Ken Burns’s “Jazz”, a 10-part, 19-hour documentary, was broadcast again recently on PBS, wonderful today as it was 20 years ago when it first appeared. The superb music empowers vigorous stories and stark lessons about the art, its history and impact in America. Time has marched on, but the messages keep their grip.
A Ken Burns documentary is bound to recall others and one of them, “The Congress,” seems especially pertinent. “The Congress,” from 1988, is a potent reminiscence, a stark reflection on how things were when our government was an elaborate system of compromise.
The film recounts a time when our Congress embraced the sensibilities and common sense of Americans across the land. It traces our federal legislature to the beginning, to John Adams, the obligations and responsibilities of a Congress that reflected a people who were supreme.
What change has wrought: A Congress of intransigence and at times ignorance, of shrillness and platitudes, even misfeasance. Phobia and demagoguery rise like swamp gas through the hallowed halls.
Our Congress today is incapable of matching yesterday’s common aptitude: Teddy Roosevelt’s Square Deal, its robber baron-busting enforcement of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act; Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, its banking laws, gold standard, Social Security, Depression-ending public works, soil conservation and flood control programs; Truman’s Fair Deal, its provisions for farm aid, unemployment compensation, public works, a minimum wage; and Truman’s Marshall Plan, which saved postwar Europe from total ruin – none of these glorious reforms, not to mention many others, would have a chance in Washington today.
Every major component of Kennedy’s New Frontier and Johnson’s Great Society – the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts, Medicare and Medicaid, the space program, the Peace Corps, Consumer Protection acts including meat inspection, weights and measures, clean air and water legislation, and more – all would be filibustered out and tossed off to the file-and-forget heap by today’s Congress.
“The Congress” today is a harvest of irony. Washington’s tribal warring and political insecurity turn this portrait of a great institution to shine on the image of our failed one. A rich history tells us what Congress is no longer able to do.
Washington was once a place that welcomed ideas. Then it became a place where ideas went to die. Now it seems a place of sin and futility, like the old midway at a county fair, turbulent with slick spiels. We are outside the gaudy tent, tired, listening and watching and dreading all the while that we are about to be taken.
Public Safety at work
In case you missed it, here is a look at a recent year-end (2020) report from the Lindsborg Department of Public Safety:
POLICE: In 2020, the department had 2,400 “calls for service”. From them came 290 reports and 26 accident reports. Officers issued 150 citations (criminal and traffic) and issued 260 written warnings.
“Covid-19 played a significant role in the reduction of calls for service and proactive enforcement,” said Police Chief Mike Davis.
FIRE: This volunteer department responded to 121 calls, 64 in Lindsborg and 57 in Rural Fire District 8 outside the city. Fire calls in 2020 were down, from 156 in 2019. The year before, in 2018, there were 115 calls.
EMS: The volunteer department responded to 556 ambulance calls in 2020, up slightly from 552 calls in 2019. There were 584 calls in 2018.
“This is an astonishing amount of calls our EMS team responded to, given the many periods of time our team was out of service and unable to take call,” said EMS director Jordan Stiles.
The two plans
Two proposals for a federal covid relief plan popped out recently. President Biden in late January offered a plan estimated at nearly $1.9 trillion. Ten Republican Senators, including Kansas’ Jerry Moran, countered in early February with a $618 billion plan. A lot will happen in the meantime, but here is a comparison as the plans originally stood.
– Direct payments: Biden, $465 billion; GOP, $220 billion.
– Unemployment insurance: Biden, $350 billion; GOP, $132 billion.
– Aid to local governments: Biden, $350 billion; GOP, $0.
– Direct pandemic response: Biden, $160 billion; GOP, $160 billion.
– Nutrition, public transit, veterans and other policy changes: Biden, $146 billion; GOP, $16 billion ($12 billion for nutrition, $4 billion for behavioral health services).
– Schools reopening: Biden, $170 billion; GOP, $20 billion.
– Child tax credit: Biden, $120 billion; GOP, $0.
– Small business: Biden, $50 billion; GOP, $50 billion.
– Rental assistance: Biden, $35 billion; GOP, $0.
– Child care: Biden, $40 billion, GOP, $20 billion.