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Enzerink GS: Not gone with the wind, yet

Just 147 years after the Civil War, political mudslinging and the economic crisis have accelerated fears that the country might find itself on the eve of another devastating national conflict. Cooperation in Congress is at a low. The pressures of election season have created a culture of decisions that serve as a tourniquet rather than a permanent solution. Only through bipartisan cooperation can the wounds, which political deadlock and paralysis have inflicted upon the nation's self-image and reputation, be healed. 

Ironically, it is a quintessential Civil War epic to which politicians should look for inspiration: Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With The Wind" may have recently celebrated its 75th anniversary, but its imagery of endurance, pragmatism and micro-management is more relevant than ever in a country where riches-to-rags has become the most common direction of social mobility.  

In terms of equality, American society has progressed tremendously since the publication of Mitchell's racist novel and producer David Selznick's stereotype-ridden film. But whatever we say about Mitchell's heroine, Scarlett O'Hara was not afraid to make the necessary business or financial decisions to protect her land, the heart of her life, even if these rendered her a persona non grata in the wider community. After the Civil War, Scarlett cooperates with northerners to save her estate and enters into a marriage with her sister's lover for the same reason. It goes without saying that she isn't exactly the most popular woman in the community.

This, in election season, is what politicians lack: They sacrifice sensible policy to appease all demographics - and get their votes. This explains why incumbent politicians always face accusations of defaulting on their promises, exactly like those President Obama is facing currently from both the Republican and Democratic camps. If you promise the world, even the most impressive advancements can seem disappointing. 

Of course, much of the discontent is tied to the dismal state of the economy. The harsh postwar economic climate that starts Act II of "Gone With The Wind" is eerily similar to today's situation. Scarlett is condemned to picking cotton in a field, a job she would  never have taken on in regular circumstances. With unemployment hovering around 8 percent, this is what an estimated 12.7 million Americans are facing right now - they hold jobs that they are grossly overqualified for. 

Like Scarlett, they have shown determination to adapt to the new situation, but our government leaders have not followed suit. Politicians nourish artificial differences that serve to demarcate them from their supposed arch enemy, while in party ideology there is much upon which the Democrats and Republicans agree. They oppose each other for the sake of opposing, and the apparent rule of thumb is that negative comments generate more publicity than positive ones do. This is also the case within the Republican Party itself. Their candidates are badmouthing each other in an attempt to decide who is furthest removed from the president, but in the process they seem most removed from each other. 

While taking cues from a pop cultural text may seem ludicrous to hardcore economists, it can be a start. On a micro level, it has helped people keep faith in their current state and envision a better future. Corrin Paul of Long Island, N.Y., author of the longest "Gone With The Wind" fan fiction story on the website fanfiction.net, told me that fellow fans, from Oklahoma to the United Arab Emirates, kept her sane during her daughter Cassie's illness and kept her dream of mobility alive. "How else would a girl from Long Island have a standing invite to visit the United Arab Emirates? One day, I will make it there." Such sentiments are crucial to economic recovery. Envisioning a better future is the first step in materializing it - that's why the consumer confidence index can be seen as such an important indicator of economic development. 

Washington can only hope that voters will soon confide in it once again as much as Paul does in Scarlett: "Scarlett always endures, no matter what. She isn't always nice, but she cares for the people she feels responsible for, no matter what it costs her." This attitude is the one that people have the right to expect from politicians. Representatives should not be worried about reelection or campaign funding. As long as they remain transparent, if politicians truly have the nation's interests at heart, they need to abandon partisan interests and even voter demands. They need to use their privileged position of information and influence to devise a long-term financial strategy that will benefit the nation and the world. 

They have to start now. That is what ultimately separates fiction from reality. Tomorrow is another day in Scarlett O'Hara's universe, but in the United States, tomorrow could mean a default and the end of life as we know it. To demonstrate bipartisan goodwill and to bridge the fault lines that threaten to throw the country into disarray is the only way for the U.S. to retain its status as an international superpower.

 

 

Suzanne Enzerink GS is a master's student in American studies and can be reached at suzanne_enzerink@brown.edu.


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