Sunday 27 April 2014

Khovanskygate: Utopia, actually

It's been a poleaxing week, in a good way - working backwards, revelatory later Tippett from the phenomenal Steven Osborne and the poised Heath Quartet at the Wigmore last night, an exhausting but instructive and probably unrepeatable double bill of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, with many of the same Russian actors in both, on Thursday - and my introduction to the unique world of Graham Vick's Birmingham Opera Group in the Freedom Tent of the People's Park, Cannon Hill on Tuesday. Courtesy of BBC Radio 3's invitation, it was an evening I hope I'll remember clearly for the rest of my life. All the following production photos are by Donald Cooper.

The Utopia I mean certainly isn't the solution of Musorgsky's Old (here True, in other words religious extremist) Believers, a desperate and far from positive mass suicide. In fact all propositions fail in the world of Khovanshchina, set in a time of troubles in some ways like our own transitional, confused and confusing age, as Vick and his translator Max Hoehn understand so well. No, I'm referring to the possibilities realised in this astounding project, above all the unbelievable success of involving local people of all creeds and colours as chorus and actors and bringing us all as standing, shunted-around spectators to the table of a hopeless debate about the future.

Vick's genius, as I said in a rather stunned aftermath recorded for yesterday's Music Matters (also available as a download for the next month), is to save the ubiquitous contemporary references - now obligatory in both Khovanshchina and Boris Godunov, full of tiresome cliches in Calixto Bieito's world-today production now out on DVD - from being just about Russia now, where as Vick points out the past has become the present again. I did feel, incidentally, that as featured on the neat little Radio 3 survey he was a touch craven in interview to say that Britain is actually worse: let him try living under Putin, rather than just dropping in as he's about to for his second production of War and Peace at the Mariinsky, which will have to steer clear of similar controversy* (I was there in 1991, as Leningrad was turning back to being St Petersburg again, for his first).

It was a coup in every way to field four fine black singers, three basses and a tenor, to make the power struggle more suggestive of America (and even of the Middle East: Joseph Guyton's coke-sniffing, gun-toting Andrey could be modelled on the sons of several bloody-handed tyrants dead and alive). As are the Christian fundamentalists, while the protesting men evoke Occupy and our own deep trouble with the bankers.

The European riot police are believable, but it's hard to imagine our own bobbies behaving so wildly. But the scene where the Streltsy are harangued by their wives is fun until it all goes sour, so why not enjoy a bit of fantasy with that? Of course it's anything but fun when the young Peter I's advisers show their fangs and dodgy liberal Golitsyn is sent into exile, forced to strip off as he and his supporters are hustled into a van by all-too-familiar balaclavaed gunmen. Shame there wasn't a publicity shot of this scene; perhaps it wouldn't serve Vick's impending trip to Russia too well. Another clever touch, incidentally: while the True Believers wear T shirts bearing the slogan 'Not In This World', a 'terrorist' takes off his combat gear to reveal the slogan 'In This World'

All this takes place on at least a dozen acting spaces inside the huge tent. But there are none of the compromises you might expect. As far as I could tell - and I don't know the work inside out - this was a complete performing version of Shostakovich's orchestration concluded by the quieter ending Stravinsky and Ravel put together for Diaghilev in 1913. There were no supertitles and no amplification. There was a full City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra on a raised platform, fluently conducted by Stuart Stratford; the brass made such an immediate impact that I guessed without knowing that we were hearing Shostakovich's unmistakeable work, and the opening 'Dawn on the Moscow River' rose slowly out of the hubbub, soon stilled, like the most beautiful of morning mists.

We get no further respite of that sort until the final gathering of the True Believers, with whom we now sympathise even though we know what they've stood for.  The gathering apocalypse is also chillingly evoked in Ron Howell's choreography by the perverted sexuality and forced nightclub dancing of far-right leader Ivan Khovansky's failing campaign before his murder

In the earlier stages there's plenty of spirit and humour. I've always been a bit bored by the opening scene until the big bass and tenor Khovanskys appear; not here with Paul Nilon's superlative Scribe-as-hack-journalist. And the meeting of princes with Old Believer Dosifey in Golitsyn's palace becomes a riveting telly debate with humorous touches from Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts, his every word superbly projected.

Often, of course, you don't get the line up of sacred monsters you'd expect at the Mariinsky or Bolshoy, but each fine singer is totally inside his or her role. Guyton (pictured above) shows huge promise as an Andrey Khovansky verging on heroic-tenor territory, and Claudia Huckle's Marfa, seen below with Keel Watson as 'father' Dosifey, plays the confused young girl with some moral sense superbly. Her pianissimos in the final scene draw us in still further. I'm not entirely sure about the final solution, but you can't really have a big fire in a tent.

So I'm not exaggerating when I say that not only have I never seen a more gripping Khovanshchina, I've also never experienced a more involving or singular evening at the opera. And it really is for everybody, as the reactions of all sorts on the way out proved. I hope it's filmed or televised; but if not, then I bear in mind Richard Jones's wise words about his Welsh National Opera Mastersingers - that theatre should by its nature be both ephemeral and unforgettable. Ironic in retrospect, because that production is being revamped for English National Opera next season (as we know from Wagnerians gathered to raise funds at the Coliseum, though the formal press announcement of the 2014-15 season is due early tomorrow morning).

One final footnote, framed by photos from a second protest outside the Barbican before an LSO/Gergiev concert once again orchestrated by that superb tactician Peter Tatchell: I recommend you read my brilliant colleague Ismene Brown's commentary on and translation of an interview with Vladimir Medinsky, Russia's horrifying 'Culture Minister' (my inverted commas)  - the same who said Tchaikovsky was not gay. Read more on the sort of creature we're talking about in this 2012 article  - a ridiculous individual in a dangerous position of power not to be confused with the even worse new media controller Dmitry Kisilyov, who is famously on camera declaring that gay people 'should be prohibited from donating blood and sperm. And their hearts, in case they die in a car accident, should be buried or burned as unfit for extending anyone's life.'

So Zhdanovshchina beckons all over again, this time with the veneer of democratic vocabulary Putin has already used to lie and manipulate over Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. Parallels with Hitler's Germany ludicrously exaggerated? I think not.

*It didn't.GV proved courageous in sticking to his contemporary take, and probably won't work in Russia again. He lent me the DVDs of the production, my impressions of which are here, for my Opera in Depth classes, and came to talk to us about it - an inspiring and, of course, at times controversial speaker.


David Damant said...

David - your point about Vick's comment about Britain and Putin's Russia is very very on the ball. These guys ( for Vick is not the only commentator who adopts that sort of view) seem to be blind ( and I am not restricting my comment to the gay scene) - I have been all over the world and some countries including Britain have got it right and so many places have not

But remember also Churchill's words: Democracy is the worst way of running a country - except for all the other ways. The problems we are seeing today in Britain will always be with us, if not identically, then renewed in some way. No one understands macro-economics, or how to handle immigration, or keep some control of the welfare and health bills. All these and other areas will constantly throw up problems and if there are solutions that will cause other problems and anyway loud controversy. All this is made worse by the growth of the social media, which allows many views to be expressed by people who imagine that there is a way to sort a problem out. In same cases there may be but there will always be others . In the meantime we are richer and more sensibly run than in many other countries, and should be happier. But the constant nagging by the media of almost anyone in authority makes satisfaction difficult. None of this will change.

So this is indeed the best of all possible worlds - as the pessimist sees it

David said...

Yes, though it's probably time to downgrade Orwell's two cheers for democracy to one. Bearing in mind that l'argent fait tout both in Russia and here, one could point out certain resemblances in smaller ways, as our guest Debbie was reminding me last night: ie if you protest in Russia, you face a hugely expensive fine, while here if you want to contest a benefit claim, you have to pay too. Justice has decidedly not been done re the banks, and so on...and yet of course it DOES boil down to the question, which system would you rather live under? And all those who loudly reply in loony comments about Russia, but look at what the West did in Iraq, Afghanistan etc, can only do so because they're allowed a voice. Yes, we (or Bush, or Blair etc) squandered our moral high ground and Putin can certainly manipulate that to beat us over the head. But again, I ask - it was clear who the dictator was in Kosovo, Iraq, now Syria...but who were the dictators re Crimea? A fugitive criminal and an imperialist ex-KGB man.

wanderer said...

So THAT"S where she is. Well good greetings and hello to you lot, one and all, and tell her I need to talk about Vietnam next year. Bitte.

David said...

Yes, here we are again, and having sparky chats with a bit of grit thrown in by Oor Debbie who reminds me how much the west is also - if still not as much - at fault. Also discussing your radio silence, over which you'd reassured me.

Still, nothing to say about all the lovely things I've been promulgating to the world? Don't you wish you'd been at Khovanskygate? Doesn't the Beyeler make your mouth water? And I am returning to Dresden on a kind of anniversary in June - will be in Debbie and Derek's enchanted garden again afterwards, though not for the birthday.

David Damant said...

David - in your comments on music and architecture you show an ability and a descriptive power which it is impossible to over praise

Debbie's comment on having to pay for a benefits claim illustrates my earlier point. We have to control the overblown benefits budget. Maybe the rule about paying to contest a claim is not the best way to do it - but something has to be done to deter the easy outflow to those who do not need it. Always always it is the genuine claimant who is brought forward as a reason for criticising the policy of restriction. What about the guys who have been pushing the envelope? How would Debbie get the welfare budget under control? If I were a minister I would ask the main charities to say how to cut 20% from the budgets. That would cause no hardship if targeted correctly. If they accepted they are the experts. If they refused I would dismiss them as irresponsible.

Britain may make mistakes but it is not at fault in principle. And mistakes will always be made, especially as the problems often have no solutions without downsides

Susan Scheid said...

As wanderer said of Debbie (whom I don't know, but somehow feel I do): so THERE he is (meaning wanderer). Now, on to the main post events: Soon as I saw your earlier mention of Khovanskygate, I went straight over to have a listen to Music Matters on the topic. I loved the "people on the street" comments--and that gent's wonderful accent, is that Birmingham-bred? Opera of, by, and for the people, this one clearly was. This, from you, which you also said in some form on Music Matters, was remarkable: "I've also never experienced a more involving or singular evening at the opera." You have seen a whole lot of operas, to say the least, so that is quite a statement, for sure.

Sounds like that Tippett concert was quite the thing (this I have, not only from you, but also from Sophie's blog post irresistibly named Tippett to Ride).

wanderer said...

I especially loved the Renzo Piano who I'm mad about - so not formulaic (Gehry?) but completely attuned to site and function. Basel is very rich.

And Zurich - pity you were dealt the wrong card. Mr Skelton was a splendid Hermann here, and is no stranger to that lovely theatre (Parsifal).

Gergiev tours Sydney and Melbourne with the LSO later this year. I've sent my objections to the SOH only today. Demonstrations likely.

I should be back on the air shortly.

David said...

David - yes, we have to control the benefits budget. But it's risible to tax the poor in this way when the rich were even given a 50p cut: this is why people should be so angry. So much could be ameliorised, whatever you say about 'macro-economics'.

Sue - you'll be astonished by the Tippett Fifth Quartet. I can't wait to get a score of that and the piano sonatas. And this just when King Priam had intrigued but ultimately turned me off him again.

Yes, that sounded like a Brummie to me. I was intrigued to hear he was part of the Chorus With No Name - street folk, as I understood, but from all over. Want to know more.

Wanderer - good on yer. Is there a large Ukrainian community in Sydney, I wonder?

Funny how opinions here still diverge even in the face of outrageous aggression (the luxury of free speech). A colleague on TAD whom I gave carte blanche to review Gergiev's Scriabin - as you know, I'm not attending anything he does and that looks like an indefinite state of affairs - bristled when I suggested he might mention the petition. Turned out he was in favour of the Crimea grab - said I should know the history, and I do, and I think maybe there COULD have been a referendum in due course, but not at gunpoint - and told me he didn't believe in gay marriage. Which was not only a slap in the face but also quite beside the point, since there's no suggestion of it coming to that in Russia.

Can't wait for our Stuart's Otello just announced as part of a wonderful English National Opera season.

Interesting about Gehry - I agree, fabulous on the outside but becoming formulaic and certainly Bard's concert hall is dull as ditchwater within. That IS architecture that dominates the art (though I haven't been to Bilbao).

Have missed your blogging. Debbie sends love, she's just left to buy a space hopper for Derek, who may or may not use it in his impending Berlin production of Punch and Judy.

wanderer said...

I did get to Bilbao when it was just finished, still surrounded by mud, and it was gobsmacking. Then you go to Los Angeles and think - oh, I've seen one of those already. I have to say the interior finishes in LA were rather cheap and nasty, though the acoustic was satisfactory, clean but not too cold (Mahler 7).

I missed the Otello announcement; great news that. The voice is wonderfully mature and has all that role demands. I'm off to check the performance dates, and cast. Mmmm.

The size of the Ukrainain population here I don't know. But they gay press is onto it.

David Damant said...

But what is required is an efficient economy. It is possible that what is called a "horizontal " tax - say everybody and everything taxed at 20% - would lead to more tax revenue and a more vibrant economy ( as in Hong Kong). I do not know whether this would be the case, but I do say that equality and perceived fairness are not the only considerations. Would a poor person prefer to be more equal, or less poor? I suggest the latter. And the tax contribution by the top 1% of earners is now estimated at around 24% of the overall take as opposed to 11% in 1979 when the marginal rate was much higher. I am not suggesting that everything is perfect but the intuitive solutions are not always the best ones

David said...

Hot off the ENO presses, that, wanderer (full details are now on the website; the conference was this morning at 9am). Sue may be excited by news that Peter Sellars is staging The Gospel According to the Other Mary, but as she's seen it already in, was it, New York that may not be so significant. The mind boggles at the thought of a Richard Jones Girl of the Golden West (though as he's already done a postmodern, wonderful Annie Get Your Gun, sadly rejected for Broadway by conservative Americans, it's not so improbable). And his WNO Meistersinger has been resuscitated, though I think with Paterson rather than Bryn. Also worth thinking about.

Royal Opera season excites me less, though we do need a new Guillaume Tell and I'm pleased about Mahagonny, though wish it was directed by Jones (even if John Fulljames is good). Two cheers, too, for the return of Turnage's Anna Nicole.

I rather think Tory 'intuition' is not quite the same as Labour's, Sir David.

David Damant said...

I believe that ALL intuitive solutions about economics are as likely to be wrong as right. Austere detachment is what is required ( as in everything, except love; and even in love - what is passion but pining?)

wanderer said...

Thoughts for the Davids.

Susan Scheid said...

Oh, I think I'll steer clear of the politics and go into really deep water on the Gehry. Actually not so deep, because we all clearly agree that this is a matter of form not following function in the least. (I used to share office space with a lighting designer, and you should have heard him on the expletive-deleted subject!) Yet, funnily enough, and perhaps because my affection for the performances I've heard in that hall are so strong, I winced at the description of the inside--even though I know it's likely just. But something else came to mind as well: the outside is so preposterous that, when I get inside, and the space is "normal" and warm--and it seems to me the acoustics are good, but you'd know better--it's a relief. Particularly so the night we arrived for a concert during a driving rainstorm, and the pitch of Gehry's roof was such that a deluge of water streamed down onto the sidewalk, making it necessary to go out into the grass to get to the door!

David said...

Piketty's my man, wanderer - I read something similar in the weekly Guardian rather than its sister Observer - though I wonder if he expresses himself as clearly as Hutton's precis. Must investigate. Particularly interesting about the on-hold quality of 1920-50. And about Scotland's possible reason for wanting to detach - though of course that will devastate Labour's chances in England.

Sue, I do recommend you read it - it's not like you to 'steer clear' of anything. Good point about reaching a space where you can relax after all the wow factor of the outside - I assume you mean Bard and not the Disney - though I thought we'd fundamentally agreed about the discrepancy. When I first saw the curved roofs of the exterior I almost burst into tears, so beautiful was it (and I think at that point no-one had prepared me to expect a Gehry).

Most beautiful concert hall interior I can think of is Hall One in Kings Place, all its wood from a single oak. On a large scale, Birmingham manages to be modern, striking AND far better acoustically than the big 'uns in London (Rattle's recent gripe).

David Damant said...

A detailed discussion on the economic outlook may not fit perfectly in this blog, but as the subject has continued I will add a point or two. The high taxes proposed in this link were rigorously applied by the Labour government after 1945 ( for example 98% on investment income, 80% on sizable inheritances)and the consensus in that direction continued until the country was bankrupted in the seventies ( also by other measures taken to avoid free markets such as nationalisation). Those who elevate equality above everything try to show that the economic effect overall is beneficial but ( if equality is the dominant principle) it is not, as shown by the post-1945 experiment and by the success of free market societies ( look at China). The trouble is that so many people ( of all viewpoints, right or left) have concepts of society and then expect economic reality to conform. I might add that every way of running an economy - including a free market system - needs to be controlled since nothing perfect exists. The recent crisis was caused by the fact that the existing mechanisms of control were just not applied by governments and others. I would agree that the problem of the emerging uber-rich should be looked at critically but that is not the same as attacking the whole system and the Duke of Westminster

I heard that the first minister of Scotland said to the Duke, in the context of his Scottish estates, that he was the sort of person an independent Scotland would want to get rid of

The Duke: - well, I provide a subsidy up here of around £200 000 a year.

The minister: - perhaps we will have to make an exception in your case !

I guess that the conversation was not entirely serious

Roger Neill said...

I have Vick's K in my diary for this Friday. So excited by your review/blogpost, David.

I've been to most of his recent productions in recent years in Brum. They have been, without exception, exceptional, both musically and theatrically. His use of space is always both radical and totally involving. Perhaps most memorable for me was his Othello (sic). But his Idomeneo and Noces also packed a punch. Guess he'll be directing audience movement, as usual, on Friday.

BTW he's from Coventry. That's 15 miles from Birmingham, Susan, and with a subtly different patois.

David said...

Glad someone else I know is, Roger - I've been proselytising but no-one has taken the bait (or perhaps it's sold out - just out of interest, are tickets cheap? I'd hope so).

By 'he' you mean GV rather than the man interviewed on Radio 3? I'd be very impressed if you could have guessed the patois of someone you'd not met...

Susan Scheid said...

David: Yes, I meant Bard--and yes, we did agree about the discrepancy. (I've not been to the Disney Hall.)

On the Piketty, well of course he's "on the money" so to speak, it's just that this shouldn't come as brand new news. I just find it so depressing, much like global warming discussions, that I retreat into, say, Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet. THAT lifts my spirits, this only gets me down. Finland seems to be a very good model for how to get things right--it may be true of all of Scandinavia. In the US, we can't even get the basics right, e.g., a single payer system for health care. We have the model: Medicare. Instead, yet another Rube Goldberg device has been created. On that topic, the lovely Anneli Halonen recently posted a to-the-point article here. Now I'm going back to R&J, and I also have cued up my Tippett to ride!

David said...

Well, isn't that encouraging? Of course it would be an illusion to suggest that everything in Finland is well: they have their ultra-rightists, leaguing with our own unsavoury Farage in the European Parliament (why do people still listen to him? Is it the cheeky-chappie supposed charisma, about which my friend Stephen Johnson quoted Yeats: 'the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity'?)

But in the bigger picture, yes, it's a good model. And the education system is astounding, probably the best in the world.

Susan Scheid said...

Indeed, the Edu-Mate says Finland has the very best educational system in the world. And right now, I'm listening to the scene d'amour from the Berlioz R&J. So lovely.

David said...

Well, she should know. That's good to hear. And isn't the Scene d'amour the very best love scene in music? I mean, I know there's Wagner, but a great deal of what he wrote wouldn't have been possible without the example of Romeo et Juliette. As usual he covered his tracks.

Susan Scheid said...

To Roger, 't'was the man on the street I meant, not Vicks, but certainly I would never have picked up the slightly different accent. I have often marveled, when in England, how the accents seem to change every 20 feet or so!

David, yes, when I am listening to the Berlioz scene d'amour it's hard to imagine anything more swoon-worthy. I won't describe this sensibly, but part of its magnificence for me is the way he slows down the three ascending notes (is it a triad there?) so you must hang deliriously on each one, waiting for the next. But then when I listen to the Prokofiev, I think, could there be anything more entrancing than that "love-sigh"? I don't think of myself as a romantic, and then I listen, and listen again, to these pieces and have to think again. I have now ordered the MacMillan DVD of Porkofiev's R&J so I can watch and listen properly. Which reminds me, I do hope you may find a moment to come back over my way on the question I've posed to you there.

Susan Scheid said...

Correction: Not a triad, three whole steps. (I sat down at this broken down old piano in the basement and picked it out.) And there are other places, too, where Berlioz pulls back, making us hang on to each beautiful note.

David Damant said...

I wonder if smaller countries have a better chance of getting things right? I have quite an extensive experience of the financial sector in several smaller European countries ( though not Finland)and one thing I noted ( not with the point about good governance being in my mind at the time) is that everyone seemed to know (or at least know of) the other players in the field. By the time I had visited a few banks the others knew where Damant had been. Quite an efficient structure for a nation, since fixing things properly, putting problems right and getting a consensus is so much easier. This happy state of affairs may be under threat as a result of globalisation and immigration ( in that both bring in people with different cultural assumptions)

David said...

Yes, Sue, I suppose the genius lies in Berlioz's and Prokofiev's very different approaches to the 'Balcony Scene'. Berlioz develops a couple of ideas; Prokofiev stitches together a whole profusion, but for once you can't hear the joins. And the ascending chords which frame the perfumed magic in Prokofiev equal HB for nocturnal atmosphere.

Now go listen to the opening of 'Romeo alone' and then the beginning of the Tristan Prelude, and you'll hear where Wagner got his 'cellos in space' idea from...

Sir David, I don't think high immigration has done any harm to Norway's booming economy (I can't speak for Sweden), though it may create resentments and social pressures. And do I detect an implied criticism of our flawed but fundamentally decent EU system?

David Damant said...

My comment was meant to refer to the possibility that in small countries a consensus can lead to good governance, as was mentioned above in the case of Finland(education etc). This can be upset by the arrival of people with different cultural outlooks, as is reported in Denmark ( one of the most classless countries of all). Norway is vastly rich from oil, so is not an easy case to judge. The resentments and tensions that you mention can in due course lead to economic dissension.
My approach to the immigration question is cultural, which is why Islamic immigration is problematical. In the case of the EU it may be the case that cultural differences are not large enough to prevent good cooperation. Certainly the Poles I know fit in splendidly. But I doubt if the founding fathers of the EEC/EU imagined immigration on the present and likely scale, as opposed to free movement of citizens. When I was in Rounmania 10 years ago I wondered why anyone under 40 would want to stay there. And I weep for the home countries. Hungary is trying to stop newly qualified doctors from leaving, but I heard an interview with one young doctor who pointed out that he would be twice ( or more) as rich in Germany or the UK than if he stayed in Hungary. These problems mainly arise from the former communist countries and as so often it is Marx and Lenin who are to blame, and German philosophy.

David said...

Plus Hungary is in danger of becoming a fascist state. Something we forget when turning all our attention on Russia and Ukraine.

Susan Scheid said...

I will not further sully this post with sidetracks, except to write that I have spent a profitable little while listening to Berlioz/Wagner side-by-side, and yup, the comparison you noted, David N, is unmistakable, isn't it?

On the primary discussion you’ve all been having, I was struck, among other things, by David D’s comment, “I wonder if smaller countries have a better chance of getting things right?” I’ve often had that thought myself. It is certainly hard to get a consensus in the US, though there are so many drivers it’s virtually impossible to sort them out. I do also think there’s merit in David D’s point about cultural differences, though, again, thinking of the US, which is and always has been loaded with such differences, I’m not able to assess when and to what extent those factors are drivers on issues like that of basic economic fairness. I would say that one big driver here in preventing consensus is big money-driven fear-mongering. It’s so much easier, it seems, to persuade people to be afraid than it is to persuade them to work toward the common good. Sure, it may not be easy to come to agreement on what the common good is, but it does seem to me that if fear could be banished, common ground could be found. When I observe ordinary people (as opposed to professional politicians, who have other motives) who cling to “tea party” and other pernicious values, it seems to me that it’s all founded on fear, and little more.

It’s instructive to go to the FDR museum here in the Hudson Valley, which has done an excellent job, in revamping the museum, of showing how the government, under FDR, turned away from fear and embraced hope. This had, for a time, a cumulative positive effect in which an underlying thread was trust in government: not that the government would always know what was best to do, but that government was working in service of the common good, and in that spirit, would try anything and everything to get it right. (In contrast to that governmental mode, there’s a striking exhibit in the museum showing the negative impact on employment and the economy when FDR succumbed to pressure to reign in the New Deal.) We have nothing like this any more, and it’s hard for me to envision how faith in one another and in the possibility of a government that operates in good faith for the common good will ever be restored in the US. Obama had a chance when he first came into office, but he was too tentative, too much the conciliator. He lost the momentum he’d built in the campaign almost immediately, and once momentum is lost, it’s nigh impossible to get it back.

David Damant said...

There is no doubt that FDR was a great man, possibly a very great man. The way he powered through the New Deal with so many power centres against him - and then the way he did everything he could to assist Britain in the war, and to prepare America for war, despite an isolationist Congress, leaves one gasping in admiration. Also he chose Truman who though not in the same class historically certainly was a success as President. One of FDR's strengths was his skill at political manoeuvring - and I would say that it is that skill as a politician that Obama lacks, both in Washington and internationally.
In my (limited) experience the tea party people really believe in their way of looking at the world....they seem to be thinking on a different planet, not through fear but because they want ( let us say)the America of the frontier. A rather persuasive Democrat was on the radio recently and he said that it is better to stop nagging the Right - they will never give up on gun laws etc etc. Better to try to work towards the best solutions on matters where some consensus might be achieved

Susan Scheid said...

“The way he powered through the New Deal with so many power centres against him - and then the way he did everything he could to assist Britain in the war, and to prepare America for war, despite an isolationist Congress, leaves one gasping in admiration.” A succinct description, right on the mark. About Obama, I would not say that he lacks skill at political maneuvering. If he did, he would not have won his first term, and more to the point his second. Rather, my sense of him is that he has learned too well the Socratic method and tends to value process over a particular result. FDR, in contrast, was clear in his purpose—to wield the power of government for the common good—and he used whatever processes were best suited to achieving the results he sought. As to the tea party, there will of course always be fanatics, and there will always be power centers happy to exploit such things toward mean-spirited ends. But when “movements” like this gain traction, something else is at work. What I see around me are people high on the greased ladder of economic insecurity, gripping a rung for dear life with no firm ground below. That fear can be manipulated and turns much more easily into fury than it does into common sense. It’s not surprising that many succumb to the urge to put on the Davy Crockett hats of their childhood and head to the woods with their guns. It’s hard to evaluate the Democrat’s statement David D notes without the full context, but I’ve certainly heard statements like this, and it brings me right back to what David D has stated about FDR and what I have observed about Obama here. Consensus is a means (and seems to me largely chimerical in the current political climate in the US). The big problems are the ones that government must tackle, and if power centers stand in the way of that, they must be overcome.

David Damant said...

Susan - you and I and David N and the Mates must have lunch!

David said...

I am in awe of the both of you - Sue especially if only because I don't normally see her eloquence turned to arguing political issues. I agree absolutely, the nub worldwide is here, generously amplified by you in your succeeding post: 'It’s so much easier, it seems, to persuade people to be afraid than it is to persuade them to work toward the common good.' And when fearmongering is challenged, it so often doesn't have a leg to stand on.

Viz Stephen Fry using his two-part television programme to gain interviews with various homophobes around the world: it seemed that their only arguments were a) that being gay is all about 'taking it up the bum' - Fry pointed out that he's never been interested in that - and b) that 'they' want to 'infect' us and 'make us gay'. The best way of dealing with which is ridicule. Unfortunately these men - always men, isn't it - who seem so funny are at the same time in dangerous and sometimes death-dealing positions.

The happy possibility of us all meeting for lunch seems very likely this summer, hurrah.