Interview with Thomas Fleming, Author of The Great Divide: The Conflict Between Washington and Jefferson
Recently, I was called out in an online debate by a prominent Tea Party activist in Michigan who allowed that I might be a communist infiltrator. This person, like most libertarians, likes to post Thomas Jefferson quotes as Facebook memes.
Even very conservative legislators can find themselves branded as enemies of freedom for life, based on a difference of opinion on one issue. Here’s an experiment: post something about Marco Rubio, and see how many people just post that he’s “pro-amnesty” and that closes the issue for them.
In our last interview with Thomas Fleming, he outlined the history of the political battle between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, waged over the ratification of the Constitution with a President that was co-equal with Congress. Fleming wrote about these conflicts in his recently published book on the topic, The Great Divide: The Conflict Between Washington and Jefferson that Defined a Nation.
Today, we talk with Mr. Fleming about the lasting legacies of the two men. George Washington, whose actions as President established precedent for how his successors should behave and conduct their offices; and Thomas Jefferson, whose greatest legacy seems to be the way in which rhetoric is used in political discussions and campaigns — and substituting ideology for governance.
Forsmark: Is there a similarity between Jefferson’s insistence on ideological purity and the libertarian and Tea Party elements of today’s Republican Party? In particular, their heated rhetoric toward anyone who disagrees about the smallest issue?
Fleming: Jefferson unquestionably had a tendency to go to extremes, verbally. When he heard that Richmond merchants were hurrying to Philadelphia to buy shares in the Bank of the United States, he condemned their appetite for “federal filth.” He grew even more incensed when he learned the Bank was planning to open a branch in Virginia.
In a raging letter to James Madison, Jefferson declared that any Virginian who did business with this branch was committing treason against his native state and deserved to be executed. It was unthinkable that they should accept an institution created by “a foreign power.” He was referring here to the Congress of the United States, which had chartered the Bank!
Just before he left France to return to America, Jefferson fell in love with one of the French Revolution’s wilder ideas: The earth belongs to the living. He wrote a long letter to Madison, arguing that each generation should be responsible only for its own debts. When that generation ended — Jefferson estimated it lasted 19 years — all its debts were cancelled. Ditto for its constitution. No one had a right to leave his money or property to his heirs. Everything should revert to the state. Madison responded with a very tactful demolition of the idea. Jefferson never mentioned it again.
When he was secretary of state, Jefferson got many letters from his former assistant in Paris, William Short, describing the savage excesses of the Jacobins in Paris. Their motto declared: “The republic consists in the extermination of everything that opposes it.” Jefferson told Short he saw no difference between these mass murderers and the republican patriots of America.
He called the Jacobins’ revolution “The True God.” In a burst of supreme extremism, he informed Short: “The liberty of the whole earth was depending on the issue of the contest…Rather than it should have failed, I would have seen half the earth desolated. Were there but an Adam and Eve left in every country, and left free, it would be better than it now is.” He added that these sentiments were “those of 99 of a hundred” Americans.
They definitely were NOT President George Washington’s sentiments. He saw the Jacobin version of the revolution as a menace to freedom everywhere. He was right. The Jacobins themselves wound up on the guillotines and they were succeeded by a dictator, Napoleon Bonaparte.
Forsmark: As President, Thomas Jefferson instituted an embargo on Britain that crippled the U.S. economy. But he kept issuing statements that all was well. Is there a parallel between him and our current president, who puts his ideology above reality?
Fleming: The embargo – a ban on all trade with other nations — was a noble idea, a theoretically nonviolent attempt to avoid a shooting war with either Britain or France. Both had proclaimed blockades that entitled them to seize any ship attempting to trade with either nation. Both were dependent on American grain, lumber and other products. But the embargo soon became full of the ironies that make history such a disturbing — and fascinating — business.
Jefferson seemed indifferent to the embargo’s impact on American workers and businessmen. Thousands of unemployed sailors were soon milling around American seaports. Merchants went bankrupt by the dozen, leaving hundreds of clerks and other assistants without an income. Farmers had nowhere to sell their surplus crops, which threatened them with bankruptcy and loss of their land. Meanwhile the French and British replaced American exports with food and products from other countries.
As the embargo paralyzed the American economy, Jefferson took drastic steps to prevent desperate Americans from selling anything to any foreign buyer. He asked Congress to make it a crime to export goods or food to Canada or Spanish Florida. Armed sloops patrolled the coasts and inland waterways to make sure the law was obeyed. Jefferson became more grimly determined as the spirit of defiance rose in towns and cities. He told a member of his cabinet that he was resolved to see if the embargo was an effective weapon. “I set down [dismiss] the exercise of commerce, merely for profit, as nothing when it carries with it the danger of defeating the objects of the embargo.” Those words – “merely for profit” — reveal Jefferson’s underlying hostility to American business enterprise.
Our current president shares Jefferson’s ideological view in this respect. Fixing the badly damaged U.S. economy was President Obama’s primary task when he took office in 2009. But he poured most of his energy into the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). As a result, we still have a limping economy, an unhappy middle class, and an underpaid workforce, while the White House issues press releases assuring us how well everything is going.
Forsmark: Perhaps the most dangerous application of ideological purism and revolutionary fervor came from Jefferson’s love of the French Revolution, even after the reign of terror and Napoleon’s dictatorship. How did this endanger the very existence of the United States?
Fleming: Four months after Jefferson became president, a French diplomat asked him if he would object if France sent an army to regain control of St. Domingue (now called Haiti). Jefferson thumped his desk and declared: “nothing would be easier than for us to supply everything for your army and navy and starve out that black dictator, Toussaint!” He was talking about Toussaint Louverture, the black leader who had restored order and a modicum of prosperity to the France’s immensely valuable sugar colony.
Here Jefferson’s love affair with the French Revolution converged with his conviction that blacks lacked the intelligence to govern themselves. As a result, he allowed a French army to come within striking distance of a largely defenseless America.
The stage was set for a coup d’etat that could have reduced the United States to a submissive French satellite. Secretly, Napoleon had persuaded Spain to “retrocede” New Orleans and the Louisiana territory to France. (The French king had given it to Spain in 1763 to compensate for their losses in the Seven Years War). Bonaparte gave equally secret orders to the army invading St. Domingue to transfer most of their men to New Orleans after their presumed swift conquest of the “gilded Africans,” as Bonaparte contemptuously called Loverture and his army. In New Orleans they would be joined by another army and would surge up the Mississippi to create a “wall of brass” that would intimidate and/or seduce the Americans into becoming humble yes men or risk a Bonapartean thunderbolt.
This disaster was averted by a totally unknown secret agent known as aedes egypti, the mosquito that carries yellow fever. The tiny buzzing creature destroyed the French army, forcing Napoleon to sell Louisiana to the United States to prevent the British from seizing it. Thus was the United States rescued and Thomas Jefferson launched as one of the most popular presidents in American history.
Forsmark: Recently, on Jefferson’s birthday, I saw Facebook quotes from him about tyranny and corruption. It made me wonder how many of these were aimed at George Washington.
Jefferson seldom made a distinction between an act or policy that might lead to tyranny and/or corruption and the real thing. This was the logic – if it deserves that word – behind his assaults on Secretary Hamilton’s policies. He saw them eventually creating a corrupt and corrupting wealthy class.
Presuming this were true, President Washington was guilty by association. Unfortunately for Jefferson – but fortunately for the future of the United States, he was wrong on both counts.
Forsmark: Some guy on Amazon claims you hate Thomas Jefferson.
Fleming: That’s silly. My biography of him, The Man from Monticello, was rated among the best books of the year in 1969. This was an “intimate biography” with the emphasis on his personal and family relations. He was a charming man. But as a politician, he had some serious flaws, that have had (and still have) a large impact on the American presidency. That’s why I wrote The Great Divide. If we meet in Elysium, I’ll assure him there was nothing personal in my criticism.
Interview with Thomas Fleming, Author of The Great Divide: The Conflict Between Washington and Jefferson
Perhaps because he is next to George Washington on Mount Rushmore, Americans seem to think that Thomas Jefferson is equally essential to the American Founding. In a terrific and ferociously argued new book, The Great Divide: The Conflict Between Washington and Jefferson that Defined a Nation, Thomas Fleming shows us that while Jefferson is a pivotal figure, the equivalence just isn’t so.
But Jefferson’s opening lines in the Declaration still define what we think of America and its Founding; and his penchant for rhetorical excess and arguing from each extreme of an issue — along with his establishment of the first political party caucus — set the pattern, for both good and ill, for how we conduct politics to this day.
Fleming is one of America’s premier historians—and also a bestselling historical novelist. While he gained much of his fame as a chronicler of the American Revolution, his more controversial works have changed perceptions of presidents and their times.
His book, The New Dealers’ War showed how the extreme socialists of the FDR Administration almost derailed the economic war effort that became famous as the Arsenal of Democracy.
In The Illusion of Victory, Fleming deconstructed the liberal myth of Woodrow Wilson as a great president, as over 100,000 Americans died in WWI, in order to promote Wilson’s pipe dream of the League of Nations.
We interviewed Fleming here for his perhaps most controversial book, A Disease in the Public Mind, that examined how inflamed rhetoric on both sides—but particularly in the extremes of the Abolitionist movement, made the Civil War all but inevitable.
Now, Fleming takes on perhaps the two most iconic figures of the American Founding, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, in The Great Divide, and talks about how their nearly polar opposite visions of how to govern a free people led Jefferson to wage a bitter, long campaign against the man revered as The Father of His Country. He joins us to talk about that divide.
Forsmark: Essentially, what was the great divide between Thomas Jefferson and George Washington about?
Fleming: It was about the Constitution, with a special focus on the presidency.
Jefferson was in France while Washington and their mutual friend, James Madison, played leadership roles in the Constitutional Convention. Madison later wrote: “No one signed the Constitution with more enthusiasm than General Washington.” The chief reason for his enthusiasm was a new office – a president with powers coequal to Congress. He would provide the leadership that Congress had sadly lacked under the Articles of Confederation, the primitive charter that had governed the nation during the Revolutionary War.
When Jefferson read the Constitution in Paris, where he was serving as America’s ambassador, his reaction was virtually the opposite. “There are things in it which stagger all my dispositions to subscribe to what such an assembly has proposed,” he told his friend John Adams. Jefferson had expected the Constitutional Convention to add only three or four “enlargements” to “the good old venerable fabrick” of the Articles of Confederation. He added an even nastier line about the office Washington and Madison valued most. “Their president seems a bad edition of a Polish King.” A Polish king was elected by the people but served for life. Jefferson was predicting American presidents would do likewise and become semi-kings.
Forsmark: It is commonly accepted that without George Washington the Revolution would have fallen apart. He is also given a fair amount of credit for holding the Constitutional Convention together. But you say he was more of an intellectual driving force behind the Constitution than is widely known. Explain.
Fleming: The creation of the Constitution began in 1785, when James Madison began visiting Mount Vernon to discuss the need for a new federal government to unify the thirteen contentious states. By the time the two men went to the Constitutional Convention, they were in agreement on the need for a strong presidency. As the convention’s chairman, Washington could not speak during the debates but he devoted many hours after each day’s adjournment to persuading delegates of the crucial importance of this new office.
Forsmark: What was Thomas Jefferson’s role in either of our founding documents?
Fleming: He wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence.
Congress heavily edited the last half of his version but his opening lines, about the vital importance of liberty, equality and the pursuit of happiness, gave the American Revolution world transforming power.
Jefferson played no role in creating the Constitution.
He was in Paris during the convention and the struggle for ratification that followed it. His negative view of the document was cited several times by opponents, but word of Washington’s positive opinion quickly overrode him.
Forsmark: Why was Jefferson content with the Articles of Confederation? Was he in love with chaos?
Fleming: Jefferson was convinced that Americans did not need a strong government to create their happiness.
William Short, the young Virginian who served as his secretary in Paris, may have given us the best description of Jefferson’s political thinking. “Mr. J,” he wrote, judged men “from himself.” He was sure that their innate sense of “moral rectitude” would keep them on a “straight path” with “little need of restraint.” The result was his “lifelong belief in human perfectibility.” His “greatest illusions in politics,” Short concluded, were rooted in this “amiable error.”
He wasn’t in love with chaos. He just didn’t believe it would happen. William Short had him right. He judged other people as copies of himself — a reasonable intelligent man who abhorred violence. In 1786, when the farmers of western Massachusetts erupted in a mini-revolution, and not a few people, including George Washington, feared the nation was about to unravel, Jefferson simply remarked that ”a little rebellion now and then is a good thing.”
Fleming: Was Alexander Hamilton actually more essential to the founding of the Republic than Thomas Jefferson?
They were both essential in the founding years. But in the long run the top prize goes to Hamilton.
Washington thought Jefferson’s Declaration was so important, he ordered it read aloud to his troops. It was reprinted in newspapers throughout the country.
Only political insiders were aware of Hamilton’s founding ideas — the decision to pay in full both state and federal war debts, the Bank of the United States, the plan to found a manufacturing economy. But all these innovations proved crucial in the long run to creating the great commercial nation America has become, while Jefferson’s vision of America as a nation of farmers in small cities now seems almost ludicrously naïve – a blindness to an essential element of the American character.
Forsmark: While the celebrated hatred between Hamilton and Jefferson was real, wasn’t Jefferson’s real target George Washington, but Jefferson knew he did not have the political capital to directly attack him?
Fleming: That’s true on both counts. But Washington proved a much tougher opponent. After Jefferson hired Philip Freneau as a state department translator and then turned him loose as the attack dog editor of The National Gazette, President Washington would have been very stupid (which he wasn’t) not to see the game that was being played. At first Freneau concentrated his fire on Hamilton, but he soon included Washington. At one point, the Gazette ran a cartoon of Washington, strapped to a board, being carried to a waiting guillotine.
In Washington’s papers are three anonymous letters, all warning him that Jefferson was trying to undermine him and succeed him as president. The fact that Washington saved these letters strongly suggests that the President knew what Jefferson was doing, and left the letters in his papers so that others would draw that conclusion.
Jefferson soon had to face the dismaying (to him) fact that Washington was a teflon politician, virtually immune to serious damage.
Forsmark: Without the Louisiana Purchase, funded by the bank Hamilton had founded and Jefferson hated, what would we think of Thomas Jefferson today?
Fleming: Not much. The immense popularity of Louisiana was the springboard of Jefferson’s fame. Until that point (1803) his presidency was on its way to becoming a battered wreck.
He was denounced for seducing his mulatto slave, Sally Hemings, an accusation that still haunts his reputation. Even Jefferson supporters have had to admit the “dark side” of his weak support of civil liberties. He pointed out that the Bill of Rights forbade the Federal government to prosecute newspaper editors, but there was nothing wrong with state governments giving them the business. Soon there were hostile editors in the dock in several states.
When it came to paying for Louisiana with money from Hamilton’s bank – Jefferson’s hypocrisy acquires capital letters. At first he talked of needing a constitutional amendment to acquire the immense territory. But when he was told this would take months — something he must have known — Jefferson closed the deal. That meant he was also accepting Hamilton’s argument that there were “implied powers” in the Constitution that enabled the president to approve acts that benefitted the country. Jefferson had denounced this idea with special vehemence.
He and his followers ignored both embarrassments. The followers cheered the way he had doubled the size of the nation without spilling a drop of blood – a not very subtle putdown of George Washington. Jefferson made no attempt to rebuke or correct them. The claim only reinforced his fondness for calling his administration “The Revolution of 1800.”
Forsmark: I think the most breathtaking thing in the book was implying the man who fought George III’s army for seven brutal years, then literally turned down a crown when it was offered to him and went back to his farm – was a “monarchist.” Really?
Fleming: Jefferson did not call Washington himself a monarchist. But he accused him of tolerating “monocrats” like Hamilton in his cabinet and claimed Washington was unable to see their plan to slowly shape the American government into some form of monacracy — either a king or a Cromwellian Lord High Protector.
When Jefferson tried to convince Washington of this danger in several face to face confrontations, the President testily replied that he was “the last man in the world who would tolerate the emergence of an American king.” Jefferson realized he had lost the argument and resigned as Secretary of State, declaring he was through with politics.
Back at Monticello, he wrote letter after letter to his two chief lieutanants, James Madison and James Monroe, advising them on how to attack and /or obstruct Washington’s policies.
Forsmark: What was the basic philosophicical difference in governing between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson?
Washington made tough decisions and stood by them. Jefferson flinched. After three shattering defeats in 1776, Washington changed the strategy of the war. He abandoned the plan to win in one big battle and announced that henceforth they would “protract the war.” It took seven exhausting years but it worked. As president he summoned 13,000 men to suppress a secession movement in western Pennsylvania (the so-called Whiskey Rebellion) and smashed it flat in a few days.
Jefferson loved to write legislation, but he hated to govern. While he was governor of Virginia during the Revolution, he was reluctant to get tough with militia who ignored his call to resist British invasions. As result, resistance was so feeble, one of Jefferson’s best friends declared he was ashamed to call himself a Virginian. With the war still unwon, Jefferson quit after two one-year terms and announced he was through with politics.
As president he preferred to let Congress lead. He invented the party caucus, which enabled his followers to speak with a unified voice and smother opposition. Behind the scenes, Jefferson was getting what he wanted, but no one knew he was responsible. Even his most important political decision, the purchase of Louisiana, was made after weeks of doubts and hesitations about its constitutionality.
Forsmark: You maintain there are two ways of reading Washington’s Farewell Address.
First is the way most people read it today. It is a great state paper that urges people to consider their federal union a basic value and warns against excessively favoring or disliking any foreign country.
But in1796, when the address was issued, a lot of people saw it was also very tough criticism of Thomas Jefferson, who did not think the union was very important, excessively favored France, and even more excessively hated Great Britain.
If you love picking scabs, then have I got a TV show for you.
Did you make it through 12 Years a Slave? I didn’t. I couldn’t. Life is too short. And I kind of wonder how many of the Oscar voters did. The critics who complained that The Passion of the Christ was torture porn somehow found it redemptive.
12 Years director John Ridley is now the showrunner for American Crime, an almost universally praised new drama on ABC that tries to take a cable-TV style “edgy” look at race and crime in America. But the show is not just relentlessly grim, it is so caught up with its narrative that it forgets to think about how things really happen. It might as well be called “Alternate Universe American Crime.”
In Modesto, CA, a mostly white city with an apparently an all white, uncaring power structure, a recently returned Army vet and his wife are brutally attacked in a home invasion, leaving the vet dead and his wife in a coma.
The vet’s parents are a recovering gambling addict (Timothy Hutton) and his ferociously embittered wife (Felicity Huffman).
The main clue is a distinctive car seen leaving the murder scene, which is soon traced to Tony, a Latino teenager whose overly strict and protective father, Alonzo (Benito Martinez of The Shield), has been restoring the car in his auto repair shop.
Alonzo tells his son to cooperate with the police and Tony fingers a scary Mexican gangbanger who intimidated him into letting him use the car for under the table cash. In turn, the gangbanger unconvincingly (to everyone but the law enforcement system) blames a black junkie in love with a white junkie, who seem to be the only people in this story capable of unconditional love. (Because junkies are the least self-centered people, you know.)
Soon, everyone is caught up in a brutally uncaring—and stupid—justice system.
Like Crash at the Oscars, I bet the Emmys swoon over this garbage.
Passive Media after a Racially Charged Crime
A home invasion murder in a decent neighborhood is about as uncommon as crime gets—and would lead local news. The victim being a veteran would make it national news. The fact that a major suspect is an illegal alien gangbanger… well you get the idea.
However, aside from the occasional TV truck and a young, dogged small newspaper reporter, there is no media involvement.
In fact, it takes a white rights group on the mother’s side and a Nation of Islam sister (the usually wonderful Regina King) to the (illogical) main suspect to get even significant local coverage.
Really? THOSE are the relative positions on race in America?
American Crime is clearly trying to make a statement post-Ferguson, post Eric Green, etc. But ignoring the role of constant media drumbeats and posturing makes American Crime seem like it’s taking place in some distant world without cable television.
White Cops Shoot Fleeing Brown People with Impunity
When police close in on the Latino gangbanger in a strip mall parking lot, they quickly cut him off with patrol cars. As he runs toward a store in the strip mall, a white cop shoots him in the leg from behind.
Really? The guy is surrounded, not holding a weapon, and he is headed toward an occupied, open store in broad daylight with a large glass window. There is even a point made with the window, as the bullet passes through the suspect and puts a hole in it—which I’m sure had the director and cinematographer congratulating each other.
This goes unremarked on afterward, save for some whining by the suspect in the hospital.
Wrong, wrong, wrong on so many levels.
In Modesto, cops also have no BS meter whatsoever. They just grab the first suspect and ignore contrary evidence on the word of a nasty career criminal. Apparently, this is their first encounter with a manipulative suspect.
They are equally insensitive to the victims. The all but faceless white lead detective’s interrogation of the daughter after she awakens from the coma does not exhibit evidence of a triple figure IQ.
The idiotic shooting episode starts at 2:29 in the series trailer.
Cooperative Latino Kid Gets Jailed Anyway
If there was ever a candidate to be released to his father’s custody, it’s Tony, a young, scared boy with a supportive father who willingly cooperates with the police, delivers them their main suspect, and obviously had no idea about any crime being committed. But he is suddenly handcuffed and thrown in jail by uncaring white cops. (See the trailer at about the 2:50 mark.)
Because, I guess, overcrowding isn’t a problem in Modesto, and they have unlimited budgets for juvies and cops to stomp on cooperative witnesses because they don’t want any more to come forward?
The Latino Father Striving for the American Dream is a Sucker
After Alonzo tells the television reporter that illegal gangbangers make all Latinos look bad, La Raza types paint graffiti on his auto repair shop. He tries to paint it over with white paint, then he get some on his face… get it? Whitewash? Whiteface? Nudge, nudge, wink, wink?
And what did all his hard work get him? Treated with contempt by the system and banned from Sunday mass for ticking off the Sanctuary Movement types.
Alonzo’s ungrateful kids accuse him of wanting to be white, because he works hard and tries to keep them out of the trouble he knows plagues their community.
By the way, I bet you didn’t know that what really pushes kids into gangs is overly protective fathers.
Alonzo is a humorless drudge; and there is not one person in American Crime you’d like to spend five minutes with, much less sit through a whole beer. The theme of American Crime is not just America Sucks, but Americans Suck. We are all just a collection of grievances and resentments, or victims and victimizers. And if you don’t realize it, you’re just a sucker like Alonzo.
Take everything you hated about Crash, double it, and you have American Crime.
Time to go watch a few episodes of The Wire and get this garbage out of my head.
If Fox wants Red Eye, the satirical politics/culture late late late night talk show, to survive without founding host Greg Gutfeld, they need to act fast. Sure, they have regularly won the 3 a.m. time slot—but it’s the 3 a.m. time slot.
Fox has bigger plans for Gutfeld, but they should let Red Eye be a launching pad for their next witty star. The experiments at guest host have yielded wildly different results. Here are the grades so far of the most likely suspects:
When JoNo first joined the Red Eye cast, it took me a while to realize her act was… an act. I really thought she was ditsy, but funny, and mostly there for eye candy.
Once she settled into her role, she has proven to be no-such- insky. In fact, she has already given me more “I wish I’d said that” moments than Kimberly Guilfoyle has in all her years on Fox News; and she hosts competently.
Verdict: Joanne Nosuchinky is essential to Red Eye, but not ready to be in charge… yet.
“TV’s Andy Levy” is the other essential element of Red Eye. His dry wit and libertarian sensibilities, along with his ability to make fun of himself, make him the ultimate straight man and the perfect complement to Greg Gutfeld—or any outgoing and smart host.
However, when he hosts, the show just drags. Pauses are not only pregnant, they come to full term. He’s superb at reacting, but too dry for initiating or jumping in when the pace drags.
Verdict: Andy must stay with Red Eye and, along with JoNo, anchor the panel. But if he becomes the permanent host, the show will die.
If Tom Shillue and Greg Gutfeld did a road tour, it would come across as a conservative Smothers Brothers—two really funny guys you know were the dorky crowd in high school.
Shillue’s monologues, “A Moment with Tom,” are the closest thing to Gutfeld’s “Gregalogue” and he is a smooth, quick and affable host. He also has enough of a show-business background to bridge the show’s equal emphasis on politics and pop culture.
Verdict: Shillue is the closest thing to Greg Gutfeld as a permanent host as Fox is likely to find.
Published after his tragic death, Chris Kyle’s American Gun gives everyone a chance to find out what it would have been like to hang out with the American Sniper, shoot guns and shoot the… breeze.
Kyle picks 10 American firearms that won wars, shaped law enforcement methods and, of course, won the West. Then he tells stories about them, and the guys who—like him—used them effectively.
But beyond that, the book tells us a lot about Kyle that even his great bio, or the movie made from it, never quite got around to revealing. This is a relaxed Kyle, content with being home, with an easy sense of humor, and a deep, deep respect for the sharpshooters and gunman who came before him, and were the “sheepdogs” of their time.
Taken in order, the guns Kyle chooses also provide a surprisingly good backdrop for a quick overview of American history.
The stories are not all about badass Texas Rangers or Continentals picking off Redcoats, Kyle also takes some telling potshots at military procurement types who stood in the way of soldiers getting the latest weapons technology in the name of saving a few bucks, and at those who don’t get it that American gun culture is what makes American warriors what they are.
As each story unfolds, anyone who has seen American Sniper or any of Kyle’s television interviews, can just imagine him hunching up to a campfire with a beer in one hand, and starting out, “I bet you didn’t know…”
A Penny-Pinching General in Procurement Almost Lost the Civil War
You’ve probably never heard of General James Ripley, but this “backward looking . . . wizard of red tape, delay and obfuscation” probably cost more American lives than any military officer in the history of our nation.
Lincoln had ordered immediate purchase of the Spenser repeating rifle for the Union Army in the spring of 1861. The Spenser repeater was a huge leap forward in firearm technology, a way for soldiers to fire multiple shots without reloading.
Ripley, believe it or not, thought muskets were good enough for the Army—after all, they cost half as much.
Besides, he reasoned, soldiers armed with these “newfangled gimcracks” would “only waste ammunition with a multi-shot gun.”
So, for nearly a year, to the frustration of the Commander in Chief, a general with powerful friends in Congress kept Union soldiers from weapons that almost certainly would have led to swift victory, no matter how talented the Confederate Generals opposite them.
It’s a lesser-known fact of the battle of Gettysburg that General Custer may have saved the day. Lee had dispatched Jeb Stuart’s cavalry to attack the rear of the Union lines while Pickett charged the front. Today, had Custer not stood firm, Pickett’s Charge would not be considered as historically futile as the Charge of the Light Brigade.
Kyle points out that one reason Custer was successful in repelling Stuart was that his 7th Michigan Wolverines were outfitted with Spenser repeaters who inflicted heavy casualties on Stuart before the somewhat better known “most dramatic, largest man-to-man, horse-to-horse, saber-to-saber galloping cavalry engagement ever fought in the Western Hemisphere” ensued.
So, while “the untalented Mr. Ripley” may have delayed the Spenser’s effect on the Civil War, it still arrived in time, arguably, to save the Union.
I bet you didn’t know that…
Abe Lincoln Was a Gun Buff
Before he ordered the Spenser Repeater for the military, Abraham Lincoln tested it extensively—personally.
Lincoln, Kyle says with admiration, not only loved shooting and using the latest technology, he even once improved a gun he was test firing by whittling an improvised sight.
One can only imagine the New York Times story that would have been written about a meddling President who was pushing “an expensive weapons platform that even the Pentagon says it does not want or need,” had Pinch Sulzberger been publisher at the time.
But, as Kyle points out, even though Lincoln took his familiarity with weapons to a “whole new level,” most American Presidents before him did not panic at the thought of rifles in the hands of citizenry—because it wasn’t an alien concept to them.
Which brings us to another point that you might know but that the modern media sure doesn’t…
American Civilians Have Often had Better Guns than the Military
One of the hoariest clichés of the anti-second Amendment crowd goes something like, “When the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, they were thinking of muskets, not military weapons.”
Well tell that to Redcoat General Simon Fraser, cut down by a young Rebel named Timothy Murphy with his “Kentucky Rifle,” thus depriving General Burgoyne of his best commander at the crucial Battle of Saratoga.
Murphy was not issued his weapon by Congress, unlike the “Brown Bess” carried by British infantry. The British military issue weapon could not begin to match that of the American Long Rifle, even if the marksmanship of the troops had been equal—which it wasn’t.
Not that this never has a downside, Kyle makes passing mention of the infamous North Hollywood bank robbery where outgunned police turned to local gun-store owners so they could match the firepower of the bad guys. Something similar also happened during one of the most famous defeats of American soldiers in history.
Kyle recounts that after the Civil War a penny-pinching military denied American soldiers the latest technology in guns. While civilians understood the need for protecting themselves on the plains and not skimping on their firearms, the Army supposed that muskets re-engineered to fire a cartridge would be sufficient against bows and arrows. (Sound anything like today’s we-don’t-need-the-F-35 argument?)
Unfortunately, enough Winchester and Henry repeaters were on the open market by then, so about 25% of Sitting Bull’s force (that outnumbered Custer in the first place), were better armed than the average member of the United States Cavalry.
Betcha didn’t know that– or that…
Sergeant York Did His Best Work with a Pistol
When Michael Moore implied Chris Kyle was a coward, a lot of people (including me) brought up Sergeant Alvin York, the famed sharpshooting Quaker of WWI; probably remembering the iconic image of Gary Cooper in the biopic, licking his thumb and sighting his rifle on a distant target.
While, Kyle says, York was a crack shot who honed his skills with his Kentucky hills friends by having to hit a turkey in the head with the first shot, he “surrounded” the Germans in his famed one-man assault, mostly using his M1911 Colt .45 automatic. (Another reason this may be a surprise to you is that in the movie, York seems to be using a Luger.)
The M1911 Colt is most famous for its roots as a gun designed to knock down the drugged-up Muslim Filipino terrorists called the Moro. It became the standard sidearm for GIs through two World Wars and the favorite of some branches of law enforcement as well.
And over a century later, with few modifications, this gun is still going strong and a version of it is still a preferred weapon for Navy SEALs in their fight against modern Islamist extremists.
But wait, there’s more!
So, thrill to stories of Texas Jack Hayes and his sixteen dozen Rangers holding off 300 Comanche with their Colt Peacemakers; bankers and bakers getting their Winchester 73s out and decimating the James Gang; former bootlegger and Medal of Honor recipient Sergeant Leonard A. Funk who takes down a Nazi patrol with his Tommy Gun; Secret Service Agents protecting Harry Truman from Puerto Rican terrorists with their .38 Specials; and MP Leigh Ann Hester who fights off Iraqi insurgents with her trusty M-4 (which is basically an update of the M-16).
American Gun is one of the most enjoyable history books you are likely to pick up. Yes, gun buffs will quibble, either with details or the choice; as I’m sure history professors might debate the significance of some of the weapons and the events Kyle chooses.
But the singular point of view and the distinctive voice of Chris Kyle are as much a central part of the book as the information it contains. Seeing what someone cares about is often more revealing than hearing them talk about themselves.
So, read American Gun and celebrate what Chris Kyle brought to his country — and place him in the pantheon of the men (and women) he celebrates.
Kyle closes the book by saying, “Pick up a pistol, a rifle or a shotgun and you’re handling a piece of American history… an object that connects you to people who fought for their freedom. . .”
You can say the same about this book.
image illustration via Wikipedia
Not long ago, Bill O’Reilly took justifiable flack for his 1950s all-religions-are-nice-and-deserve-respect attitude when he stated:
“I don’t believe the prophet Muhammad wanted a world war to impose Islam on everybody. I don’t believe that.”
What Bill was trying to do in his own way was to slam ISIS for the bloodthirsty death-loving fanatics that they are. But in doing so, he came close to what he criticizes Barack Obama for when the President says the Islamic State is “not Islamic.”
My colleague Andrew Bostom thoroughly debunked O’Reilly’s bowdlerized rose colored glasses outlook here, but recent events have got me to thinking: Is it possible that ISIS is not only a logical outgrowth of historical Islam, but that they are actually more humane and modernistic in outlook and methods than the Prophet would condone?
Consider with me a few examples…
1. The Prophet Burned People Slowly
Sure, burning people in cages is horrific, but at least ISIS uses accelerant. The prophet burned infidels using wood and tinder which takes far longer. ISIS at least is humane—or lazy– enough to use rocket fuel, which means the victim is tortured to death in minutes.
Even if these bastards just think the woosh makes for better video, it’s still quicker.
2. The Prophet’s Beheaded Bodies Went to Waste
When ISIS lines up 21 praying Christians and beheads them—or as Obama would say, 21 Egyptian citizens who randomly ended up in the wrong place and met up with generic really mean criminals—dozens of other lives are possibly spared as a result.
Why? ISIS sells organs on the black market to raise cash for their jihad. But who cares about their motives? As liberals love to say—“If only one life is saved…”
3. The Prophet Only Converted by the Sword
This one is not just a matter of degree. The Prophet warred and pillaged his way across the Arab world, saying convert or die.
Sure, ISIS does that too, but at least SOME of their converts are voluntary.
ISIS uses videos, magazines and evangelism to spread their word, giving deluded, evil loners a purpose in their lives.
And frankly, I’d just as soon let them all go join them—don’t stop them, track them
4. The Prophet Didn’t Have a Female Outreach Program
When the Prophet’s soldiers needed wives (or temporary wives as he allowed in the Koran) his army just grabbed them up at the next village or city on the conquest list.
ISIS at least takes time to woo them from afar.
ISIS had produced videos calling for Muslim women to come and join the Caliphate. They show them cooking and cleaning together for their virile warrior husbands. True, the reality is even harsher than that, but every pick up line is a bit of a sales job, right?
And oh, yeah, their propaganda doesn’t seem to be aimed at attracting 9 year olds.
5. The Prophet Didn’t Care about Your Abs
Now here is progress. This Egyptian ISIS recruit has produced a workout video for all the world to see.
Now, in the Prophet’s defense, when you are leading an army across arid, barren landscapes and you have to loot and pillage for your supper, you don’t have to worry that much about jumbo jihadis waddling though the wadis.
But ISIS didn’t selflessly keep this fitness fanatic to themselves; they shared him with the world. Now even infidels can go on a jihad against jiggle and become lean mean fighting machines.
Try to find even one example of this kind of generous spirit in the Prophet’s outreach.
6. The Prophet Waged a World War to Establish a Caliphate and Convert People
Oops, that’s right, Bill O’Reilly, this is one way they are exactly the same.
So while the White House slanders ISIS as violent extremists with no connection to Islam, the fact is that they are well within the tradition of their founder, and have even moderated some of their methods to the modern world.
It’s more of a modification than a Reformation, but hey, potato potahto.
The week, when Hanoi Jane gave her strongest apology yet for her infamous expressions of collaboration with the enemy during the Vietnam War, was also the week in which Fallujah Mike doubled down on his.
In his little-noticed follow-up to his well-covered “snipers were cowards” tweets, Michael Moore painted the Saddam loyalists and al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists as the heroes — and U.S. forces as the invading marauders.
Cable news, talk radio, the blogosphere and the Twitterverse have adequately covered Michael Moore’s tweet calling snipers “cowards”:
My uncle killed by sniper in WW2. We were taught snipers were cowards. Will shoot u in the back. Snipers aren’t heroes. And invaders r worse
Despite Moore’s hilarious disclaimer that he did not mean Chris Kyle and the requisite implication that it was just a coincidence of timing that he tweeted this out on American Sniper’s opening weekend, he has received the blowback he deserves. (By the way, is no one going to ask Michael Moore if his uncle braced every German soldier he encountered face to face like in a B-western, or gave them all a chance to surrender?)
Chris Kyle—deservedly—is America’s hero of the moment, and jumping on his bandwagon is an easy way to get airtime and demonstrate one’s rhetorical prowess.
But the “coward” tweet was not by any means the worst thing Moore said that day. He also called Chris Kyle a man who murdered good neighbors who were protecting each other, and every American serviceman a marauding invader:
But if you’re on the roof of your home defending it from invaders who’ve come 7K miles, you are not a sniper, u are brave, u are a neighbor.
The response? Crickets.
The lack of attention to his follow-up tweet is a mystery to me. Is defending our troops too difficult? Does it feel to commentators like they will have to defend the whole Iraq war all over again if they go there?
This is not a hard argument to have. If you think that personalizing this issue to the person of Chris Kyle gets you more internet hits or viewers, just frame it as I did above.
Or maybe just point out that last week, those “good neighbors” executed a batch of little kids for watching a soccer game on television.
If you doubt that Michael Moore has always been on the side of the people Chris Kyle rightly called “f**cking savages,” here is one of his website postings from April of 2004:
The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not “insurgents” or “terrorists” or “The Enemy.” They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow — and they will win….I oppose the U.N. or anyone else risking the lives of their citizens to extract us from our debacle…the majority of Americans supported this war once it began and, sadly, that majority must now sacrifice their children until enough blood has been let that maybe — just maybe — God and the Iraqi people will forgive us in the end.
Like that guy using the power drill on a child’s head? The farmers who marched on Lexington and Concord in the cause of liberty would certainly have welcomed him into their ranks.
But Michael Moore and Jane Fonda are only the most clumsy of those who root for the defeat of U.S. forces. When Harry Reid, with the regularity of Baghdad Bob, declares the defeat of American efforts no matter the news of the day (and especially after the success of the surge), that’s a deliberate effort to undermine the war effort.
And the commander-in-chief who later claimed victory and went home, leaving the country to ISIS, has been doing the same thing.
When Ron Paul claims we are meddling in the civil war of another country or invading a “sovereign nation,” the biggest difference between that and Michael Moore is he doesn’t go as far in his praise of the f**king savages.
But maybe that’s what commentators on the right, who see an opportunity to rile up patriotic Americans with the low-hanging fruit of pitting the singularly un-appetizing Michael Moore vs. a guy played by Bradley Cooper in a movie, are afraid the debate will expand to—a war they don’t want to fight anymore.
Ironically, however, protecting Chris Kyle’s reputation without protecting the reputations of our troops in general is the exact opposite of the legacy of Chris Kyle.
Here is how Chris Kyle reacted to the notion of personal fame, notoriety and being labeled Number One:
The number is not important to me. I only wish I had killed more. Not for bragging rights, [emphasis mine] but because I believe the world is a better place without savages out there taking American lives. Everyone I shot in Iraq was trying to harm Americans or Iraqis loyal to the new government. I had a job to do as a SEAL. I killed the enemy — an enemy I saw day in and day out plotting to kill my fellow Americans. I’m haunted by the enemy’s successes. They were few, but even a single American life is one too many lost.
The outpouring of support for American Sniper shows that even in death, Chris Kyle can take care of himself. By all means, come to his defense, but make room on the bandwagon for the other soldiers he dedicated his career—and his life—to defending.
With all due respect to Lone Survivor and Zero Dark Thirty (and I have paid mad respect to both), Clint Eastwood’s amazing American Sniper is the film for the war on terror.
But it’s more than that. It is a timeless American war movie that explores the necessity of having men who are–and bear the burden of being–really really good at killing bad guys.
In fact, this is easily one of the ten best American war movies of all time. (I won’t place it any higher than that until I’ve had the chance to see it again and let the initial emotional impact wear off; but right now, I can’t think of three I would rate above it.)
Eastwood both allows the character of Chris Kyle to speak to that unabashed pride in doing a necessary job — his warts-and-all honesty about how he neglected his family while letting the job consume him — and uses the tragic events that followed the publication of the book to show us how doing that job takes a toll.
The result is a shining example of material finding the perfect director. In many ways, Eastwood’s whole career has been leading up to this statement. It’s what Unforgiven couldn’t quite get to because it was merely about a previously vicious man sliding back into his old ways, even if his cause was just.
The film — like the book — opens as newly minted Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle takes a bead on a small Iraqi boy whose mother has just handed him a grenade and sent him running toward a squad of American Marines.
Then, while Kyle is waiting for that space between breaths, between heartbeats, that still moment of the trigger pull, we flash back to how he got there.
This is a perfectly executed and superbly made bio-pic. Despite the heroism it shows, it never lapses into hagiography or sappy preaching. Eastwood is clear-eyed throughout, and confident at letting his story tell itself.
American Sniper lives up to its title. This is an intensely American film. Everything about Chris Kyle’s background, from hunting with his father, to the little country church, to wanting to be a cowboy, is not just Texas, it’s America.
From Sergeant York, to Audie Murphy, to Dick Bong (WWII’s ace of aces who also left combat only to die serving on the home front), to Chris Kyle, small-town, do-for-yourself America has produced these men for whom taking up arms to protect their country just comes naturally (even, eventually, for the Quaker, York).
The motivation is summed up in a talk Chris Kyle’s father gives at the dinner table — a speech many American fathers have given their sons (and many more should), but rarely with this perfect an analogy.
Chris has had trouble in school for beating up the bully who was picking on his younger brother — but he is not in trouble at home. His father explains there are three kinds of people in the world: Sheep, who can’t protect themselves; wolves; and sheepdogs, who protect the sheep. He expects his son, who has the ability, to be a sheepdog – and if he ever becomes a wolf, he will get an ass whooping he will never forget.
Later, when drinking away the memory of a cheating girlfriend and the Khobar Towers bombing news story comes up on television news, a hitherto aimless Chris Kyle knows exactly what he is supposed to do.
While American Sniper takes no firm position on the wisdom of the war in Iraq — various characters express varied opinions on that — it is very clear-eyed about the nature of the enemy, or, as Kyle refers to them as, “the f***ing savages.”
Not since The Deer Hunter has the enemy been as accurately portrayed in an American film as the bestial evil that they are, and without over-the-top Hollywood histrionics. The good guys have their flaws, but these bad guys have to be opposed — and killed in as large a number as possible.
There are four great battle-set pieces in American Sniper that are breathtakingly effective — and, thankfully, Eastwood knows how to give immediacy and a you-are-there feel to the scenes without the herky-jerky handheld camera gimmicks and incoherent quick-cut edits that lesser directors use to pull off a complicated scene.
At one point, Kyle’s sheepdog instincts take him off the rooftops — against orders — and down into the streets with the Marines. He knows his SEAL training has prepared him better for house-to-house combat and he can’t sit by without teaching them how to do it better.
Eastwood has been exploring these themes for years, imperfectly in Heartbreak Ridge, much better in The Outlaw Josey Wales, of course in Dirty Harry, and most recently (showing he understands the protective impulse of the American soldier) in Gran Torino, where this really was the under-explored theme.
The performances are all first rate (I’ll rave about Cooper in a minute) and it’s really about time that people realize the beautiful Sienna Miller is an actress of grit and grace.
So in the pantheon of great American war movies, where does American Sniper place? It’s more personal and emotionally shattering than even The Deer Hunter, because that great film spread its emotions around to the effect of the Vietnam War on a whole town.
It does an even better job of portraying the sacrifices and effects of war on the family of a warrior than We Were Soldiers.
And of course it is a more realistic look at a highly decorated soldier who performed at an almost superhuman level than either Sergeant York or To Hell and Back – and not just because of the allowances of modern filmmaking.
It’s hard to explain the greatness of Bradley Cooper’s performance, unless you have seen Chris Kyle’s interviews. But Cooper does not just inhabit his role, or give a great interpretation of a character — he disappears into it.
Sure, the muscle gain helps, because it keeps us from remembering this is svelte Bradley Cooper who has given so many memorable performances the last few years (and was the softer male character way back on TV’s Alias).
But watching American Sniper, you feel as though Chris Kyle was allowed to play himself — maybe better, since this is a more convincing portrayal than even Audie Murphy gave playing… Audie Murphy.
Which makes the tragic ending of this story all the more shattering. Eastwood’s choice at the end of American Sniper is almost as important as the one he makes at the beginning. At the screening I attended, there were gasps as a credit announced what happened to Kyle, muffled sobs during the real footage of his funeral that ran over the credits, and no one — and I mean no one — moved until the credits were done. As people filed out, it was as quiet and somber as if we had attended the funeral ourselves.
Seeing American Sniper is an American experience. Don’t miss it.
First, let me say that I come here to mostly praise Bill O’Reilly’s Killing series, not to bury it. This is not another history snob sniffing that there is “nothing new” in the books. While I can’t say that I have learned any Major New Truths of history from reading the books—and it is a fair statement to say that the heavy lifting of original research has been done by others—I am still very happy these books exist, and the history snobs should be, too.
Why? Because these books all contain Big Truths that those of us who love history all sit around and say, “What your high school history teacher should have told you is…”
Nor am I going to snipe that the books are filled with little details—like the pattern of the tablecloth at Potsdam—that scream “look at all my cool research”? If you really are a history buff that makes them kind of fun.
I actually picked up Killing Patton, because this is the one time that O’Reilly and his coauthor Martin Dugard (whose books on David Livingstone and Captain Cook are among my all-time favorites) propose to make a Big Revelation in their new book: That General George S. Patton was killed by the NKVD at Stalin’s orders.
Early in the book, O’Reilly and Dugard bring up the forced suicide of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, Patton’s famed nemesis. The German commander of the defense of Normandy was a sympathizer of the German Resistance that nearly killed Hitler.
But while the authors inform us of the color of Rommel’s mucous after he ingests cyanide, this dismissive sentence of an actual Big Truth drove me nuts.
The book states that the attempted assassination of July 20, 1944 was, “engineered by members of the German military who no longer believed Hitler was fit to rule Germany.”
While this might be true of Rommel, to blow off the rest of the heroic circle of conspirators — which included labor leaders and clergy — in this way would be like saying the Founding Fathers “thought British taxes on tea were cutting too far into their profits.”
Good grief, Bill, even Tom Cruise got this one right.
Next: Why FDR Wanted Hitler Alive
5. Life is Beautiful: Dr. Who
Before they brought Holmes and Watson into the 20th century in the excellent personages of Benedict Cumberbach and Martin Freeman, the Sherlock team first produced this marvelous update of the ultimate geek cult classic, Dr. Who.
For the uninitiated, The Doctor is a time-traveling alien, last of his species which was known as Time Lords, who generally is incarnated with some sort of accent from the British Isles, and travels through time and space in a blue time capsule that looks like a blue British police call box circa 1963 (when the series debuted on the BBC.)
The Doctor is of an undetermined age, and regenerates every so often with a new body and slightly different personality. This season, he is played by Peter Capaldi and is, to his initial consternation, an older and grouchier, Scotsman. In the most recent seasons he has been played to great effect by Christopher Eccleson, David Tennant and Matt Smith.
The Doctor travels with an appealing and adventurous sidekick, generally a young and pretty British woman.
Like The Doctor himself, this show has heart to spare, generally with the characters saving some civilization from extinction. While Dr. Who is consistently life-affirming, the show recently aired one of the most blatantly pro-life episodes in the history of television.
Forget wondering if a baby might ruin one’s career, in this case, the dilemma was whether to kill the last of an alien species in utero, even if letting it hatch meant risking the future of Earth itself.
Utterly whimsical and completely addictive, Dr. Who has a sense of wonder and humanity that is unique in modern television.
Editor’s Note: Click here for Part 1 in this 3-part series.
11. How I Learned to Love the Bomb: Manhattan
WGN, the Chicago version of Atlanta’s TBS that never quite made national superstation status, makes a big bid for relevance with Manhattan, a terrific soap opera set in Los Alamos in 1944, as scientists feverishly race their Nazi counterparts in the quest for a workable nuclear bomb.
While most treatments of this subject focus on the supposition that people working on the project would be consumed by the guilt of constructing something that could kill millions of people, this series refreshingly pushes those considerations to the background.
The makers of Manhattan remember that it is set in wartime, where everyone knows someone who has been killed by the bad guys—and that the bad guys themselves are working on creating such a weapon.
Instead, Manhattan’s focus is on two things—the professional competition and jealousies created among the scientists who have competing theories about how to create a bomb; and the stress—and boredom—of people forced to live with their families in a super-secret military camp out in the middle of nowhere.
A very good cast of character actors you have seen elsewhere, sharp writing and an authentic feel of time and place make Manhattan top flight—and informative—entertainment.
This year, one of the shows that generated critical buzz was Fox’s Red Band Society, which is about a children’s ward for children with serious-terminal illnesses. The result was a Breakfast Club for disease, narrated by a kid in a coma with a penchant for platitudes. I bailed during the second lecture by Coma Boy.
Of course, I had a clue how dreary the fall could be when this was the list of “anticipated” new shows on broadcast TV this year according to USA Today’s estimable critic, Robert Bianco.
Then it struck me. I went to my DVR and counted 16 shows I enjoyed on cable this SUMMER, and one genial network offering. Summer? Superior original TV? Since when?
So let me offer anyone with cable that offers a good On Demand, a personalized TV schedule for the fall. Add these to the few network shows worth your time: The Good Wife, Modern Family, The Middle, and Elementary; and the two new network shows with promise: Gotham and Black-ish, (and, of course, Showtime’s thoroughly revived and gripping Homeland) and you will actually have a TV schedule worthy of the Golden Age (actually better).
This should at least last you until January, when we get the return of Justified, The Americans, and the rest of the first season of Amazon Prime’s nearly perfect adaptation of Michael Connelly’s great noirish cop novels, Bosch.
When I was growing up in the ‘70s, there was a groovy poster that asked the penetrating question, “What if they gave a war and nobody came?” Well, in most places, the Democrats found that out on Election Night 2014 after they tried to restage the 2012 “War on Women.”
I didn’t have to become unexpectedly single in my late 40s to be reminded of one basic fact:
Grown women don’t dig being condescended to.
But that was the Democrats’ whole approach in wooing the next constituency they wanted to be able to someday take for granted.
Ever since Sandra Fluke announced she couldn’t afford birth control because she unconvincingly claimed to have needed $3000 of it through her law school tenure, the Democrats have decided that gender identity politics could be as valuable to them as racial identity politics.
It seemed to work in 2012, thanks to an unexpected assist from Todd Akin, who probably picked up the crazy idea in a tent meeting somewhere (where he got the rest of his scientific knowledge) that pregnancies resulting from rape are not merely rare, they basically cannot happen.
So Democrats, spurred on by their cultural Left wing in Hollywood and the media, decided that women (a majority of the population) could be the new minority victim group in their identity coalition that would give them an unassailable majority. But this ignored the fact that economic populism and a flat-footed opponent who directly matched their stereotype had a lot more to do with the 2014 Obama victory.
They decided to openly treat women as though their pretty heads couldn’t be bothered with such things as stagnant middle class incomes, the fact that their kids can only get part-time work because of Obamacare, Ebola, or the fact that the world is “going to hell in a handbasket.”
No, in the Democrat world, chicks only care about their lady parts.
We are getting used to tales of heroism from US Navy SEALs. They have become almost mythic in stature in both fictional and non-fictional accounts of covert ops and wartime derring-do.
But perhaps the bravest thing I ever saw was the last mission of Harry Dale, one of the first Navy SEALs, among the first in Vietnam—and it happened nearly a quarter century after his retirement.
I met Harry in the mid-1990s. The retired Naval officer had called the Flint Public Library because he was looking for a co-author. The librarians there said it sounded like it was right up the alley of a local book reviewer who liked that kind of stuff—me.
If you scratch a book reviewer, you will find an aspiring novelist. So when Harry called, I arranged to meet him at his home. I arrived about 15 minutes early, having misjudged the time the drive would take.
When I pulled in, I saw this wiry old guy climbing out of the lake. “Hi, Dave!” he greeted me. “Sorry, I thought I had time for a couple before you got here.”
“A couple?” I echoed, impressed. “You swam across and back a couple times?”
“Hell no, I’m an old man. I don’t go out that deep. What if I had a heart attack?”
Then it hit me. He was doing laps. Now I was impressed. Harry brushed it off: “Not much compared to my old frogman days.”
Frogman… the age… “Were you a SEAL in the Vietnam era by any chance?” I asked.
“Very good, I think the ladies sent me the right guy. Have a seat while I get some clothes on.”
Here is your one and only warning: I am going to discuss some House of Cards plot points from season two. But don’t write and say I spoiled the show for you. The writers did that.
While the first season of House of Cards was hardly realistic, the plotting–especially the moves of its main character, Congressman Frank Underwood–was adroit and fascinating.
But in season two Frank Underwood has gone from being an amoral scheming man of unquenchable ambition to a monster with fewer human feelings than Tony Soprano—much fewer. Unlike Breaking Bad, where we saw a man’s gradual slide from compromising with evil to embracing it, House of Cards lurched into full-blown sociopathy with jarring fashion.
So if you tuned back in to House of Cards this season looking for moments of sheer brilliance like Frank Underwood’s eulogy at the funeral of the girl who drove off the road while texting about the giant-peach water tower—with its mix of pathos, compassion and, yes, self-interest–you will be severely disappointed.
Instead, we are treated to an impenetrable plot about Chinese trade negotiations and illegal campaign finance, and the way Frank is going to use it to undermine the president since he is next in line. But nearly everything about this plot is not how it would, or could, happen in real life—and is weirdly confusing and obvious at the same time.
Worst of all, the House of Cards’ ideological slip is showing, with a complete nonsensical portrait of a “Tea Party” senator who votes “no” on the biggest entitlement reform since entitlements were invented because… well, just because he’s an idiot.
This is in sharp contrast to the CBS legal/political drama The Good Wife. Most of the campaign events and media kerfuffles make sense—as does the public’s reaction to them. You can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys (or the smart guys from the stupid guys) by their ideology (although extreme leftists like a global warming obsessed federal judge are generally the kookiest characters).
But best of all, good people can do less than admirable things they shouldn’t in the heat of the moment, while antagonists are not always evil or stupid, they are just on the other side of the issue. Though sometimes they are evil or stupid.
Kind of like life outside the political bubble.
Oh yeah, and here’s how every Eliot Spitzer/Anthony Weiner/Mark Sanford press conference should end:
1. The Unabashed Heroism of the American Military—Even During a Screwup
Since the title gives it away, I don’t need to issue a SPOILER ALERT to say that Lone Survivor is about a mission gone wrong, in which only one SEAL makes it out alive.
Hollywood action movies tend to go one of two routes—the heroic cartoon, or the “realistic,” ironic, fatalistic film, where violence doesn’t solve anything and soldiers are forced to re-evaluate their former gung-ho attitude, and even the justness of their mission.
The second route is the way to the Oscars.
(Too many commentators put The Deer Hunter in that category, but I defy you to find one act by an American soldier in that film, or even by the officers or staff at the VA hospitals, which is less than valorous. Conservatives should embrace the movie, but that discussion is for another day.)
Lone Survivor is Black Hawk Down on a more personal level. After a botched mission to take out a terrorist commander, outnumbered American warriors face overwhelming odds of survival and kill an unbelievable number of enemies while trying to keep from being overrun.
Instead of a whole city coming after a couple of dozen soldiers, in Lone Survivor four Navy SEALs take on a whole al Qaeda militia, while stuck on the side of a mountain.
Steven Boone writes:
The film opens with a long montage of real-life Navy SEALs in training and ends with a slide show of SEALs and soldiers living full, happy lives off-duty, set to an emotional power ballad. What’s in between amounts to “The Passion of the Christ” for U.S. servicemen: a bloody historic episode recounted mainly in images of hardy young men being ripped apart, at screeching volume. Though Berg’s source material isn’t the New Testament, he often handles Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell’s account (via ghostwriter Patrick Robinson) of his doomed 2005 reconnaissance mission with the thunderous reverence Mel Gibson brought to Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.
That’s not even factually correct. The film ends with a montage of the characters in their real lives before the mission, while letting you know what they sacrificed to be there. Showing the photos of the real characters in a film is a common enough final-credits sequence, as can be seen in such movies as Gettysburg and Argo.
And enough with the The Passion of the Christ references already, as though it is some nadir of filmmaking to be trotted out whenever a liberal reviewer wants to mock a movie but can’t quite admit why it bothers him so much. But nearly every negative review of Lone Survivor brings up Gibson’s epic. (Hey, Bernie Goldberg, are you SURE these people don’t get together and determine the narrative?)
Boone goes on… and on:
“Lone Survivor” means well, but what it has to say about the costs of modern warfare is nothing new or especially illuminating. It’s cut from the same cloth that was once fashioned into the Pat Tillman legend and the Saving Private Lynch saga, honoring sacrifice in imagery that the American war machine can easily fashion into a recruitment commercial. “Lone Survivor” makes political interests superfluous to the religion of the warrior, which is all about enduring whatever hardship is thrown at you while protecting the brother at your side.
This is the cheapest of shots, associating the true story of Marcus Luttrell, which has held up and been vetted over the last seven years (George W. Bush awarded the Medal of Honor to mission leader Lt. Michael Murphy), with fog of war stories put out by the Defense Department before all the facts were in.
If Lone Survivor has a fault, it’s that it’s too authentic, with enough jargon and tactics talk to satisfy the military buff, and almost, but not quite, getting so caught in the details that an average viewer will drift off or get lost.
Admitedly, the account of the final rescue and the Pashtun villagers who act heroically is a bit synthesized (I actually thought the book’s account was even more dramatic), but that was probably for reasons of length.
For the most part, however, Lone Survivor deserves a place alongside Black Hawk Down and Zero Dark Thirty as a well-acted, superbly directed, and very well-done depiction of modern warfare and the Americans who get the job done.
In case you think I overstated the case of Boone’s agenda because we disagree about the merits of the film, check out this reply to a reader who took him to task for reading politics into a movie that avoids politics (unlike the book).
Ah, but politics *are* in every facet of life, including the movies. You might mean partisan politics, but filmmaking that glorifies the American war machine and its employees (let’s remember that, whatever their passions and sense of brotherhood, soldiers are paid to do a job) isn’t really a right or left proposition. It’s a weary Ho’wood tradition, carried into the new century with a jolt of Private Ryan/Black Hawk Down caffeine. A great many filmmakers at Berg’s level might be liberal on domestic issues but take a post-9/11 stance on such matters as the War on Terror: whatever it takes, whatever it costs to eliminate the threat….
So, yes. Not a movie for twits.
Media frenzies are now the norm. There’s no use complaining about them; we can only grade them.
With something like the Boston Marathon bombing or the Newtown school shooting, a certain amount and type of news coverage is obviously justified. But with the following media stories, I would say they were worth a Bret Baier Grapevine segment at most, but many made top 10 lists of the year’s media stories.
The Phil Robertson kerfluffle didn’t make this list—yet. I’ve only watched Duck Dynasty once. I thought it was better than I expected, but not appointment TV. But I like their family a lot. Robertson made some substantive points—and the one that everyone says was “gross” is something that has crossed every straight male’s mind at some point. And I mean every one.
Also, the discussion has been valuable—even when some of the commentary is not—as a Rorschach test for the pop culture and a measure of how many Americans are following the party line.
The rest of these, I would argue, don’t come close to that standard.
7. Paula Deen
Paul Deen is getting referenced again in the controversy around Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty. Yeah, let’s compare apples and cinder blocks.
Paula Deen, if it’s a story, is a story about lawsuit abuse. It’s a story about the media feeding frenzy. But Paula Deen herself should sell cookbooks and stay out of my newscasts.
Granted, she didn’t try to get there. She was minding her own business on the Cooking Channel (which was why I had never heard of her) when some former employees sued her. They lost the lawsuit in slam dunk fashion, but not before Mrs. Deen fell all over herself in a deposition in which she had to answer questions about whether she (or her hiring practices) was racist.
Not that I’m condoning perjury, but what special kind of fool blurts out something in a deposition that only a spouse could sell them out on—especially since doing so would hurt the spouse financially in equal measure? Did Paula really think that if a lawyer asked her husband if she said “ni**er” a lot, he would say, “Hmmmm, well back 20 years ago after she was mugged, I think she called that guy bad names…”?
Paula Deen then proceeded to show up on morning shows and give tearful apologies that would make Tammy Faye Bakker cringe.
But other than being really bad at being in the national spotlight outside her cooking show bubble, I can’t for the life of me think of what Paula Deen did wrong—or why anyone should care.
What Books Does PJ Lifestyle Critic David Forsmark Recommend for 2013?">What Books Does PJ Lifestyle Critic David Forsmark Recommend for 2013?
Thriller writer Elmore Leonard died recently at the age of 87. He leaves a huge legacy, including perhaps the best crime show currently on television, Justified, and dozens of classic American suspense novels, a few of which were turned into classic movies— more of which were absolute disasters.
For his early career, Leonard wrote tough, gritty westerns like 3:10 to Yuma and Hombre, both turned into very good films.
But for years even Stephen King could not claim to have been as badly abused as Elmore Leonard when it came to his crime novels. His first, The Big Bounce, was also filmed starring Ryan O’Neal. He wryly said it was “at least the second worst movie ever made.” Then it was remade in 2004 with Owen Wilson and it was even worse.
Overall, I tend to enjoy Leonard’s tight first 25 books more than his talkier next 25. Book 25, Glitz, was his breakthrough bestseller, causing the author to joke he was an overnight success after 25 years.
Get Shorty was the first film to really capture Leonard’s style, and frankly I thought it was even better than the book. In the second half of his career, Leonard added about a hundred pages to the length of his books, mostly of dialogue. Admittedly, it could be great dialogue, but I like the early books that just had a bit less of it. Others disagree.
Out of Sight is a perfect example. The book is too long, and too talky, but still quite good. Cutting it down to film length helps a lot — so does the chemistry between George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez which helps sell the outlandish premise of the U.S. marshal and the bank robber’s mutual attraction.
He once called Freaky Deaky his favorite book, but the limp film adaptation of this send-up of the radical ’70s counterculture deservedly went straight to video in 2012.
Leonard was known around Metro Detroit as an unassuming guy. He didn’t play the big celebrity, and was known for his love of the Detroit Tigers and of blues clubs. He was gracious to writers who asked advice, skeptical of whether they would follow through on his emphasis on hard work and routine; and finally published a short book compiling his rules for writing.
So here, submitted for your approval, are 10 good reasons to remember Elmore Leonard, even if you aren’t a fiction reader. Maybe I’ll get to his best 10 books in a future column.
Louis Farrakhan (approvingly) called it “Preparation for race war” while according to Brietbart’s Big Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar-winning film Django Unchained was “The Most Pro-Freedom Movie of 2012.”
Then there was Marc Lamont Hill, the intellectual mediocrity of a Columbia professor who gets dragged out of mothballs when a racial event reaches pop status, says something stupidly outrageous, apologizes or clarifies, then gets put away until the next time.
On a CNN panel about the ghoulish fan club for rampaging LAPD ex-cop Christopher Dorner, who counted among his victims the Asian-American daughter of a cop who investigated him, Hill said:
And, many people aren’t rooting for him to kill innocent people: they’re rooting for someone who was wronged to get a kind of revenge against the system. It’s almost like watching Django Unchained in real life. It’s kind of exciting.
Perhaps the most famous off-screen line about the film came from an opening Saturday Night Live satirical monologue from Jamie Foxx that riffed on “how black is that,”
I play a slave. How black is that? And in the movie I had to wear chains. How whack is that? But don’t be worried about it because I get out the chains, I get free, I save my wife, and I kill all the white people in the movie. How great is that? And how black is that?
But in the film, Django does no such thing. In fact, [SPOILER ALERT] he teams with a white guy whose moral outrage eventually gets the better of him, and gets himself killed (and without whose help, Django would have accomplished none of his heroics.)
I recently grabbed Django Unchained at a Redbox, and found it far less a compelling re-watch than it was as a first time experience in the theater (and less disturbing, having watched it in an urban multiplex where audience reaction was, at times, appallingly inappropriate). This movie relies so much on shock value and surprising choices (particularly musically) that the second time around, some of the anachronisms become much more annoying.
And since Tarantino himself brought up history…
Next: Django Unchained is much like the rhetoric that helped cause the Civil War.
Thomas Fleming is known for his provocative, politically incorrect, and very accessible histories that challenge many of the clichés of current American history books. Fleming is a revisionist in the best conservative sense of the word. His challenges to accepted wisdom are not with an agenda, but with a relentless hunger for the truth and a passion to present the past as it really was, along with capturing the attitudes and culture of the times.
In The New Dealers’ War Fleming exposed how the radical Left in FDR’s administration almost crippled the war effort with their utopian socialist experimentation, and how Harry Truman led reform efforts in the Senate that kept production in key materials from collapse.
In The Illusion of Victory, Fleming showed that while liberal academics may rate Woodrow Wilson highly, that he may have been the most spectacularly failed President in history. 100,000 American lives were sacrificed to favor one colonial monarchy over another, all so Wilson could have a seat at the peace table and negotiate The League of Nations. Instead, the result of WWI was Nazism and Communism killing millions for the rest of the century.
Fleming’s new book A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War , exposes how inflammatory Abolitionist rhetoric and propaganda were a major cause of the Civil War. Every other civilized nation outlawed slavery, despite economic and financial incentives, without killing a major part of its own population to do so.
While reading the book, I imagined if the pro-life movement was actually dominated by spokesmen who advocated killing abortionists.
Fleming is also a novelist, the mega-best-selling author of Officers’ Wives and Liberty Tavern, among many others. My personal favorite is the all too convincing alternate history novel, The Secret Trial of Robert E. Lee which also explores the hatred of the Radical Republicans for all things Southern.
He is best known for his numerous books on the American Revolution, including the gigantic-selling coffee table book, Liberty!, which was the basis for the PBS series. Fleming is a leader in the movement to restore the reputation of the Founders– especially George Washington– in the public square.
Fleming is a recent past President of the Society of American Historians. Recently we sat down for an interview about A Disease in the Public Mind, perhaps his most provocative book yet.
Before September 11, 2001, bestselling author Robert Ferrigno was known as a cooler West Coast version of Elmore Leonard. His mysteries put a modern, whacked-out L.A. spin on noir fiction, and if there was a political point of view expressed, it might have been a rough libertarianism.
But when he decided to get political, he went all out. His audacious novel Prayers for the Assassin was a dazzling dystopian mix of social/political satire and spy thriller that proposed a future America ruled by Sharia law. Suddenly Ferrigno’s patriotic and conservative convictions were on view for all to see.
The Assassin trilogy became a huge favorite with conservatives — and was decried just as soundly by the advocates of political correctness. Mark Styen’s positive reviews of the books were even used to haul him before the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
Like fellow mystery writer Andrew Klavan, Ferrigno began doing overt poltical commentary as well as working within the popular culture. He wrote a series of columns for Andrew Brietbart examining the Obama White House from the point of view of Bo, the president’s dog; and his blog on his website would feature brilliant bits like this about gun control and pop culture in the wake of mass shootings: We Are Not the People We Used to Be.
Ferrigno’s new thriller, The Girl Who Cried Wolf, is available as an e-book (and at $.99 for the Kindle download on Amazon, the best value I can think of). It hearkens back to the old Ferrigno darkly comic/noir, but with his new political sharp elbows fully employed. In it, a small group of eco-terrorists kidnap Remy Martin, a beautiful heiress, hoping to benefit both the Cause and their personal cause as well. You see, it takes money to live free of modern conveniences.
They are a little surprised at how calmly her billionaire father takes the news, not realizing that this just may be the most ill-conceived kidnapping since The Ransom of Red Chief. Remy’s job as an entertainment lawyer and her posh upbringing may make her seem like a soft mark, but calling her a handful would be a considerable understatement. Then there’s the fact that Remy had just begun dating an ex-cop security expert who takes his failure to have protected her very seriously indeed.
The kidnappers are surprised at how well Remy takes to being held in a wilderness paradise—but that’s just the beginning of their surprises.
I caught up with Robert Ferrigno to talk to him about the changes in his writing, including huge changes in the business of writing, and how a conservative operates in the pop culture.
”You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. …. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion …”
— Barack Obama
There is a constant narrative in today’s increasingly irreligious modern Western societies that the reason we are less religious — specifically less Christian for this discussion — is that we have just outgrown such outmoded notions.
The common theme pumped out by educational, media and societal elites is that there has been a steady march to personal enlightenment since the Enlightenment, and that the smarter, more prosperous and more individualistic a society becomes, the less it needs the superstitions of the past with all its silly restrictions on human freedom and individuality.
In her new book How the West Really Lost God Mary Eberstadt, a scholar at the Hoover Institution (and the author of one of my favorite all time articles, “Why Ritalin Rules“), provides her signature unique take on something “everybody knows” and shows us how little actual wisdom there is in the “conventional wisdom” on the subject.
It is important that Eberstadt’s re-examination of this subject not only be used to puncture the conceits of the secular elites; but also that ultra-conservative Christians hear this message too. Many of them, wittingly or unwittingly, promote this fallacy by acting as though everything modern — from music to movies — is inherently evil, and some even treat the Enlightenment (even in its most general sense) as the equivalent of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
This guy below is a prime example. While Eberstadt repeatedly makes the point that “conservative” Christian churches are still thriving, this brand, which thinks it is the only “conservative” church, is getting decidedly smaller.
Most Overrated: The West Wing
I have to confess I didn’t watch much of this show, after the first episode featured a group of antisemitic “conservative” teachers (as though that’s a bigger problem with conservatives) and President Martin Sheen, I mean Josiah Bartlett, telling a bunch of conservative pastors (in real life, Israel’s best friends) to “get your fat asses out of my office.” That easy, clichéd slander was enough for me.
This show was constant liberal wish fulfillment throughout its run, like any production from the much-overrated Aaron Sorkin that directly deals with politics. Knock down straw men that represent liberal nightmares about conservatives, then be all self-congratulatory for taking on the “tough issues.”
In 2002, President Bartlett’s campaign was against the typical Republican candidate, a stupid, Southern right-wing governor, so it was an easy victory — despite the fact that the most recent president was someone that Hollywood considered a stupid, Southern right-wing governor. And a year after 9/11, the central issue seemed to be green energy; and, of course, liberal goodness and farsightedness won the day because the president had the good sense to embrace it.
In 2005, the show presented the “ideal” Republican candidate. The one that liberals supposedly fear the most. A pro-choice moderate played by… wait for it… Alan Alda!
His most triumphant moment is his refusal to go to a conservative mega-church and a declaration against religious tests. But, alas, he is a Republican, so of course he is most afraid of a dynamic Latino candidate on the Democrat side, the idealistic Jimmy Smits, and uses immigration as a wedge issue to hurt him in his own primary, leading to this slapdown by a close aide:
But aside from the constant liberal fantasy, there are two things that anyone who has ever worked for — or even with — government has to find laughable. First, the idea that government at any level doesn’t move with the speed of a glacier.
And second — adding to the ponderous pretentiousness of the show — did the White House not pay its light bill? The noirish atmosphere may be dramatic, but government buildings are anything but dimly lit, and their favorite type of lighting tends to be fluorescent.
During the run of The West Wing, every successful Republican for president in a generation had run as a conservative, while every successful Democrat had run disguised as a moderate. Of course, 2012 changed all that…
GRADE: The Show Overall — C, the Campaign — D