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Archive for October, 2010

Star Wars is, at its heart, a very political story: the corruption and decay of a republic, the rise of an oppressive galactic empire, a rebellion, the struggle for freedom, a brutal civil war, finally concluding with the creation of a new republic.  As the movies are plot and character driven, these series of posts will be a marriage of both, seeking to explore the political motivations of the characters.  The tale itself is currently spread over six movies (or novels), but for the purpose of this assessment, I will only be focusing on the original or classic trilogy.  To make it a little more manageable, this piece shall center only on the first film.  So, let’s get underway.

The very beginning of Episode IV: A New Hope draws us right into the heart of the conflict and it all hinges around the actions of Leia Organa.  She is a strong-willed Senator in the Imperial Government as well as a Princess of the planet Alderaan.  Fed up with the actions of the Empire, she travels into the outer rim of the galaxy to acquire the technical specifications to a new and massive battle station created to instill fear and obedience throughout the universe.  She hopes to discover a weakness in this Death Star in the hopes of destroying it and the eventual dismantling of the Empire itself.  By doing so, she risks her safety, her political career, her life, and even the lives of the people of Alderaan.  Thus there is fundamental question that should be addressed, is she a patriot or a traitor?  That inquiry alone colors your entire outlook of the film.  Does she owe allegiance to her government and whoever may be in charge, or should she support the higher ideals and original spirit of that government?  Obviously, as almost all of the film is shot from the Rebel’s perspective, George Lucas, the creator, strongly pushes you one way.  But back to our story, when captured, she sends out a request for aid, jettisons the plans, and kills a trooper that discovers her location.  Leia disavows all knowledge of the plans and of the Rebellion, even under torture. She remains defiant even with knowledge of her impending death until the entire planet of Alderaan is threatened.  She ends up lying to buy time, but her homeworld is destroyed anyway.

In this installment, we are not introduced to the Emperor himself.  Instead we only learn about him through other characters.  Similar to Caesar in Imperial Rome and with a name that sounds like one of the seven hills, Emperor Palpatine heads up the galactic government with a Senate of undefined but obviously limited power.  Early on, the Emperor quickly and easily dissolves the body using the excuse of the threat of Rebellion.  With the Republic now completely dismantled, the Governors and the bureaucrats wield the power.  In A New Hope, the Empire is represented by the white armored stormtroopers, Vader, and the highest-ranking Imperial, Grand Moff Tarkin. Tarkin makes his political philosophy, aptly named the Tarkin Doctrine, manifest through his actions.  Taking a page from Machiavelli, the Governor opts to rule through the primary motivation of fear.  Rather than using force directly, he relies on a fear of the use of force to promote his will.  Thus by using the Death Star, the Empire’s new battle station, twice to destroy the planets of Alderaan and Yavin IV (sort of like the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II), he plans to force other planets to bend to his will without resorting to annihilating them as well.  As Tarkin is killed and the first Death Star is destroyed, we don’t discover if his doctrine is ultimately successful or not, whether the threat of the Death Star would compel other systems to accept Imperial rule without further need of violence.

The original film is rich with even more characters with political motives.  For example, there is the old Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi burdened with the memories of the decay of the Republic and the fall of Darth Vader.  He lives like a hermit on the outskirts of humanity dutifully watching over Luke Skywalker. As soon as he receives the call from Leia, he jumps into action, recruiting Luke and chartering a starship.  Once they are captured, he willing offers himself as a sacrifice in order to further the mission.  Although martyrdom for a political cause has become tainted due to fact it is presently associated terrorists whose main goal is to kill innocent civilians, Obi-Wan is perhaps the most noble of all of the characters.

When we first meet Han Solo, he is an amoral politically neutral smuggler.  He treasures freedom and wealth and only helps the Rebels for an excessively high fee.  Chewbacca, his first mate, bound to Han through a life debt, acts as the moral conscious of the pair.  Unlike most of the characters, Chewie speaks in a non-English tongue and his words are never translated, so we can only assess his thoughts by his tone and the reaction of the others.  By the end of A New Hope, Han, with pressure from Luke and Leia, comes to the realization that he can never really truly be free under the threat of an oppressive Empire.  Therefore, he signs on with the Rebellion in part, to further his own goals, but also to become part of a movement larger than himself.

The political motivations of the main character, Luke Skywalker, are far less clear.  At the beginning of the film, he strongly desires to go to the Imperial Academy to become a pilot, like his friend Biggs did some time earlier.  After meeting Obi-Wan and hearing the plea of Leia, he resolves to fight against this now hated Empire.  With the death of his Aunt and Uncle at the hands of stormtroopers, he is further provoked in the struggle.  Only by including information found in the radio drama do we discover Luke’s driving inspiration.  Although unfortunately cut from the movie, Biggs reunites with Luke so that he can inform him of his defection from the Empire and his plan to join the rebellion.  This revelation begs the question; at first was Luke only a mindless groupie, or an easily impressionable youth?  Did he originally join the Rebellion merely to gain the approval of others like Biggs, Leia, and Obi-Wan?

Don’t forget the droids!  C-3PO seems only vaguely aware of the great political struggle all around him.  He is primarily concerned with his own survival and displays loyalty to whichever party claims ownership of him.  In many ways, he displays the typical attitudes and interests of the average citizen.  R2-D2, on the other hand, forsakes concepts such as ownership and self-preservation in order to further the task set forth by Princess Leia.

One may be disappointed to find that Darth Vader makes only the briefest of mention in this article, but politically his role in this film was minor compared to what is revealed about him in the next two.  The Rebellion may have won the day, but the Emperor will not simply surrender to these so-called terrorists.  And so, in the next chapter, The Empire Strikes Back.

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As a follow-up to my two-year-old post, “The 31 Flavors of Conservatism“, I just found a nifty little quiz that seeks to answer the question, what kind of conservative are you?  It’s only eight questions long, but as it covers a broad range of issues and includes a good number of choices, it should give you a pretty accurate answer.  Hopefully your response, like mine, will read,

“Congratulations!

You are Most Likely a Paleoconservative!”

So, go check it out for yourself! The quiz is part of U.S. conservative politics on about.com.

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Although I was unaware until very recently, here in Virginia we will be voting for more than just candidates on next month’s ballot.  We have three, count ’em three, potential amendments to the Virginia Constitution.  Although I doubt many of us have read the Virginia Constitution, a great pity, I encourage you to check out this important document.  It can be found on the internet here.  In order to make the right decision concerning these three amendments, you need to know what each do.  Here to explain is my State Senator, Mark Obenshain.

Many voters will be surprised to see three Virginia Constitutional Amendments on the ballot when they vote in three weeks (or earlier if voting by absentee ballot).  I write this to provide a quick overview of the three constitutional ballot questions you will see when you vote.

All three amendments address taxation and revenue issues, and all three have passed the General Assembly two consecutive years (with nearly unanimous votes), as is required by the Constitution of Virginia, and they now go before the voters for final approval.

The first ballot question reads as follows: “Shall Section 6 of Article X of the Constitution of Virginia be amended to authorize legislation that will permit localities to establish their own income or financial worth limitations for purposes of granting property tax relief for homeowners not less than 65 years of age or permanently disabled?”

Currently, localities are only authorized to make exemptions for those who bear an “extraordinary tax burden,” or with the express approval of the General Assembly, which occasionally passes legislation authorizing specific localities to afford local property tax relief to senior citizens or the disabled. This amendment, if approved, would allow local governments to make the decision on their own, without going to the General Assembly for approval.

The second ballot question asks: “Shall the Constitution be amended to require the General Assembly to provide real property tax exemption for the principal residence of a veteran, or his or her surviving spouse, if the veteran has a 100 percent service-connected, permanent, and total disability?”

If approved, this amendment would require a statewide exemption from local property taxes for the primary residence of any 100% disabled veteran, provided that the veteran’s disability is service-related. A surviving spouse could continue to claim the exemption so long as the same home remains his or her primary residence, and s/he does not remarry.

Finally, the third ballot question says: “Shall Section 8 of Article X of the constitution of Virginia be amended to increase the permissible size of the Revenue Stabilization Fund (also known as the “rainy day fund” from 10 percent to 15 percent of the Commonwealth’s average tax revenues derived from income and retail sales taxes for the preceding three fiscal years?”

In other words, should we expand the allowable size of Virginia’s “rainy day fund,” to which state government contributes in good years to provide resources for lean years? Currently, the maximum size of the Fund – which is almost empty at present – is 10% of the Commonwealth’s average annual tax revenues from income and sales taxes for the preceding three fiscal years; this amendment would up the maximum allowable amount to 15%.

If you have any questions about these three ballot items, please do not hesitate to let me know – and please remember to vote on Tuesday, November 2nd!

Thank you Senator Obenshain with your words of insight.  Hopefully all Virginians, myself included, take the time to read and learn about these amendments to determine which, if any, are right for us.

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Ran across this interesting chart from Bonnie Kristian and the rest of the folks over at Young Americans for Liberty a few moments ago.  Care to know how the federal government spends your tax dollars?  Now you can.

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Campaign billboards seem to be all the rage in the eastern part of Tennessee.  I’ve seen them for candidates for Governor and the statehouse.  Now that I think about it, I might have even seen one for a federal race.  Personally I have never really understood the point of a campaign billboard.  Sure they do raise visibility, but how many more yard signs could one get for the cost of a single billboard?  Billboards show that a campaign has money, but yard signs in peoples’ yards add the human dimension.  They indicate that the person who lives on or owns the property cares enough about his or her candidate to let his or her neighbors know of their public support.  Nevertheless, while driving through Hamblen County last month, one billboard caught my eye.  It displayed a smiling image of a statehouse candidate on one side and President Obama on the other.  The sign informed the reader that Larry Mullins was a Delegate at Barack Obama’s nomination convention in 2008.  The message was simple and to the point.  Larry Mullins is a Democrat who supports Democratic leaders like Obama.

The more I thought about the sign, the more it nagged me.  Do Democratic voters really need a rallying cry to support their candidate?  Wouldn’t a fairly rural community of approximately 60,000 residents have heavily supported John McCain over Barack Obama back in the 2008 election?  With this assumption in mind, I decided to check the Tennessee State Board of Elections website.  Sure enough, McCain won in a landside, 15,508 votes to 6,807.  Like in most areas of the country, I think it would be safe to assume that the President’s popularity has decreased since 2008, so that means an even greater majority of voters in Hamblen County would be against him.  It just didn’t make sense to me why the Mullins campaign would tie themselves to such a negative in the community like President Obama.

About an hour ago, I was out driving through Hamblen County and came across the vexing sign once more.  Finding a safe spot alongside the road, I pulled over and grabbed my camera.  It was possible that I remembered the billboard incorrectly.  If not, I could determine what organization or person was foolhardy enough to pay for this ad.  Upon closer inspection, here is what I found.

As you can see in the small lettering at the top of the billboard, the Tennessee Republican Party paid for the ad.  The sign doesn’t serve as a clarion call to Democrats but rather a grim warning to Hamblen County voters.  It is as if the sign reads, “Hey Hamblen County, you overwhelmingly rejected the guy on the right two years ago!  Larry Mullins, the guy on the left, strongly supported him then, so shouldn’t you reject him as well now?”

I doubt that few, if any voters in Hamblen County, Tennessee have given as much thought to this billboard that I have. I will admit, however, that it did give me something to ponder until I took the time to discover all of the details.  Although I still recommend against campaign billboards for the reasons stated above, maybe a few of them, like this sign in the sky, have some hidden value.

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Photo thanks to RonPaul.com

For those of you who haven’t heard the exciting news by now, Dr. No is coming to Richmond!  He will be one of the central speakers at the Greater Richmond Convention Center during the 2010 Virginia Tea Party Convention.  His speech is scheduled for 2:25 PM on Saturday, so if you are planning on attending, make sure not to miss him.  Read more about it at http://www.vateapartyconvention.com/. Other speakers include Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, AG Ken Cuccinelli, and former Senator George Allen.  It is encouraging to see so many Virginia leaders working alongside the Tea Party movement and Representative Paul.  I wish that I could join you all on Saturday, but as I’ll be about four hundred miles away, I guess I’m going to skip this one.  Nevertheless, many bloggers from the Jeffersoniad will be on hand for the event, so I’m sure there will be a lot of great coverage.  Once they have their posts up, I’ll link you to several.

So join the Tea Party crowd in Richmond this Saturday, October 9.  It should be a day to remember.

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This past week or so, my inbox box has been abuzz with emails from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  The interesting thing is that the Democrats have been consistently writing that they will maintain their majority after the November election.  As Pelosi writes, “We will retain our Democratic Majority in the House because I have you in this fight”.  Now obviously she doesn’t have my backing, and I would expect the Democrats to suffer a strong backlash in these midterm elections in protest of Obamacare, a continually faltering and protracted conflict far beyond our borders, and the general weakness of the economy and the job market.

The historical trend is that the party in the White House will lose seats in both houses of Congress in midterm elections.  For example, when did the Democrats most recently gain control of Congress?  2006, during the middle of Bush’s second term.  After a forty-year drought, Republicans took control of the House of Representatives during Clinton’s first mid term in 1994.  Although there are exceptions, there have only been three times in the last one hundred years that have bucked this trend.  In the current cycle, according to Rasmussen Reports, Republicans have enjoyed a small, but uninterrupted, advantage on a generic ballot since June 28 of last year.   In addition, they report that the number of folks who identify themselves as Democrats have fallen to record lows.

Republicans will make gains in next months election, of that I am certain.  However, I am not unwilling to make the claim that this upcoming election will be a “slam dunk” for the Republican Party, nor do I think it necessarily should be.  Voters are in general fed up with politics and usual and until and unless one party (the Republicans) is consistently willing to stand for the Constitution and a limited government, the government will continually vacillate between the two parties, casting each aside in turn as they hope for something better.  We must reject politicians like Pelosi who claim first priority over our income, our general welfare, and even our children.  I don’t know who will be speaker after the November election, but given her very low popularity, 59% negative according to a yesterday’s Rasmussen Reports, I would expect that both Nancy’s reign and her letters are soon coming to an end.

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