If I Had a Hammer

media_5e1a5316516c4ed4913d398868313742_t607This picture – former Vice President Henry Wallace with folk singer Pete Seeger in 1948 – likely didn’t do Pete much good when he was summoned in 1952 to name names before the communist hunting House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). To Seeger’s eternal credit he refused to play the silly game, was held in contempt of Congress and sentenced to jail.

The New York Post – as ridiculous as a newspaper in those days as it remains today – offered the headline: “Dangerous Minstrel Nabbed Here” in a story about Pete. Seeger had a particularly American attitude about a Congressional committee asking questions about his friends and associations. It was none of their business. Only a technicality kept him from prison.

Still for 17 years at what should have been the very height of his career Pete Seeger was on the entertainment industry’s blacklist, labeled a subversive and condemned as a mushy-headed pinko who couldn’t bring himself to admit the evils of Stalin. Much the same happened to Wallace, a brilliant, decent man and an awful politician who was too liberal for the times that ushered in Joe McCarthy and destroyed or badly damaged the careers of Pete Seeger and so many others.

Curious thing about the United States, as Adam Hochschild wrote recently in The New York Review of Books, “anticommunism has always been far louder and more potent than communism. Unlike sister parties in France, Italy, India, and elsewhere, the Communist Party here has never controlled a major city or region, or even elected a single member to the national legislature.”

When Henry Wallace ran for president the year he was photographed with Pete Seeger his Progressive Party, with American Communist support, captured an underwhelming 2.4 percent of the popular vote. Americans have never – even in the darkest days of The Great Depression – warmed to communism, yet the word and the association has always been awesomely powerful in our politics.

Until the collapse of the Soviet Union made anticommunism passe, generations of American politicians, including presidents from Truman to Reagan, made fighting communism the centerpiece of American foreign policy. Careers were made and destroyed – Richard Nixon and Helen Gahagan Douglas and their 1950 U.S. Senate race come immediately to mind – as a result of “The Red Scare.” Nixon and his henchmen dubbed Mrs. Douglas, a liberal California Congresswoman, “The Pink Lady” a label that had immediate and positive electoral impact for Nixon.  What she called him – “Tricky Dick” – was arguably the much more accurate and lasting label.

In the days before the National Rifle Association intimidated presidents and county commissioners and commanded fidelity from both political parties, one could hardly go wrong politically by being tough on communism. Being right on the Reds in the 1950′s and 1960′s was as politically safe as being in the pocket of the NRA is today.

Pete Seeger’s left-wing politics received mostly passing mention in many of the tributes that have followed his death on Monday at the ripe age of 94. Most of the stories, perhaps appropriately, have focused on the music he made and the influence Seeger had on singers from Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen. Still it seems impossible to divorce the man’s music from the man’s politics.

We’ve largely forgotten that prior to Pearl Harbor millions of Americans opposed U.S. involvement in World War II. Many thought another world war would inevitably lead, as the first one had, to diminished civil liberties and a more militarized society. Nothing good comes from war so the saying went. Pete Seeger was among the millions who believed that and sang about it.

When war finally came Seeger, like most Americans, fully embraced the need to fight Hitler and defeat Japan. In a 1942 song – Dear Mr. President – Seeger sang, as if to remind Franklin Roosevelt, about what Americans were fighting for:

This is the reason that I want to fight,
Not because everything’s perfect or everything’s right.
No. it’s just the opposite… I’m fighting because I want
A better America with better laws,
And better homes and jobs and schools,
And no more Jim Crow and no more rules,
Like you can’t ride on this train ’cause you’re a Negro,
You can’t live here ’cause you’re a Jew
You can’t work here ’cause you’re a union man.

Pete Seeger’s banjo was inscribed with the words “this machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.” Seeger, the left-winger, spent his life preaching the gospel of non-violent social change through his music and he never gave up that wild-eyed dream. Even in the song where he signed on to fight Hitler he was dreaming of a more perfect union at home were civil rights were guaranteed for all. Pete Seeger, through all the blacklisting nonsense and the HUAC hearings, never let bitterness get the better of him. He kept singing about overcoming.

When Seeger did appear before HUAC in 1955 he steadfastly refused to play the political game of gotcha that Joe McCarthy and others had perfected. At one point he summed up his attitude telling the committee:

“I feel that in my whole life I have never done anything of any conspiratorial nature and I resent very much and very deeply the implication of being called before this committee that in some way because my opinions may be different from yours, or yours, Mr. Willis, or yours, Mr. Scherer, that I am any less of an American than anybody else. I love my country very deeply, sir.”

Committee Chairman Rep. Francis Walter, a conservative Pennsylvania Democrat, persisted:Why dont you make a little contribution toward preserving its institutions?”

MR. SEEGER: I feel that my whole life is a contribution. That is why I would like to tell you about it.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I dont want to hear about it.

More than the anticommunist witch hunters who tried to silence his banjo in the 1950′s, more than those who resisted civil rights in the 1960′s or defended American hubris in Vietnam, Pete Seeger’s long life was the essence of the real American story. He sang to prompt political and social action. Sang with a smile. Strummed his banjo with an honest, candid demand for a better, more tolerant America.

Americans were once optimistic enough – perhaps we will be again – to think that a better country is possible. Pete Seeger never gave up on that America; a country of better homes and jobs and schools. He was a folk music legend to be sure, but also the very best kind of American and, yes, his whole life – the life of a dangerous minstrel – was an incredible contribution.

 

The Best in the World

Itzhak_Perlman-4-516x600I can make this statement without fear of contradiction: Itzhak Perlman is the greatest violinist in the world.

Make a similar claim about a baseball pitcher or an NFL quarterback and you’re certain to get an argument about whether so-in-so is better than such-and-such. With Perlman no such argument is possible. He is the best – period.

I’ve heard him play twice now once some years ago at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and more recently with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra. The Kennedy Center performance was unique for me. I arrived in the big city late in the day, checked the Washington Post to see what entertainment might be available and notice the Perlman concert. Expecting to be disappointed, I called the box office and was told only single tickets remained and that they were “stage seats” – 15 or 20 chairs, really, arranged in a row right on the stage. I grabbed a ticket and watched the great artist from a wonderful vantage point – better than front row center – and even closer. The recent Tucson performance was more conventional, but no less stunning.

I’ll go again to listen to his beautiful music if I ever get a chance. You should, too.

As the San Diego Union-Tribune noted after Perlman’s recent concert in that city the violinist made his second appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 sharing the bill with The Rolling Stones. Perlman is now arguably just as famous as The Stones and, as the U-T reviewer wrote, “he’s aging a lot more gracefully than Mick Jagger.” Perlman is routinely greeted by standing ovations when he comes on stage the kind of recognition typically received for rock stars and movie celebs.

My musical training begins and ends with inserting a CD into the player or, more recently, downloading a song or album on my hand held device, so I am hardly qualified to comment on Perlman’s performance of the Beethoven violin concerto – but, for me it was soul touching. He plays with eloquence, but no showing off. He is a pro the same way that Meryl Streep or Arnold Palmer are professionals. He commands his medium with quiet grace and a stunning show of, well, complete professionalism and command.

One can’t help but be moved by Perlman’s courage and strength in performing at the absolute top of his craft, while dealing with the effects of polio that he contracted at age four. It is both inspirational and humbling to watch him make his way to center stage with crutches and braces. When the concert master hands him his instrument after he gets himself seated he smiles as if to say, “I trust you are as ready for this as I am.” He is simply an inspiration with a Stradivarius; a man who has mastered his music, while quietly telling we mere mortals that we should be able to do anything, as well.

I love music in all its variety. Diana Krall with her sophisticated jazz, Idaho’s own Curtis Stigers with his great range and sax, Mahler symphonies and Ray Price ballads, Pink Martini and Nick Lowe. All great. But now I know I’ve been to the classical music mountain top with the great Itzhak Perlman. Another great violinist will come along when he’s left the stage – not soon, I hope – but I doubt anyone will ever take his place. He is simply the best in the world.

 

Death of a Consensus

inlFor at least the last 50 years there has existed a bipartisan consensus in Idaho regarding the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory. The consensus held that Idaho political leaders from both parties – Jim McClure and Frank Church, Richard Stallings and Larry Craig – would do what it took to protect the federal investment and jobs at the sprawling site in the Arco desert west of Idaho Falls.

The consensus did not mean that the “site,” as locals call it, would ever be free from controversy. Then-Gov. John V. Evans, a Democrat, pressured the Department of Energy in the 1980′s to end the practice of injecting less-than-pristine process water into a well that eventually made its way into the vast Snake Plain Aquifer. DOE finally ended the practice and I still have a hefty paperweight on my desk that marked the public capping of that controversial well.

Former Gov. Cecil D. Andrus, another Democrat, fought the DOE to a standstill in the late 1980′s and early 1990′s over its various waste handling processes and eventually won federal court guarantees about how Idaho’s share of the environmental legacy of the Cold War would be cleaned up and moved to move appropriate disposal sites. Gov. Phil Batt, a Republican, continued those efforts, which remain on-going to this day.

Yet even when controversy erupted over environmental issues the bipartisan consensus held. When it came time to present a united front in support of federal funding for research or environmental restoration at INL pragmatism always seemed to trump ideology. Andrus and McClure, a Democrat and a Republican, linked arms to support new initiatives at the site when both were in office. Stallings became a champion of INL funding during his time in Congress. Craig inherited McClure’s role as the Senate champion of DOE funding for Idaho.

It may be an overstatement to suggest that the long-time INL consensus has come to end with the current division in the Idaho delegation over support for the budget bill that recently passed Congress, but it seems pretty clear that political pragmatism no longer automatically trumps ideology when it comes to supporting INL funding.

Second District Congressman Mike Simpson, a long-time champion of the site, now chairs the Appropriations subcommittee on Energy and Water. It’s no secret that Simpson took over that important spot – he had chaired the subcommittee on Interior and related agencies – in order to have even more direct influence over INL funding. Just before the recent and bipartisan $1.1 trillion spending bill passed the House and then the Senate, Simpson was saying that he’d been able to reverse Obama Administration cuts in DOE spending in Idaho.

“In fact,” Simpson said in a news release on January 14, “I have increased funding for INL’s nuclear research programs, ensured full funding for the Lab’s vital security force, and boosted funding by more than $20 million for the ongoing nuclear cleanup activities in Eastern Idaho. This bill not only stabilizes funding at INL after a couple of years of uncertainty, it sends a strong message that INL’s work as the DOE’s lead nuclear energy laboratory is critical to our nation’s energy security.”

It’s worth underscoring that part of the money Simpson helped secure – beyond what the administration had proposed – funds the on-going clean-up at INL; a critical effort that both Republican and Democratic governors in Idaho have supported.

That is the kind of budget work that would have once almost guaranteed a release from the entire Idaho delegation claiming credit for protecting jobs and investment in Idaho and getting the better of a hostile Democratic administration. Instead Simpson was blasted by his Republican primary challenger Bryan Smith for being the “left flank of the Idaho congressional delegation.” Smith pointed out that the three other members of the Idaho delegation – Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Congressman Raul Labrador – all opposed final passage of the budget legislation. Just for the record the budget legislation, a product of a spending framework hashed out by Democrat Patty Murray and Republican Paul Ryan, passed the Senate 72-26 and the House by an overwhelming margin of 359-67.

Crapo and Risch issued a joint statement explaining their NO votes. The statement stressed the big national debt and the need to bring it under control and made no mention that the NO votes also had the effect of rejected Simpson’s budget work on the Idaho National Laboratory.

There are lots of ways to look at this set of facts. A NO vote on a big budget bill, even one that had strong bipartisan support, forecloses another government shutdown and was certain to pass, is a politically safe vote in Idaho these days. It is often easier in politics to explain a NO vote than to justify a YES vote, particularly given the increasingly conservative nature of the Idaho GOP. If you want to apply a particularly cynical analysis to the facts you might conclude that the three NO voters in the Idaho delegation simply calculated that they would let Simpson take the heat for passing a trillion dollar budget knowing full well that the DOE spending that he had helped secure for Idaho would be included.

But there may be a larger and more important lesson.

As I’ve written before, Mike Simpson, by any measure, is a very conservative guy. Yet his pragmatic heavy lifting in his House committee to enhance the DOE budget to the benefit of thousands in Idaho – a position that once would have demanded a rousing show of support from interests as diverse as the Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers – has, in the political environment of 2014, opened him to a charge of being a big spending liberal.

Simpson is no liberal. What he really is – and I mean this as a high compliment – is a throwback to those days when passing a budget that provided stability to a major Idaho institution was cause for celebration. Simpson is a legislator in the same way Jim McClure, Larry Craig and Richard Stallings once were. Each of them considered it re-election must that they campaign on the basis of how strongly they supported the INL. Pragmatism in those days trumped ideology. It may not any longer.

We’ll see in the weeks ahead whether a serious, pragmatic legislator looking out for the interests of his district and state and determined to actually help pass a budget that funds the government can withstand a challenge that calls into question the very essence of what it means to be a legislator. Those interests that have long supported the Idaho National Laboratory better hope that pragmatism wins.


Read more here: http://blogs.idahostatesman.com/cd2-challenger-smith-slams-simpsons-budget-vote/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cd2-challenger-smith-slams-simpsons-budgetvote#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://blogs.idahostatesman.com/cd2-challenger-smith-slams-simpsons-budget-vote/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cd2-challenger-smith-slams-simpsons-budget-vote#storylink=c

The Doper at Third

AP_arod_alex_rodriguez_tk_130805_16x9_992Major League Baseball waited so long to get serious and was in denial so long about its doping scandal – remember Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire – that it is impossible to outfit Commissioner Bud Selig and his minions with white hats even while the guy who should be remembered as the greatest player of his generation boots away what little is left of his career, not to mention his credibility.

This is really all you need to know about Alex Rodriguez and his creams and shots and lozenges: Major League baseball accepted the word of a “drug dealer” over that of a guy with 654 home runs. Now A-Rod, never one to handle himself with anything other than blind self-interest, is swinging away with lawsuits aimed at nearly everyone – including, unbelievably, his fellow players. I guess if you have enough money and bluster you can convince your lawyers to adopt a legal strategy that doubles down on foolishness.

The tragedy of A-Rod begins, as many tragedies do, with what might have been. When the supremely talented, handsome and sure to be superstar arrived in Seattle years ago literally the entire baseball universe was his to command. But Seattle was always too small a stage for an ego so big. Rodriguez had to have it all – the money, the houses, the celebrity girl friends, Cameron Diaz’s popcorn, the hookers, the records, even if it meant bending, breaking and shattering the rules. I remember sitting in the stands in Seattle when Rodriguez made his first visit back to the Northwest after bolting for the still ridiculous contract the Texas Rangers lavished on him. The fake dollar bills cascaded down from the upper decks as one-time fans chanted “Pay-Rod..Pay-Rod…”It turns out those fluttering fakes were a metaphor for the doper at third.

Next, the Yankees bought into the hype and doubled down with an even bigger contract. A-Rod and Derek Jeter should have made for the best left side of the infield in modern baseball history, but the chemistry and selflessness was never there with Rodriguez. Baseball, for all its individual statistics and records, is still a team game. Jeter was a teammate, a superstar with his ego in check. A-Rod, who grumbled on moved from Jeter’s position to play third base, nevertheless acted like he’d been born there after hitting a triple. I’m pretty certain suing the Player’s Union will enhance his standing in the clubhouse – or maybe not.

As the New York Times reports, the lawsuit Rodriguez has filed has the ironic side effect of putting into the public domain the very investigative report Major League Baseball used to suspend him in the first place. “The report, attached to the legal filing Monday,” the Times reports, “relies on the testimony of [Anthony P.] Bosch [A-Rod's dealer], as well as his phone records, his patient notes, text and BlackBerry messages. It also incorporated the findings of investigators hired by Major League Baseball, and the testimony of a senior baseball official and a senior Yankees executive, among others.”

Rodriguez’s complex drug regime looks like what a recovering cancer patient might require rather than a guy who plays baseball for a living.

But, back to what might have been. With all his natural tools and his good looks Rodriguez could well have conquered the baseball heights just by showing up, working hard and acting like a human begin. He chose the path that took his gifts and broke them like a used syringe.

Rodriguez, of course, will always have his defenders and the sordid details of how Major League Baseball amassed evidence against him will make any fair-minded person uncomfortable. Still, when all is said and done, Alex Rodriguez isn’t going to jail Bernie Madoff-style for his cheating. He’s just losing a few million dollars, 162 games and a chance to be in the Hall of Fame one day. The Yankees save some money and will find they are better off without him. Rodriguez never thought that the game he reportedly loves was even a little bit bigger than him. It’s always been about him. Now, its about him alone with his denials and with more bluster – always more bluster.

When baseball’s enforcers were closing in on Rodriguez he arranged a hotel meeting with his drug supplier during a Yankee road trip to Atlanta. “Try to use service elevators,” Rodriguez wrote in a text message. “Careful. Tons of eyes.”

Rodriguez’s basic defense is that Major League Baseball is out to get him even as he refused a chance to make a deal that would have saved his career. He couldn’t even testify in his own defense. On one thing he is right. They were out to get him and it’s about time. As for the doper on third, it’s hard to think that the service elevator isn’t too good for him. The tons of eyes that A-Rod has depended upon to supplement his drug-enhanced career are looking away, ashamed and sad for what might have been.

 

I Am Not A Bully

Gov-ChristieIt’s too early to know for sure, but I’d be willing to bet that the third paragraph of Gov. Chris Christie eventual obituary will include the words “I am not a bully.” Those five words, like Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook,” may well end up defining Christie’s life on the American political stage.

There is a truism in politics that the worst wounds are those that are self inflicted. The next most damaging wounds are those that are not quickly recognized as potentially deadly and are allowed to grow and fester. Both types of political wounds are present in Gov. Christie’s George Washington Bridge scandal.

The tough and combative Governor of New Jersey stood before cameras last week and apparently did himself enough good in explaining away any personal involvement in “Bridgegate” that the bleeding has been stopped. Christie, however, is not out of political intensive care for lots of reasons. The political payback scandal that shut down portions of the world’s busiest bridge linking New Jersey and New York is the worst kind political scandal simply because it is so readily understandable to voters. Everyone has been caught in a traffic jam. No one expects a politician, or his staff, to actually engineer a traffic jam. This is far from over.

Christie has fired his deputy chief of staff and another top political aide, but the governor did not act until those moves were forced upon him by the release of documents that implicated his staff members in the effort to payback a small town Jersey mayor who had declined to endorse Christie’s recent re-election. Two other Christie appointees to the Port Authority, the agency that runs the George Washington Bridge, resigned some ago, but the governor flush from a resounding re-election win repeatedly failed to act to deal with the damaging political fallout. The result: a self-inflicted wound and a supremely damaging delay in responding.

Two observations about both good politics and good management based upon what I know about how a governor’s office operates, or should operate:

1) Being hands on is not a crime for a politician. It may be more work, require more hours in the day and it may even force more decisions to be made at the top, but for voters it should be a given that an elected official, particularly a governor, attends to a million details. When you wall yourself off from the details you get burned. Even if you believe that Christie didn’t know about the chaos caused by the lane closures leading to the GW bridge the fact is that he should have known and certainly should not have been the last to know. According to press accounts Jersey commuters were complaining plenty about the traffic jams when they occurred last September.

The Fort Lee, New Jersey police chief told a columnist for the Bergen Record on September 12 that during “four days of gridlock we’ve been asking the Port Authority what problem they’ve been trying to fix, and so far we haven’t gotten any answers.” Governors exist to get answers to such questions. Christie, with several very senior appointees serving at his behest on the Port Authority Board, could have solved the bridge closure with a single phone call. It stretches credibility to think the tough guy, no nonsense and self-described hands on governor wasn’t curious enough to ask someone “just what the hell is going on?”

It would be like Butch Otter in Idaho not following up on a very public issue with the Fish and Game Commission or John Kitzhaber in Oregon sitting around while Nike leaves town. Governors are paid to stay on top of problems.

The best your can say for Christie – the best – is that he was so consumed with running up the score in his November re-election that he didn’t read the morning papers in September. If that’s the best case then the governor really is guilty of gubernatorial malpractice. That the boss didn’t know or that his underlinings thought it appropriate that he not be informed is simply mismanagement – mismanagement at the top.

2) The other observation so far from “Bridgegate” is that the best you can say for Christie’s inner circle – the best you can say – is that he fostered or allowed to be created a culture where a senior staff member, the fired deputy chief of staff, could take it upon her own to play such silly and damaging political games. The Christie culture smacks of arrogance and, frankly, a small-minded pettiness that would not exist unless the tone had been set from the top. In this failure, too, the buck stops with the governor.

Chris Christie – and Barack Obama for that matter with his detached management style – should take many lessons from such political and management failures, but one lesson that should be seared into any politician’s ambition is the fact that it is the rare elected official who gets in trouble for acting too quickly. Christie, allegedly at the top of his craft and on the way to serious contention for the GOP nomination for president, gets a D-minus for not seeing problems and moving quickly to correct those problems.That is the best you can say about his scandal.

If it turns out that more traffic cones start to drop, or that Christie had knowledge he’s not fessed up to, or that he actually ordered or allowed the petty political payback to take place then all bets are off. Let the subpoenas issue and the investigations begin.

If it turns out that Christie’s marathon news conference was just an effort at immediate damage control and his story doesn’t hold up in the details then the Nixon analogy will have come full circle. Another absolute rule of political scandal is that the cover-up is always more damaging than the original sin. In that case “I am not a bully” will morph into “I am not a crook.”

 

Downton Upper

David_Lloyd_GeorgeHad Britain not produced a Winston Churchill or a Margaret Thatcher Americans might know a lot more about another British Prime Minister David Lloyd George pictured here in the prime of his long life.

A few million of us have been, sort of, introduced to Lloyd George thanks to the PBS import of Downton Abbey, the Masterpiece series that began its fourth season last Sunday. In an episode in the first season of Downton, Lloyd George’s name is mentioned in passing drawing, as usual, a stinging retort from the Dowager Countess played so well by Maggie Smith. “Please don’t speak that man’s name,” she huffs, “we are about to eat.”

At the time – we’re right before the outbreak of The Great War – Lloyd George, described appropriately by his great granddaughter the historian Margaret MacMillan “as one of the most interesting and controversial politicians in modern British politics,” was serving as Chancellor of the Exchequer in a Liberal government and he had proposed what would come to be called “The People’s Budget.”

That budget sparked a revolution in British society. Lloyd George promised to pay for both guns and butter in pre-war Britain by soaking the rich. He advocated social reforms, particularly old age pensions and a war against “poverty and squalidness,” as well as massive spending on the British Navy, including the huge dreadnoughts thought necessary to keep pace with the German Kaiser’s naval ambitions.

Lloyd George, MacMillan writes in her superb book The War That Ended Peace, loved a good fight and didn’t flinch from his People’s Budget that was constructed around increases in “death taxes” and new and steep taxes on the landed aristocracy. Little wonder they disliked “that man” in the plush rooms at Downton Abbey. He was paving the way for the ultimate demise of Lord Grantham and his like.

“The rich wanted the dreadnoughts,” MacMillan writes of her great grandfather, “and now they didn’t want to pay.” And, for that matter, just what was the value of the aristocracy? Lloyd George answered this way: “A fully equipped duke costs as much to keep up as two Dreadnoughts – and they are just as great a terror – and they last longer.”

On another occasion Lloyd George said, “death is the most convenient time to tax rich people.” In the U.S. conservative politicians would label that “class warfare” and we’d debate the fairness of “death taxes.” Such policy made Lloyd George prime minister.

Downton Abbey, for all its high-class soap opera touches – the nasty villains, crippling tragedy and clueless Lords – really offers a peephole into the rigid class structure that once, and to some degree still does, define British life. Downton is at the center of a society where ones life and possibilities were defined by ones birth. The imperious Mr. Carson, Downton’s butler, and his downstairs staff were born to “service” and lord – or My Lord – help them if they screw up. Those who manage to escape their class limitations – the upstairs maid who dreams of becoming a secretary and the Irish chauffeur Tom Branson who manages to escape for love – are the exceptions. Mrs. Hughes, Daisy and the rest seem destined to live and die in service.

Most Americans, of course, continue to buy the notion that with our long-ago revolution against the mother country we were able to create a “classless society.” Even as income inequality and a lack of mobility have become features of modern American society few politicians on this side of the pond would dare to advocate a “redistribution” of resources from the country’s economic lords to the little people. Rather than disparage the 1%, Americans seem to let the excesses of a Bernie Madoff or JP Morgan Chase float away like the smoke from one of Lord Grantham’s after dinner cigars. Perhaps some of our guilty pleasure in feasting on the glided soap opera that is Downton is that we are convinced our make believe “classless” society is superior even if the dinner time attire at Downton is much better than sitting on the sofa and eating a Domino’s.

Americans have never had a royal family unless you count the Kennedys and George Washington rejected John Adams’ suggestion that the president be addressed as “His Excellency.” Still we loved Lady Diana and can’t get enough of the future king and queen. We adore British imports – Scotch whiskey, The Beatles, James Bond and Manchester United. Since at least 1941 when Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt struck a partnership to defeat the Nazis, the United States and Britain have had their “special relationship.” In almost every case – the Suez Crisis in 1956 being a major exception – we’ve been joined at the hip, often for good and occasionally not, with the Brits on matters of foreign policy.

As much as I like the series, and I really do, Downton says as much about America in 2014 as it does about Britain in 1922. As the New York Times noted in marking the return of the fourth season the series and its characters are remarkable in their ability to soldier on when terrible things happen. “The series is optimistic, warmhearted, almost Reaganesque in its ability to find a rainbow. Mr. [Julian] Fellowes [the series creator] holds up a bowdlerized edition of British society, where beneath a thin veneer of stratification, servants and masters are friends and confidants, and even cataclysm doesn’t break the bond.”

We also like Downton so much, I think, because of what it doesn’t say. A television series devoted to how The Great War destroyed a generation of British manhood and how domestic politics brought a landed aristocracy to heel wouldn’t command much of a following. On Sunday evening we get the sunny version, which is good television, but not very good history.

By 1922 Lloyd George, having sat across the table from Woodrow Wilson to craft the Treaty of Versailles and create the League of Nations, was out of power. Internal conflicts and scandal in the once dominate Liberal Party doomed the Liberals to minor party status from which the party has never recovered. Even Churchill jumped ship on his old mentor Lloyd George and returned to the Tories – the Dowager Countess certainly must have approved – as Britain sank into a period of deep reflection and sadness spawned by what Lloyd George called “the cruelest and most terrible War that has ever scourged mankind.”

David Lloyd George was born the son of a Welsh schoolmaster and as such would have had much more in common with Irish Tom Branson, the chauffeur turned Downton land manager, than with the dandy fellows who are sent into a twitter when black ties replace white at dinner. When Lloyd George was finally given his own title – Earl Lloyd George of Dwyfor in 1945 – he is reported to have said in Welsh “Y Gwir Yn Erbyn Y Byd ” – The truth against the world.

As we tune in this week to see if the sensible American, Lady Cora, and her head strong daughters can continue to outwit – its not that difficult – the dense Lord of the Manor, recall that Lloyd George said his country’s job after The Great War – a war that claimed more than 700,000 British lives – was “to make Britain a fit country for heroes to live in.” I doubt he had Lord Grantham in mind.