The Democrats have long been accused of being the party of Hollywood, a complaint only relevant because Republicans never recovered from being unpopular in grade school. Granted, there is some truth to the matter, as a majority of entertainers supported Barack Obama this past November. However, so did a majority of Americans as a whole, so it’s hard to blame them too much.
With that said, it is obvious that the Republicans are the true party of Hollywood. I don’t mean because of their supporters in Hollywood, a group that is limited to old actors with mustaches (Chuck Norris, Wilfred Brimley, Sarah Michelle Gellar). Instead, Republicans are the party of Hollywood because they desperately want to believe that they are the stars of a movie. Luckily, Barack Obama has gone a long way to reverse that mindset in the White House, to the benefit of the American people.
A perfect example is the Bush administration’s use of torture. The CIA was allowed to hold detainees in CIA prisons, using "enhanced interrogation techniques" to extract "time-sensitive" information. The CIA bragged about how their toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, earned the respect of interrogators, because he made it through a full two minutes of waterboarding before "begging to confess". Justice Antonin Scalia, speaking on the topic of torture, explicitly made the comparison that Republicans wanted the American people to make: "Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles . . . He saved hundreds of thousands of lives. Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?"
That’s right. America can torture, because it’s so flippin’ cool on "24". And it works every time.
President Obama released memos last week that deflated the badass image Republicans wanted with all their might to believe. Khalid Sheik Mohammed was waterboarded a total of 183 times. Whether he begged to confess in all cases, or if the 183 times spanned just two minutes, or if the CIA was flat-out lying is unclear. Imagine if Jack Bauer tortured that many times: it’d take dozens of seasons to get through, and the American people would realize that the time-sensitivity of a ticking bomb was no longer a legitimate plot element.
Another example of the Hollywoodization of the right is the Republicans’ love of painting themselves into heroes, valiantly fighting evildoers. Perhaps this is a symptom of watching too many of Ronald Reagan’s movies, and assuming that a true leader is the star of a Hollywood western. Bush imagined himself as an Old West sheriff (or perhaps as a member of Bon Jovi) when he said of Osama bin Laden, "There's an old poster out West that says, Wanted: Dead or Alive." Later, talking about terrorists in Iraq, he famously said, "Bring ‘em on".
Of course, Ronald Reagan was always victorious in his movies. Osama bin Laden is still wanted, and Iraqi insurgents definitely brought it on.
President Obama, on the other hand, doesn’t see the world in black and white. He called for the end of the ineffective trade embargo against Cuba during the campaign, and as a result, Raul Castro is now willing to discuss a change in the country’s civil rights policies. Obama was willing to shake hands with Hugo Chavez, and so far the only consequence is the book The Open Veins of Latin America shooting to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list.
Sometimes the hero images are historical. The recent tea party protests referenced a night in 1773, when thousands of Bostonians took to the city’s harbor to protest unfair taxation without representation. The Boston Tea Party appears in countless movies and books that tell of the birth of the United States, and is taught today in every elementary classroom. This April 15th, thousands of people across the country made the same cries as back then, proudly displaying their anger for taxes in front of television cameras. Unfortunately, the parallels to the original protest don’t extend very far. Since virtually all of the protesters made less than $250,000 a year (people who made more were likely at work), their taxes went down this year thanks to President Obama. And assuming that they were US citizens, they each elect two senators and a congressman, and that’s just at the federal level. They’re plenty represented.
The official website for the tea party protests prominently displays Emanuel Leutze’s "Washington Crossing the Delaware", explicitly comparing themselves to the bravery and importance of a pivotal battle in the Revolutionary War. Casual observers, on the other hand, see in the tea partiers a group of spoiled, delusional children.
The rescue of Captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates shows that the Republicans haven’t lost the desire to have a movie-star-hero president, even with Bush out of office. Immediately following the pirate attack, conservatives complained about Obama’s reaction, since he had no announcements about the use of crushing military power. Talk show hosts worried that Obama would attempt to negotiate his way out of the crisis. Instead, President Obama quietly ordered Navy Seals to use deadly force, and they did.
So, President Obama did exactly what Bush would have done, but instead of drawing inspiration from Dirty Harry, he drew from Teddy Roosevelt: "Speak softly and carry a big stick". How did righties react?
RedState: "In the end, Captain Phillips wasn’t saved by the President. . . The President, you see, was saved by the Captain." Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic: "I’m fairly certain that the pirate drama and its resolution says absolutely nothing about President Obama." The Wall Street Journal: "The Easter Sunday rescue of cargo ship Captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates is a tribute to his personal bravery and the skill and steel nerves of the U.S. Navy."
That’s right: if Obama won’t step up to be an action hero, conservatives will find someone else: Captain Phillips and the Navy Seals.
The desire to be a movie character is so obvious in conservatives, that when they accuse Democrats of being the Hollywood party, you almost have to feel sorry for them. Perhaps they’ll turn out to be a classic movie archetype: the geek who gets the girl. If 2006 and 2008 are any indications, though, they’ll be more like the obsessive Star Trek fan who never leaves the basement – they won’t achieve success themselves; they can only watch it from a distance.
(Crossposted at RUSE the magazine)