Thursday, November 04, 2004

“I had a farm in Africa…”

The Movie: Out of Africa, 1985 (Kurt Luedtke, screenwriter, from the book by Isak Dinesen; Sydney Pollack, dir.)
Who says it: Meryl Streep as Karen Blixen, aka the author Isak Dinesen
The context: This is the first line of both the movie and the book, as Dinesen starts to tell us the story of her time in Africa.
How to use it: To mock yourself when remembering past glories. To be really effective, you have to use the accent: “I haad a fahrm in Ahfrika…”

My friends/hosts/landlords, Anna and Tarren, leave today for three weeks in Africa, visiting friends who are currently posted to Lesotho. See, even Republicans are leaving the country! (Okay, cheap shot.) They're leaving just as we're about to get the first snow of the season. I can't wait to see what Dizzy thinks of it.

Today I have a serious pile of work to catch up on, because all I did yesterday was exchange e-mails and instant messages with friends, and obsess over political commentary -- Salon, the New York Times, Andrew Sullivan (not a good man, but a smart one), etc., etc. My friend Carla, in Singapore, pointed me to Nicholas Kristof's column in yesterday's Times. I completely agree with that piece, but then I also agree with Thomas's Friedman's column today.

I have a couple of last thoughts on this election -- not last thoughts, but the last ones I'm going to post. At least for today.

This is not the first time our country has been deeply divided over fundamental moral questions whose answers seemed obvious in retrospect -- the emancipation of slaves, fair treatment of immigrants, voting rights for women, and even whether we should enter the Second World War all had passionate opponents who were not evil but were dead wrong.

We got through those issues -- and we'll get through the current ones -- because the people who designed our system of government planned ahead for just these situations.

I talked, or e-mailed, with a couple of people yesterday who had some pretty wild fears about what a second Bush administration might bring. I sympathize with these fears, but everyone needs to take a deep breath and remember that our government is not a monolith. It's a deliberately complicated, inefficient network of checks and balances that is designed to prevent the tyranny of the majority.

The President alone has limited power; even a legislature dominated by his own party has the power to stop him, censure him, override him. The executive branch agencies theoretically implement the President's policies and the laws passed by Congress, but for better or worse, these agencies are actually run by long-entrenched civil servants reluctant to make any big changes. And the individual states retain a great deal of authority over the details of our daily lives -- things like marriage, reproductive rights, legal redress, consumer protection.

So my advice to my friends who are grieving over Tuesday's returns is just this: politics is local. You can change the system from within, and it starts at the neighborhood level. My friends in Los Angeles are some of the smartest people I've ever known, and guys, you should be running for office. This is all too important to be left to the people who ran the student council.


Madley said...

Glad you did all the reading, because what you wrote was the most concise and pointed response to the election I've read yet.

Anonymous said...

Bravo!! From your token democtrat uncle on your moms side!!