The Hamilton Duel

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Experiencing the unexpected is one of the things I love about live theater, so I would love to have been in the audience when the cast of Hamilton decided to explain their position to vice-president-elect Mike Pence the weekend before Thanksgiving. (Although I would not have been happy if it had been my first experience with the play.) I support the right of the cast to exercise their free speech, and I agree with those who say they were respectful and sincere. They even silenced the booing. Sort of.

However, I wish the cast had trusted their art more. Everything they said in their speech was heartfelt and important. But it had already been said in the play. Storytelling is a powerful art form, perhaps the most powerful way of expressing a message, because it touches the heart as well as the mind. It’s the reason I’m so passionate about film. And when you add music, the power increases exponentially. The lecture simply wasn’t necessary.

I remember the night I saw Hamiltonshortly after it opened, before I had heard the music or the hype. It was a transformative experience, and I’m glad it wasn’t marred by a post-performance lecture. I stayed at my seat until the last chord of the postlude and applauded one more time. The music stayed with me as I left the theater. The play ends with an epilogue focusing on the women in Hamilton’s life and what they did to preserve his legacy and his writings after his death, and I thought about their contribution to the cause of liberty during the Revolution.

Everything they said in their speech was heartfelt and important. But it had already been said in the play.

As I walked to the train station, I contemplated the rich heritage portrayed in the play, particularly as demonstrated in the casting of ethnic minorities in all the major roles and most of the ensemble. It made me think more deeply about those revolutionaries we usually see depicted in brocade finery and speaking the king’s English, men who were actually more like the Occupy movement of our day. It made me wonder whether I would have been a royalist or a revolutionary, something I never questioned before. It also helped me understand the royalists’ position better, and how hard it must have been to give up a way of life that had been comfortable and familiar to them. Would I have been willing to sacrifice all that I have for the ideal of freedom?

In short, I got it, in my mind and in my heart, through the storytelling and the music. The audience who saw the play with Mike Pence also had an unforgettable experience, but I doubt that it was focused on the music or the story.

It made me wonder whether I would have been a royalist or a revolutionary, something I never questioned before.

Like the characters they play onstage, the actors took a risk Friday night. It wasn’t a risk to their lives but to their livelihoods. I admire their courage and their sincerity. But they weren’t the only ones at risk that night. I can only imagine the consternation of the Secret Service agents as they tried to move their charge from the crowded theater before the curtain calls were ended, as they are instructed to do. Transitions are always the most dangerous time for a Secret Service agent, so it must have been a nightmare for them when the cast invited the audience to take out their cellphones to record the speech, and everyone reached into their purses and pockets! They put everyone at risk at that moment. Fortunately Secret Service agents have better training than cops, and no one was trigger-happy. I’m sure they surrounded Mr. Pence with their bodies, ready to take a bullet rather than use one. But there could have been a tragic outcome as everyone reached for those phones.

So yes, the cast of Hamilton had every right to say what they said, just as those who argued both sides of the issue that weekend had every right to express their opinions. I just wish the cast had trusted their art to tell the story and convey the message by itself. Perhaps they could have invited Mr. Pence backstage to talk to them about his experience and their hopes in a meaningful way. They knew he was coming, so they could have arranged it ahead of time. Then the news story might have been about Mr. Pence’s response to the play, instead of everyone else’s response to the lecture.




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The Hypocrisy of High Office

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The president’s boundless hypocrisy is always a source of wonderment to me. This is one of his most salient traits, along with narcissism, arrogance, and contempt for all who disagree with him.

His hypocrisy was apparent from the first. The moment he took office, he killed the voucher program that gave an opportunity to 2,500 poor minority children to escape the wretched school system of the District of Columbia. He did this at the very moment when he and his wife were putting their own kids in the swankiest, spendiest private school in the city.

Then there has been his endless bashing of the rich — while he and his wife were collecting millions from rich donors, many of whom got prominent roles in the administration, or taxpayer-subsidized loans and grants from it.

The latest illustrations are equally . . . rich. The first is the news that Obama, even while campaigning strenuously to limit everyone else’s gun rights, has just signed into law a bill that will give him Secret Service protection for life — that is, protection by armed guards, furnished by the government. He thus reversed a law from the 1990s that put a 10-year limit on the coverage.

Yes, even while the administration is ghoulishly exploiting dead children in its calls for an assault weapons ban, making all federal buildings “gun-free” zones, and limiting the size of bullet clips, Obama himself will be protected in perpetuity by men carrying those evil guns.

In this respect, it must be noted, Obama simply joined the ranks of other famous people who oppose guns for everybody but themselves or their bodyguards. It upsets me to do so, but I think of Rosie O’Donnell, Dianne Feinstein, Michael Bloomberg, and Michael Moore, all of whom have sought or employed armed guards or have their own conceal-carry permits, while waging war against the Second Amendment.

None of them, however, can manifest hypocrisy on such a grand scale as we have seen in the Great Obama Sequester Scare. Honestly, I cannot fathom how anybody could be silly enough to think that a 2% cut in the budget — which is slated to grow by an even greater amount than that, so that net spending by the federal government will in fact go up, but by a slightly smaller amount than planned — will cause catastrophic consequences. Yet Obama, ever the demagogue, used every scare tactic in the book to arouse opposition to the plan that he himself devised, suggesting that planes would crash, thousands (or was it millions?) of teachers would lose their jobs, billions of people would die from eating uninspected food, floods of biblical proportion would ravage the landscape, and all manner of other hysterical hoohah.

For once the Republicans called his bluff. They allowed the sequester to happen. So Obama is now cutting expenditures in ways that are clearly intended to punish both Republican politicians and all taxpayers vicious enough to support any schemes of fiscal restraint. His most daring attempt to curb expenditures (so far, at least) has been to stop White House tours — right about Spring Break time. The intent is obviously to make the vacationing little ones cry out to their parents, who will then be filled with outrage against the enemies of government spending. The savings from these omitted tours? A gargantuan $18,000 a week. For larger savings, the administration released a horde of alleged lawbreakers, formerly held for deportation proceedings. Undoubtedly, these people will report to the proper authorities, whenever requested to do so. No security problems there.

But where security really matters, the administration is careful not to cut at all. For example, Department of Homeland Security chief Janet (“Big Sister”) Napolitano announced that while the Secret Service’s budget will be cut, the president’s own security team won’t be reduced a penny. And don’t worry — there are apparently no plans to cut the White House calligraphers, who (as noted by Kimberley Strassel) collectively earn $277,000 a year. They’re worth as much as four months of White House tours — and apparently cheap at the price. Otherwise, I’m sure, they would have been laid off.

It’s too bad that the president doesn’t have more time to stay at home and watch them do their work. He has golfed more than any other president, and when he isn’t golfing (with those horrid rich people, by the way), he is usually on vacation. (I’m counting his speaking tours as vacation time, because after all, listening to his own voice is one of the president’s most valued forms of recreation.) But this stuff can get pricey. As Strassel observes, cutting the White House tours created savings equal to about two hours of Air Force One flying time.

I won’t even mention Michelle Obama’s upcoming 50th birthday bash, with Adele and Beyonce performing. That should cost about a thousand weeks of White House tours.

Faced with the necessity, the grim, unnatural, and wholly unforeseen necessity of cutting any government expenditures whatever, Obama will always do his best to make the cuts hurt the ordinary people whom he purports to champion, while maintaining his own life among the rich and special, spending freely on himself and friends.

What a guy!




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Not-So-Secret Service

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