Recently, to escape all things Trump, I caught a few minutes of one of my favorite films, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. (I freely allow that I hear Gene Pitney’s classic take of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s song, the man who shot liberty valance, every time I watch the film even though it was never in it.) The scene I caught was more than half way along in the film. Folks south of the Picket Wire were gathering in the Shinbone town saloon to select two delegates to a convention that would vote on Statehood. Jimmy Stewart’s character, Ranse Stoddard, had been drafted to run the meeting. He had also informed the assembled that drinking and voting were not legally compatible activities.
After a series of nominations, refusals (by John Wayne’s mostly unflappable, ultimately tragic character, Tom Doniphon), and an over-the-top Lee Marvin (aka Liberty Valance) act of intimidation, one of the nominees, Dutton Peabody local publisher of the town paper, (played with his usual brilliance by Edmond O’Brien) offered his view on the respective merits of his craft and politicians:
*Dutton Peabody: [protesting his nomination to the statehood convention] No! No! No you don’t! No! I… I’m a newspaperman, not a politician! No, politicians are my meat – I build ’em up and I tear ’em down but I wouldn’t be one I couldn’t be one – it’d destroy me – gimme a…
Tom Doniphon: Bar’s closed.
Dutton Peabody: Good people of Shinbone, I… I… I’m your conscience – I’m the still, small voice that thunders in the night. I’m your watchdog that howls against the wolves! I’m – I’m your father confessor! I… I… I’m… what else am I?
Tom Doniphon: Town drunk?
And there it was I thought, a pretty accurate summary of how people, even today, view politicians. As for Peabody’s view of the Press, well, the Fourth Estate has fallen from the grace it was once afforded, at least in that John Ford movie.
Hollywood has undoubtedly helped me form my biases about these two career paths. Jimmy Stewart, much earlier in his cinematic life, went to Washington, albeit as Mr. Smith, the most idealistic political soul you could ever envision.
Once one steps away from the Hollywood version of reporters and politicians, you, or at least, I do, land smack dab in the todays real world exemplified (whole hog) by Donald J. Trump and CNN.
Perhaps Donald Trump once imagined himself a latter-day Mr. Smith. Going to Washington, dredging the swamp, the same swamp Jimmy fell partial victim to back in that fine and inspiring 1930’s film.
Even as I write this, I shiver with the orange ghost of irony creeping down my spine. In my time, like many, I suppose, I have taken the occasional pot shot at politicians. I continue to every once in a while even though I generally subscribe to the notion of the value of an orderly, democratic society.
Back to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. There is a flow in the film, a movement at once abusive and optimistic, a wild and wicked place where bullies such as Valance operate with relative impunity.
Though Valance carries on the way bullies do, you always know he will have his comeuppance.
As for politicians, even though I occasionally take my cheap sorts, I’ll give them this: they word hard. Most of them, anyways. They shape our world positively, collaboratively. A few excel. Most others work in isolation, without a spotlight. Even in our wired world, there are only so many spotlights.
Later in the film, after having been beaten to a pulp, Dutton Peabody arises from his own drunken but honorable ashes and assumes his elected role as delegate.
I consider this resurrection an ode to the virtue of political engagement.
Back to the real world. The world of a current reality.
Trump is a blip. A stone in the shoe of democracy. It may take a few more viewings of Liberty Valance to totally hammer home that there are good decent people wearing political garb and that I should be a little more cautious in slamming the entire profession.
Meanwhile, on a provincial level, a new BC Government has assumed power. The New Democratic Party and three Green MLA’s are teetering on the edge of a simple majority, when needed. It is an exciting moment for the province. Hopefully, the partnership, the amalgam, the shared values of forty- four elected representatives of the people will engender a rousing and ground breaking legislative experience and counterbalance the oddity that is unfolding south of the border.
*IMDB (Internet Movie Data Base)