From the Political Junkie: We need Godfrey

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Writer's Note: As always, you can view my blog over on my native site, The Political Junkie, where I have more of all the good stuff you expect.

It will come as no surprise that I am a fan of old movies,
but my wife and I have a special fondness for the films of William Powell (and his often co-star, Myrna Loy.) I was rewatching one of my favorites of his recently and it got me thinking about our current economic woes.

The film is My Man Godfrey, and it was filmed in 1936, seven years after the stock market crash, when the economy was still trashed and the gap between the rich and the poor was almost as dramatic as it is now. It was pitched as a screwball comedy, in the vein of It Happened One Night (1934) where Clark Gable (a rough and tumble reporter) and Claudette Colbert (a spoiled heiress) are tossed together on a wacky road trip and fall in love. A simple formula, but the chemistry and the writing was so good, it swept the Oscars.

In an attempt to replicate their success, My Man Godfrey starts much the same way. Where they part, is the striking commentary on class and poverty. In Godfrey, Carole Lombard, playing a spoiled rich heiress, pulls up next to the city dump. She and her sister, who follows moments behind, try to find a "Forgotten Man" to collect as part of their scavenger hunt. After telling them off for trying to play games with people, William Powell, their choice for a Forgotten Man, decides to come along with them anyway out of curiosity.

After making a bit of a spectacle at the scavenger hunt, it quickly becomes apparent that Lombard's family, while benevolent, is completely scattered and self-absorbed. Protected by their wealth and privilege, they have no idea what life is like for those who are having difficulties, and see only their trivial pursuits.

Upon learning they have trouble keeping servants, he asks to be hired as their butler. He's a clever man, and learns quickly. The love story slowly unfolds from there, but interwoven is the idea of the "Forgotten Man" who lives on the edge of the city, unable to get work, unable to do anything other than barely hang on.

Right now, we live in similar times.
But instead of it being the "Forgotten Man," it is the "Forgotten Generation"—a swath of young people, struggling to get by in difficult times. I've touched on this before, and so have many others (one recent example.) We have a generation, living on the edge, unable to get work, unable to move forward. Most will not have the career trajectory of those who came before. And continued de-funding of education and work opportunities offer no respite or even a glimmer of hope.

Halfway through the film, the city decides to push the dump into the river.
The forgotten men, who make it their home are outraged, but unable to do anything about it. At this juncture in the movie, Godfrey delivers the central message of the film:

Godfrey: The only difference between a derelict and a man is a job.

When I hear Republican candidates talk about the "Welfare State," and the unemployed as lazy, living off the sweat of others, I want to shake them and scream, "You have no idea what you are talking about!" Have you tried looking for work? There isn't any to be had for so many of us. It is not lack of effort, but lack of jobs that is keeping this generation's labor force participation at a record low. And without jobs, this generation will slip away as derelict and forgotten.

The President has proposed the "American Jobs Act." While not perfect, his proposal creates a quarter of a million jobs dedicated to low-income applicants. Our nation gains key investments in infrastructure, on-the-job training programs, and simple tax cuts aimed at those who are struggling to get by, not board members and stockholders. A great deal of the money flows down to the states to prevent layoffs. Over 8,500 teachers and first responders will be saved in Washington state alone. Read more about Washington's chunk here (a pdf).

The clock is ticking on this generation.
We need jobs more than we need a balanced budget. If you want to have a workforce capable of balancing the budget in the future, you have to get this generation as fully employed as possible. The only difference between a lost generation and a generation that can pay the bills in the future is a job. Lots of them. Listen to my man Godfrey. He's right.

About Riley Sweeney

Citizen Journalist • Member since Aug 10, 2009

Riley Sweeney, raised in the Pacific Northwest, moved to Bellingham during the Bush years, worked on a cross-section of political campaigns during the Obama years, and then fled to the [...]

Comments by Readers

David Camp

Sep 26, 2011

Riley - this is the same dynamic that spurred on the Arab Spring - 40% unemployment among young educated adults. However, it wouldn’t have happened unless the Tunisian and Egyptian poor weren’t also struggling to simply feed their families on account of rising food prices.

IMHO this dynamic has not and will not be allowed to happen in the US - the country is still the wealthiest (in real terms, not the fakery of manipulated economic measurements) in the world. No one starves in America.

However, the government, especially the federal government, is increasingly ineffective and illegitimate. And most people have figured it out - but the powerful few who control the media and the political choices we are presented with are too corrupt and too entrenched to change their ways. (and I include the Democratic and Republican party leadership (esp. the sellouts at the DLC)) on my list of the corrupted.

State Socialism collapsed in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the SOviet Union. Twenty-two years later, the edifice of State Capitalism has yet to fall but it certainly is on the way out. COnsider the behavior of its functionaries, who are frantically lining their pockets as fast as they can before the system collapses.

We need more than Godfrey - we need government by those who don;t lie as a matter of habit, like a certain “president” who was elected on promises he apparently had no intention of keeping.


David Camp

Sep 26, 2011

Incidentally, consider the example of the government of Canada:

Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of Canada, has aroused the ire of Jaime Dimon, CEO of JP MOrgan Chase. Why hasn’t MR. Dimon similarly chastised Tim Geithner? Perhaps because the Bank of Canada is an actual effective financial regulator - unlike the Treasury department, which is run of by and for the benefit of Goldman Sachs and their ilk.


Paul deArmond

Sep 26, 2011

All it takes for a lunatic asylum is a big room and the right kind of people.
- Hiram Bullock


Dick Conoboy

Sep 28, 2011


I thought we were talking about Arthur Godfrey.  Where is my ukulele?