Tuesday, December 29, 2009

THE STAGEHANDS

The quiet guys, behind the scenes -- in show biz, they're stagehands who work hard, often work longer hours, with no applause, lower salaries, and a lot more sweat, than the star actors on the stage.

(Golly, if I hadn't learned to be a stagehand, and painted flats, sewed costumes, focused follow spots, fresnels, and ellipsoidals -- setup amps, mikes, and loudspeakers -- I wouldn't have been able to earn a living, and tour the college concert circuit with my dance company.)

In the White House, Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Eric Holder, Attorney General, and Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, are the highly skilled, super-helper laborers, behind the scene.

I know their names, see flashes of them on TV, but what these guys are supposed to do -- the job description -- the definition and nature of the work -- I had to gather bit by bit from various gov.com Websites, news magazines, and newspapers. (www. fedgov.com, huffingtonpost.com N.Y.Times, Newsweek, Time, New Republic, www.library.northwestern.edu/govpub.)

Bernanke's job is everything that's involved with the country's money supply. He studies and sets short-term interest rates that affect inflation, unemployment, the strength of the dollar, and what's in your wallet. He engineered those massive money rescues for the various failing companies -- hedge funds, foreign banks, investment banks, manufacturers, insurers and other borrowers -- he jump-started credit markets, created cash for clunkers, housing finance, mortgage bonds, and found and spent government money reshaping U.S. policy, in his effort to save the economy. "Bail-out Ben" is what White House insiders call him.

(I don't recall if I've ever seen Mr. Bernanke on TV, or heard him speak; when I saw his picture on the cover of "Time," even with his name under it, I didn't realize what a kingpin he is.)

Eric Holder, our Attorney General, is the government's chief lawyer who serves as a member of the President's Cabinet, but is the only cabinet department head who is not given the title "Secretary." His concerns have been the investigation of banks with ties to Iran -- U.S. based, and international terrorist plots -- the closing of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay -- the investigation of the enhanced interrogation techniques (like water-boarding), and the NSA, the National Security Agency's warrantless surveillance program that has included spying on private citizens. Also, Holder is handling the arranging of the trials (after eight years of delay), for suspected terrorists in federal courts, including the alleged architect of the USS Cole bombing, before a revived, military commission.

(I've seen Mr. Holder once or twice on TV, and wondered -- is he camera shy, or is he always silent, and taciturn, sort of unfriendly? He is definitely a low-profile, very, "Very Important Person.")

Nancy Pelosi, as Speaker of the House, presides over the sessions and keeps order. As the leader of the majority party, through the House Parliamentarian, she refers all bills to committees and also appoints the chairs of the committees, and is able to limit debate, and amendments. A combination of administrative, legislative, protocol, and political duties makes the Speaker (in the words of Thomas B. Reed, Speaker of the House 1889-91), “the embodiment of the House, its power and dignity.”

Throughout this year, Nancy Pelosi has used that power, and the Democratic majority, to pass every item on Obama's agenda -- health care, energy, regulatory reform, education, pay equity. While most of the media attention has been on the intrigue and machinations of the Senate, where bills get snarled in procedure and the 60-vote hurdle to overcome filibusters, "The amount of things the House has done this year has been mind-boggling," says White House communications director, Dan Pfeiffer.

My impression of Mrs. Pelosi -- (even though she stays in the background, she's constantly being blamed, and criticized) -- is that she is unfazed. I admire her grace and poise, and I love the way she sticks to her guns.

Behind the scene, Bernanke, Holder, and Pelosi have kept the Obama agenda, "his show, on the boards" (as we say in show biz) -- like the "grips," the stagehands who build, maintain, paint, decorate, assemble, and dismantle the set, the flats, the furniture -- like the "flyers" who bring scenery down from the "flies" (the storage area above the stage), -- like the "props" people in the wings, who provide a pair of glasses, dishes, cigarettes (small things that the actors use).

Together, this backstage "crew," along with the Pentagon and the other members of the President's Cabinet, make sure the "show" works the way they, and the boss, want it to work.

Obama's plans are HUGE -- involving changes, fixes, rebuilding, solving many issues that endanger us as a country, as well as individuals.

Hey, maybe he's going to be able to pull a smash "hit" series out of his hat -- that'll run every day, every night, for a long time!

There's no biz like show biz -- there's no world leader on the world stage like Obama. I'm glad he's got Ben, Eric and Nancy to help him.

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