Understanding Debt Ceiling Politicians Through 12 Angry Men

07/17/2011 07:58 pm ET | Updated Sep 16, 2011
  • Gail Vida Hamburg Author, 'The Edge of the World,' & the forthcoming 'Liberty Landing'

Director Sidney Lumet's 1957 classic, 12 Angry Men, a mainstay in law and business school curriculum, that shows the influence of preconceived notions, assumptions and prejudice, and deconstructs coalition building, the art of persuasion, reciprocity, and dealmaking, is a useful film for understanding politicians involved in the debt ceiling talks.

Starring Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb and a host of familiar faces from grainy black and white television shows, the film is both an examination of the American judicial system (the 12 angry men are jurors who must weigh in on a murder case) and touches on some of the issues and "isms" that America was grappling with in the late 50s -- communism, fascism, racism, McCarthyism.

In the current talks, politicians on both sides of the aisle hold on to their positions with white-knuckled ferocity and refuse to deal with the hot mess that is the debt ceiling, while the rest of us have been rendered mute by the complexity of it all, or struck a Gandhian pose of civil disobedience by posting snark about politicians on this and other sites, or have given up and curled into a psychological fetal position.

The consequences to micro-economics (our ability to sustain ourselves financially without sinking into a deep debt hole or relying on the kindness of those who love or tolerate us) and macro-economics (China's ability to claim us as household pets [Stephen Colbert, 2010]) are as dire as the taglines in the film advertising for 12 Angry Men: "LIFE IS IN THEIR HANDS -- DEATH IS ON THEIR MINDS! It EXPLODES Like 12 Sticks of Dynamite."

"We cannot default but we cannot afford to retreat right now either. Now is not the time to retreat, it's the time to reload. And we reload with reality..." Sarah Palin weighed in on the debt ceiling recently. When horse manure like this flies in your direction faster than you can dodge it, there's nothing left to do but watch Jon Stewart to render American life as we live it now into comedy, or play a new parlor game -- match the juror from 12 Angry Men to a politician opining on the debt talks.

FOREMAN: A small, petty man who is impressed with the authority he has and handles himself quite formally. Not overly bright, but dogged.
JUROR NO. 3: A very strong, very forceful, extremely opinionated man within whom can be detected a streak of sadism. He is a humorless man who is intolerant of opinions other than his own and accustomed to forcing his wishes and views upon others.
JUROR NO. 4: Seems to be a man of wealth and position. He is a practiced speaker who presents himself well at all times. He seems to feel a little bit above the rest of the jurors. His only concern is with the facts in this case, and he is appalled at the behavior of the others.
JUROR NO. 6: An honest but dull-witted man who comes upon his decisions slowly and carefully. A man who finds it difficult to create positive opinions, but who must listen to and digest and accept those opinions offered by others which appeal to him most.
JUROR NO. 7: A loud, flashy-handed salesman type who has more important things to do than to sit on a jury. He is quick to show temper, quick to form opinions on things about which he knows nothing. Is a bully and, of course, a coward.
JUROR NO. 8: A quiet, thoughtful, gentle man. A man who sees all sides of every question and constantly seeks the truth. A man of strength tempered with compassion. Above all, he is a man who wants justice to be done and will fight to see that it is.
JUROR NO. 10 An angry, bitter man. He is a man who antagonizes almost at sight. A bigot who places no values on any human life save his own, a man who has been nowhere and is going nowhere and knows it deep within him.
Juror NO. 12: A slick, bright advertising man who thinks of human beings in terms of percentages graphs, and polls and has no real understanding of people. He is a superficial snob, but trying to be a good fellow.

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