Ernest Hemingway believed that there were no happy endings. In his essay on bullfighting, Death in the Afternoon he wrote that “all stories, if continued far enough, end in death, and he is no true-story teller who would keep that from you.” That if the camera kept rolling after Shane rides into the sunset he dies from loss of blood. That after Eliot Ness cleans up Chicago in the next reel the Daley Family takes over and in the reel after that come Barack Obama and Rahm Emmanuel. Was it worth it, Eliot?
Hemingway ought to have known a thing or two about the subject of No Happy Endings. A supporter of the New Deal and once an object of KGB recruitment (Codename Argo), the great writer must have known the complementary proposition: that all idealisms end in scams. For there is a dark side to every dream: the moment you wake up and realize that the men with steel teeth have planned it all.
So when the trailer of “Won’t Back Down” — a movie produced by the Left about two mothers fighting the teacher’s union in California was greeted by applause at the DNC convention in Charlotte, there was no contradiction inherent in when the men who it was attacking rose to clap. Why spoil the fun? They would kill it soon enough.
Bob Bowdon, who has long been fighting for educational reform on the conservative side of the fence explains to Fox News that what the movie doesn’t show is after the credits roll and the stirring music fades is that the union ties the parents up in court. The union at the DNC would have known this. That’s why they lost nothing by clapping.
But applause points are good moments while they last. They bring a relief which Conservatives can’t quite appreciate. They forget that the Left lives on philosophical nihilism. They need sentimental feel good movies — mythmaking — as a necessary anodyne to the unconscious acceptance of the hard truths of the liberal canon: that all true stories end in death and all idealisms finish in betrayal. George Orwell captured it best in verses he composed for last chapter of 1984.
Under the spreading chestnut tree
I sold you and you sold me
There lie they, and here lie we
Under the spreading chestnut tree
So drink your Victory Gin. The Happy Ending is a make-believe moment, the Santa Claus of the Leftist catechism, a counterweight to the brooding knowledge that in the end the Party Wins. Although they don’t really believe in ‘living happily ever after’ the moments when they can surrender themselves to illusion is so powerful, so transforming, so satisfying, that it is almost worth the inevitable letdown. The big secret of the Left is that the cause is never about fulfillment. It was always about the moments when they can feel the Dream; the last the three minutes in the reel.
One reason why conservatives are less politically sexy than liberals is that unlike their opposite numbers they neither believe in the Happy Endings nor in the despair that it’s momentary celebration masks. To most conservatives life — and even sacrifice — isn’t about creating a heaven on earth. They don’t believe in earthly paradises, probably as a result of the influence of a 2,000 year old book of delusions called the Bible. What conservatives believe in is a world where people make a little more money, a little more time for themselves and have the freedom to find out what life is all about.
And though the conservative may not succeed in creating a paradise — in every conservative world man remains man — they nonetheless want a world of conveniences, of cures for cancer and widening prospects. In a word, the conservative works for a better version of the present where joy and genuine love can bloom and prosper whenever no one is looking.
That is regarded on the left as banal. There are no end credits or stirring fadeout music to the conservative dream. An individual who wants Happily Ever After in the conservative universe may choose — if wants — to believe in God and is given leave to seek Him unto the ends of the universe. To some this is hardly enough. To work for a world of better bowling alleys, nicer houses, and less drudgery? The conservative future is a less compelling vision than the one offered by the Left since the absolutes are removed from the earth. How will this not disappoint those who want to remake the earth? For you may ask a man to risk all to bring a paradise on earth, to beat the Teacher’s Union forever but can you ask someone to hazard everything to weaken them only for a season? To contain evil and corruption for a decade before the old human frailties reassert themselves?
Yes, if you are a conservative. Because that’s how life is. Were it otherwise we wouldn’t have to cut weeds or win wars; wouldn’t have to earn our daily bread when tomorrow brings the same need.
Bob Bowdon himself produced a film exposing the corruption of public education, a documentary called The Cartel. There are no big name actors in it, only interviews with real people. In it there are no endings in it, simply beginnings. But if it is not a world of perfect schools, it is one in which the union does not necessarily triumph absolutely. In the conservative universe, good enough is good enough. Maybe that’s why there is a different version of the Chestnut Tree poem in the nonliberal world, the original one.
Under a spreading chestnut tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.
Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night’s repose.
Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought!
So what will it be? The perfect unattainable tomorrow? Or just a better one?
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