What Star Wars Can Teach Us about the Fiscal Cliff Fiasco

What Star Wars Can Teach Us about the Fiscal Cliff Fiasco January 3, 2013

I know. We’ve just about had it with the whole fiscal cliff fiasco. Maybe that’s why most of us want the words “fiscal cliff” banned from the English language. We should be frustrated with our national leaders. In the words of my own Congressman LaTourette:

“This is disgusting, and everybody involved should be embarrassed,” said Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio), marching glumly from a GOP conference meeting in the House Monday evening. “It’s not even small ball — it’s a pingpong ball,” he said of the latest deal the Senate was working on.

It also raises the frustrating question: where have all our leaders gone? But our well-deserved frustration with our national leaders — of both parties — may foster a desperation more dangerous even than their own fecklessness.

Permit me to explain with a little help from, of all places, Star Wars.

Lessons from Lucas

Heading into the New Year, I decided to spend some time with my boys revisiting the first three films in the Star Wars saga (and by first three I mean the most recent three). The plot, you may recall, revolves around the crumbling of the Republic as wars break out, Congress proves inept and mired in bureacracy, and the people lose confidence in the democratic process. Sounds vaguely familiar.

Eventually, out of frustration with the crippled political process and aided by lies about the Jedi perpetrated by the state-controlled media, the Senate votes to grant the Chancellor dictatorial powers. Out of frustration with their failed leaders, they choose what they think will be the lesser of two evils. They choose safety over risk, security over crisis, and clarity over chaos. Or so they think.

As the Senate grants sweeping power to the Chancellor (actually a dark Sith lord) to a standing ovation, Senator Amidala gives one of most memorable lines ever to come from such an unexpected place: “So this is how liberty dies — with thunderous applause.”

If Only They Had Light Sabers

We should be frustrated with our national leaders. When I think of the ones in charge at the moment, I quickly conclude that we’re scraping the bottom of the leadership barrel. Where have all the leaders gobe? Has the cost in media exposure become so great that our best leaders pass on politics? Are they not getting paid enough to attract the finest talent? Or is it a matter of character and integrity? Do we need statesmen (and woman) instead of politicians?

There is no wisdom in the haphazard way they are leading our nation. Dashing from cliff to cliff, crisis to crisis is not leading. It’s barely governing. It’s like a firefighter dashing back and forth to splash a bucket of water on a wildfire. Our national debt is that wildfire. The wind is picking up, and we’re almost out of water. Soon our leaders will have few options left with which to put out the blaze. But still they run frantically, all the while telling everyone else to remain calm. At least they look busy and that makes for great photo-ops.

Michael Auslin argues that we are “unlearning” government and that A Hail Mary Government Cannot Stand: “Ad hoc government cannot survive, especially if it eats away at and replaces long-established custom, represented by a written constitution.” I think using ad hoc may be generous in describing the rushed 154-page deal that Senators — members of what is allegedly the world’s most distinguished deliberative body [snort] — had only three minutes to review before casting a vote. Senator Paul rightly objected on the grounds that he prefers reading bills, and not passing them, to find out what’s in them.

So This Is How Liberty Dies

Failed leadership creates a vacuum that history tells us will be filled by someone who can lead with a clear sense of direction, even if it’s not exactly the direction we had in mind. Think of the decline of the Roman Republic into chaos as leaders squabbled and bickered everyone into confusion. Out of the chaos emerged a strong leader, a benevolent dictator who would set all right once more in the Empi– oh, I mean Republic.

Failed leadership creates the ideal conditions for tyrrany. It is the cry of tyrants everywhere to promise safety and security in exchange for freedom and opportunity. Hitler did it. And he got away with it largely because the people were so frustrated that they were willing to look the other way if it meant a return to clarity and prosperity. It was as if they had finally found someone who knew what he was doing and could get something — anything — done. So they released their freedoms and breathed a collective, though short-lived, sigh of relief.

I realize I’m painting with broad brush strokes. There were other factors in those situations, as well. But the rise of dictators seems always to come when the people have grown so frustrated with their present failed leadership, that they’re willing to take anybody who can show the way. 

Come to think of it, President Obama may be the best of the bunch because he is actually making progress in his agenda. Although I believe that agenda will damage freedom, at least he’s getting stuff done because he believes in his cause. Not sure I can say that about many of the other leaders in Washington.

And we’re running out of time.

America may soon reach the point where political freedom — not to mention a trash-laden planet — can be saved only by a spiritual freedom strong enough to say no to false consumer freedoms that lead only to debt and the endless acumulation of junk and waste. ~ Os Guinness

 UPDATE: One astute commentator pointed out this perspective from George Lucas on dictators and the US in an interview from the vaults of The New York Times, dated February, 1999. Interesting, it is:

The United States, especially the media, is eating its own tail. The media has a way of leveling everything in its path, which is not good for a society. There’s no respect for the office of the Presidency. Not that we need a king, but there’s a reason why kings built large palaces, sat on thrones and wore rubies all over. There’s a whole social need for that, not to oppress the masses, but to impress the masses and make them proud and allow them to feel good about their culture, their government and their ruler so that they are left feeling that a ruler has the right to rule over them, so that they feel good rather than disgusted about being ruled. In the past, the media basically worked for the state and was there to build the culture. Now, obviously, in some cases it got used in a wrong way and you ended up with the whole balance of power out of whack. But there’s probably no better form of government than a good despot.

Star Wars fans, feel free to respond. So does that mean Disney is now taking over the world?

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  • Joe Canner

    Who is to blame for the fact that the House voted to raise taxes on the rich (without cutting spending) only two weeks after *rejecting* Boehner’s “Plan B” which would have raised taxes on the rich AND cut spending?

    (BTW, I readily admit that gridlock in Washington can be blamed on extremists on both sides, but somehow the GOP has managed to corner the market on bad publicity regarding its extremists.)

    • I could not agree more on the GOP’s bungling of the optics and publicity. They have been consistently outmessaged.

  • Doug

    Reading this made me think of the situation in Iraq 10-20 years ago where anyone showing leadership potential would be eliminated to prevent any chance of organized resistance. That is how it’s done in a dictatorship, in a democracy you eliminate real leaders from politics by dumbing down the voting public to only vote for people who will give them stuff instead of leaders who will make hard choices that may be unpopular but best for the public.

    • I think there is more truth to your comment than I’d like to admit. Thanks, Doug.

  • Steve Ruble

    You’ve definitely picked up the message Lucas wanted you to get from Star Wars!

    “That’s sort of why I say a benevolent despot is the ideal ruler. He can actually get things done.” – Lucas, talking to the NYT (http://partners.nytimes.com/library/film/032199lucas-wars-excerpts.html)

    I recommend reading this reflection on the ethos of Star Wars, by SF author David Brin. It changed my opinion of the films substantially: http://www.salon.com/1999/06/15/brin_main/

  • Jay Saldana

    What I always find extremely fascinating when reading polemics from conservatives is the assumption of righteousness and the absences of responsibility.
    Conservatives have spent reams, reams of audio tape and news print arguing against all compromise and seeing the cataclysmic end just around the corner. Even here you can’t resist –
    ” America may soon reach the point where political freedom — not to mention a trash-laden planet”
    Take any of your blogs, Bill, any five of them and show me one (OK , I can think of one or two ) that don’t have some apocalyptic statement in it. You won’t find very many.

    Our politicians can’t lead, especially conservative leaders becasue if they make a mistake counter to the current bull horn opinion – if a mistake it is – they are primaried. Told the end is coming… Told they are not Christian.. on and on it goes….. You ask your politicians to run contrary to black and white facts all the time. Taxes are too high. really? History does not demonstrate that. Oh, you mean, I don’t want my taxes spent in a way that I don’t approve of. But you didn’t say that, did you? You are playing a polemic. You are doing a political statement by demonizing the other side. Except once you get in the habit of demonizing the other side you begin to demonize ANYONE who doesn’t agree with you even if they are on your side. And it works, really well – in the short run. You are in control – except for the unintended consequences. The result is you end up with political leaders who are like a child who is afraid to do anything becasue they are afraid of being beaten (pun intended).

    You have empowered the Homosexual agenda, and the Liberals. Conservatives did that. This is Newt Gingrich’s gift to conservatives. Let me show you how.
    Everybody is wrong but you so “everybody” goes out and joins together to protect themselves against you. You do it long enough and you end up with a regional white evangelical party of conservatives and everyone else on the other side. You end up creating the circumstances where a man who all political knowledge says should not be elected president is elected cause the groups you demonized banded together against you.

    And so here you are blaming your elected leaders – men you have conditioned to behave in a certain way – for a situation you continue to perpetuate. To top it off, you are a victim! Poor Us! No responsibility. The devil has done it to us again. Those “Liberals”! Those who ever’s turn it is to be demonized now “did it” to you once more – again.
    Please stop! Or you will disappear! We need you!
    Have a God filled day!

    • Jay,

      So if I understand you correctly, I’m in danger of being pulled over to the dark side? Because conservatives have caused these problems by speaking up? Sorry, I don’t buy it. And I simply do not agre with your logic that the election results were a reaction to conservatives “demonizing” anyone. What is your solution than? Should conservatives shut up and go with the flow?

      Think about it, the fiscal deal we got stuck with was 40:1 new taxes to spending cuts — and that was WITH conservatives making their voice heard. Are you suggesting that it would have been better if they had been quiet? That’s just silly talk, my friend.

      But thanks, as always.

  • I think it very interesting that Disney comes into mind. I’m thinking of the Disney theme parks, where the inhabitants are silent giant caricatures of movie characters…in other words fake representations of false realities.

    • Well, you definitely went “off beat on purpose” on that one! 🙂 But they are real manifestations of imagined realities. And what are you saying, frogs don’t talk where you live?

  • rumitoid

    “The question is whether religion is a reconciling participant in world affairs and American life, or whether it’s divisive. To the extent that there has been a marriage of the Republican party with the Christian right, I think religion has been a divisive factor in political life,” says John Danforth, an Episcopal priest and former Republican senator from Missouri.

    From anoother site:
    “Now leaders of the highly organized Christian right have injected into America’s political debate some divisive religious questions. The most vivid examples involve sexual preferences, which obviously have highly personal and emotional overtones.

    “Since almost all Protestants now condone divorce as an acceptable fact of life, and rarely mention fornication or adultery — even though these acts were repeatedly condemned by Jesus — it is much easier and more convenient for heterosexual Christians to focus on homosexuality, refusing to acknowledge that this is a sin never mentioned by Jesus.

    “From the New Testament, it is clear that leaders of the early church treated homosexual acts the same as fornication, prostitution, adultery, selfishness, slander, drunkenness and many other transgressions.

    “The apostle Paul makes it plain that homosexual tendencies, along with other temptations, should have been resisted: “Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6: 9,10). Then he immediately goes on to say that all these acts had been forgiven.

    “The driving issues in the Republican primary campaign have made a strange and disturbing shift from economic and budget items to divisive social issues. Pressures from the more extreme religious activists have pushed almost every candidate to demagoguery, emphasizing vicious attacks on gay men and women, ostensibly based on the teachings of Jesus Christ. ”

    Soemthing to think about:
    After a lengthy and in-depth worldwide study of countries that outlaw abortions or allow it under law, roughly the same amount of abortions per births, 37%, are performed legally or illegally. The main difference between where it is lawful and unlawful is the mortality rate and major health risks to the mother. Is Repealing Roe vs. Wade really the answer?

    What injecting these two talking points of the Christian Right into politics has done is to infect the system with uncompromising and unyielding opposition. Permenant trenches are dug. Extremists are given sway. One party is demonized while the other is smugly self-righteous. Ugly and slanderous attacks on the president become acceptable commentary. (Bill, please research Christian forums and blogs. You will quickly see what I mean.) The intransigence and inability to act by our leaders, I feel, can be directly laid at the feet of the Christian Right. It has slowly insinuated itself for forty years, starting with the passage of Roe vs. Wade and the Moral Majority, inculcating each succeeding Congress with a growing divisiveness. Our political landscape is no longer a reasoned debate over policies or a respected difference of views but a battle of good against evil. If the Muslims were insisting on Sharia Law, should their religious preferences and beliefs be given the same consideration as yours? Why not?

    Christians have absolutely no place in politics. Have you forgotten the Christian inspired debacle of Prohibition? Look to change their hearts, not their political party.

    • — From the New Testament, it is clear that leaders of the early church treated homosexual acts the same as fornication, prostitution, adultery, selfishness, slander, drunkenness and many other transgressions.

      What’s your point? Are you castigating the modern church or saying none of it matters? I agree for the most part, except that the impact on culture is potentially far more signifcant or at least in a more visible way.

  • rumitoid

    I thought the point was quite clear. You are castigating our leaders for their lack of leadership and I am saying this situation got its impetus and direction from the Christian Right’s marriage to the Republican Party. I am saying that what the Christian Right offers the country is a deeper wedge and not the message of Christ. It is true that the message of love will divide because it is not tied to worldly loyalties but has sole allegiance to the kingdom of heaven.

    Demonizing the Left has been especially vociferous for this first Black president by Christians everywhere, in all media. The Republicans fear that cooperating with these “minions of Satan” will look capitulation with evil. Their response in the House: do nothing. Their response in the Senate: filibuster. Meanwhile the frenzied Tea Party, like the departed Alan West and Joe Walsh, and the present likes of Michele Bachman, make the Democrats out to be “America-haters,” Communists, Socialists, stonewalling any chance for compromise.

    I hope I have made myself clear.

  • rumitoid

    Bill, you do not have any way of knowing what amazing restraint I have used about the true nature of this predicament and your complicity in it. But you are not alone. Christianity has generally shown itself to be as stupid and mean-spirited over the past two elections and the opposing party as any Atheist could possibly deam of. You, obviously, do not see this weakness.

    If we look at all the judgment scenarios in the Bible, none ot them are about going after homosexuality or abortion, or reprieves for hidden in the Law tax breaks for the rich or a cache of automatic weapons with large magazines for the faithful. What matters to Christ, what is given the ultimate priority for our lives, and the scale of our judgment for this life, is how we treat “the least of these.” Reading the gospels, nothing else seems to matter, both for how we are to live and how we are to be judged.

    Sin is sin, Bill. Separation from God, death. But the Christian Right has thoroughly perverted the message of Christ, making it a condemnation of a a particular infraction. Where is mercy and forgiveness? You and your ilk have made the message of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross into a political football. I am amazed and sickened that you cannot see this.

    In all your posts, you seem to willingly and enthusiastically carry the Republican agenda. Conservative=godliness. I have yet to see you voice as much concern for the “entitlement crew” or the truly disadvantaged.

    Every Bill and vote is utter poppycock to a government that does not recognize “the least of these” is central to policy. The Republicans believe that the least of these are the problem.

    • Sigh….

      I think you must be assuming that if I do not post about it, I do not care about it? Or that caring for walking out our faith in public life means that we cannot or should not walk it out in private life? One key disagreement we have is the nature of that public/private split. I don’t think it’s nearly as great as you do apparently. Not trying to put words in your mouth.

      The impression I get from your comments is that the religious Left (speaking broadly here) does not actively speak up for any of its causes. Only the Right seeks to do so. That’s simply not true, of course. So I must be misunderstanding you.

      I happen to believe that much of the Left’s ideology is inconsistent with what Jesus has revealed throughout the entirety of Scriptures and does great harm to “the least of these” while claiming, perhaps sincerely, to be doing just the opposite. There is a fundamental difference in how left/right view the nature of man at the core of such debates.

      Do we have any common ground from which we could start having a more rational conversation? Maybe we should start there.

      Thank you.

  • rumitoid

    The Christian Right has already been observed as a blight on politics, yet it now seeks asylum, sanctuary, as a “woeful sinner” who just happens to be able to seriously affect a certain region with undisclosed weapons.

  • rumitoid

    The above post was an accident. I do not disgree with it; it is only a matter of timing.

  • rumitoid

    Bill, it is thoroughly obvious how blind you and your ilk are to the extreme damage you are inadvertently perpetrating against Christ and his people and the message.