Through a Lens Darkly
Obamacare Questions: Windmills or Giants?
While the production values and stagey style are a bit dated, Scott's easy charm, the wittiness of the script, and the light-hearted tone the film maintains throughout more than make up for its limitations. But like "Don Quixote" itself, the film has a serious streak. Much like Cervantes' addled hero, Playfair is more charming and valuable in his insanity than he ever was in "real life," causing us to wonder if a world populated exclusively by realists is really a better place than one sprinkled through with idealistic imaginaries.
In today's poisonous political climate, it is easy for pragmatists such as myself to dismiss the idealistic jousting of others as mere foolishness; we cynically remind them that "politics is a practical profession," and that the very process of engaging in political dialogue relegates one to the realm of the "possible" rather than the "ideal." But while some battles are really-and-truly quixotic, it grows easier to over-diagnose the good Don's addled brain-fever with each passing day, and the results of such misdiagnoses are dangerous indeed.
Take the HHS mandate battle, for example: as ObamaCare moved inexorably through the House and Senate, I remember cries that death panels and government-mandated birth control were not far behind. For some, excited by the opportunities for good presented in the president's vision of universal health care (and willing to cede some ground for the sake of those goods), such Cassandras were easily dismissed as "blindly tied to their ideals"—people whose obsessive, idealized view of reality prevented them from engaging in the business of compromise so essential to political actions. Now, a few years later, I'm sure some wish they'd been a bit more willing to tilt at the ObamaCare windmill.
There is an undeniable absurdity to creating giants where there are none, yet it is just as common to reduce the very real giants before us to mere windmills for the sake of political expediency (and to assuage the pricking of our consciences for those battles we have already lost). As the current HHS mandate battle reminds us, we can all be grateful for those who stand athwart the sometimes-dangerous advancement of "progress." It is easy to become so immersed in the day-to-day details of the political process that we lose track of the bigger picture, and it is these ridiculed (often ridiculous) Quixotes who force us to examine our principles more closely, reminding us that we must stand up for some things if we wish to stand for anything at all.
Jousting at windmills is a fool's errand, but relegating all such confrontations to the realm of fanciful foolishness is an even greater folly. We must be cautious in dismissing the political windmills around us too easily; remember, they just might be giants.
(They Might Be Giants is available through Netflix's Watch Instantly. Interestingly it is not available on DVD, so the streaming route is the only option this time around.)
Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. He blogs at Crisis Magazine, where he also contributes feature articles on a variety of topics.