In 1968, not long after the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, Louis Armstrong went to the ABC Records studio to record “What A Wonderful World.” It was written by George David Weiss and legendary producer Bob Thiele (Coltrane, Mingus, Gillespie). Armstrong hoped the song would lift spirits a bit after the tragedies of that year.
ABC Records Sales Manager Larry Newton hated the song. He showed up at the studio demanding an end to the session. He raged so that Thiele finally shoved Newton out of the studio door and locked it behind him. Newton pounded on the door and continued to scream that the recording session stop.
Not a bad allegory. Today’s Republicans are enraged about the health care reform proposals. Certain of their divine authority but locked out of the White House and reduced to minority party status in the House and Senate, they pound their fists on the door and shout ridiculous things into the air.
Republicans are the Mr. Newtons of America’s debate over health care reform, which is, after all, just an effort to make the world a little more wonderful. Call it Newton’s Law: When something wonderful falls from a tree and bumps a selfish grump on the noggin, it will be mistaken for a falling sky.
In his anger, Larry Newton made sure “What A Wonderful World” wasn’t promoted in the U.S. It became the biggest selling single of 1968 in England. It was a hit throughout Europe. Still ABC balked, and U.S. sales lagged. Armstrong kept singing it, though, and people loved it. If you didn’t notice, the YouTube video above has been viewed more than 18 million times. Recorded by many artists, billions have enjoyed it, countless millions paid money for it. That Larry Newton, he knew a loser when he heard it.
A word about the song: It’s magic comes from the depth of Armstrong’s performance. It celebrates life, but it’s bluesy. Armstrong’s voice carries with it the knowledge of why we sing such songs. Life is not always wonderful, and Armstrong reminds us of the tragic as he sings of the blessings.
Larry Newton seems to have been afraid that the song would bomb, or maybe he was just mad that he wasn’t in charge. Today’s big Newtons, the Republicans, just can’t stand the idea that people can work together to take care of one another. They dislike Social Security because it works, not because it doesn’t work. But it violates their hierarchical, authoritarian worldview. In their orderly universe, a few of the Elect are supposed to rule over the many un-Elect, who falter because of their own shortcomings. Giving them a hand up the ladder is immoral. It violates the all-against-all ethic.
They are also threatened when the light of the wonderful penetrates the Hobbesian gloom, which they use like B-movie horror masters to keep us quivering in our seats. The contemplated reforms in health care are going to give citizens more freedom, help them become better educated by eliminating persistent childhood illness. Reform will create more opportunity. New, hopeful entrepreneurs will be free to leave stultifying jobs in big corporations they stay in now because it’s the only way they get health insurance for their families.
For Republican horror movie moguls, this is like turning the lights on the Frankenstein’s Castle. What, they worry, will they do if the people are less anxious and afraid?
In a sense, the tables are turned. When health care reform turns on the lights, it’s the gloomy ones who become afraid. Isn’t it wonderful?