Things I Know About Politics that I Learned from Musicals

Someone who was weaned on Annie is going to be an unreliable guide to politics. Even more unreliable is someone whose favorite moment in Annie is when Harold Ickes, Frances Perkins, and FDR sing “Tomorrow” in harmony, with FDR demanding billionaire Oliver Warbucks join the harmony (“Republicans, too, Oliver!”). This is, clearly, a major reason for my delusional optimism.  (I’m not the only one. Check this out.)

But there’s enough negativity in the world. I’m going to sing out, Louise embrace my flaws. Here’s what musicals taught me.

  • When Elphaba defies gravity after accusing Galinda of groveling in submission to feed her own ambition, don’t we see Elphaba  as the hero? But who made her ultimate redemption possible? Her friend on the inside, powerful ally Glinda. Our inside actors don’t get the heroic roles, but wow are they necessary.
  • Some adversaries really, really aren’t worth the effort to try to persuade. See: Book of Mormon.
  • Bad politics rot our society from the inside. And thanks, Cabaret, for making me fall in love with a song that I discovered much later was sung by the Nazis in the movie.
  • Les Miserables: everyone dies, so I might as well drink. Ok, not everyone dies, but when all we are left with is Marius and Cosette, really, I might as well drink. Even Marius realizes this in “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.” Cosette, btw, was clearly a human trafficking survivor.
    • When Les Mis doesn’t depress me, it also provides about the strongest possible example of why not all prosecutions are just. And in a country obsessed with punishing the marginalized, and deporting people for little more than stealing a loaf of bread, it’s good to remember that nobody who watches that show wants to be Javert. We may understand him, and show him respect. But we all want to be Valjean.
      • Or Eponine. Because (a) the cap and (b) the best songs.
  • The car-dismantling nuns of The Sound of Music certainly taught me about how what’s right or wrong depends mightily on context.

In all seriousness, who better than Coalhouse Walker, Junior for these times, reminding us that law is not justice, and that our sword “may be a sermon, or the power of the pen…make them hear you. Make them hear you.” You don’t believe me? Listen to this.