible and wonderful that this is the case. But on the whole when it comes to improving the quality of people's lives through federal legislation, I would have to say that the absence of a legislative genius like LBJ, however ruthless, is more terrible than wonderful. But I could easily be persuaded that exactly the opposite is also true.

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