Home
Up

 

 

Not Eudora   By Harry Welty
Published
June 23, 2005

Liberty Valance and the Neo-con Testament
 
I've been trying to imagine George W Bush and his fellow neo-cons as pimply teenagers back in1962 soaking up the lessons of John Ford's stirring Horse Opera The Man who Shot Liberty Valance.

The movie's principals were, Liberty, played by Lee Marvin, the remorseless hired gun; the na´ve Easterner, Jimmy Stewart, who thought the West's savagery should yield to the law; and the hard bitten pragmatist played by John Wayne. Burt Bacharach's lyrics tell the tale: 
 
        When Liberty Valance rode to town the womenfolk would hide, they'd hide
        When Liberty Valance walked around the men would step aside
        'cause the point of a gun was the only law that Liberty
        understood When it came to shootin' straight and fast---he was mighty good.


Stewart, traveling West, is robbed and severely beaten by Liberty. He recuperates in the town that Liberty's gun has terrorized and decides to challenge brute force with the law:

        From out of the East a stranger came, a law book in his hand, a man
        The kind of a man the West would need to tame a troubled land


As Bacharah's chorus makes clear Jimmy Stewart's law is no match for Liberty's gun.

        Many a man would face his gun and many a man would fall
        The man who shot Liberty Valance, he shot Liberty Valance
        He was the bravest of them all.


And who was the bravest of them all?  That was a darned good question for nascent neo-con's facing the Vietnam War with their college deferments. Unlike the neo-cons Stewart straps on guns when Lee Marvin calls him out even though Jimmy can't hit the broad side of a barn. 
 
        But the point of a gun was the only law that Liberty understood
        When the final showdown came at last, a law book was no good.

 
Oh, and Hollywood provided a love interest, Vera Miles, who was torn between Wayne and Stewart.

        Alone and afraid she prayed that he'd return that fateful night, aww that night
        When nothin' she said could keep her man from goin' out to fight
        From the moment a girl gets to be full-grown the very first thing she learns
        When two men go out to face each other only one returrr-ns

But a miracle happens. Jimmy kills Liberty!

        Everyone heard two shots ring out, a shot made Liberty fall
        The man who shot Liberty Valance, he shot Liberty Valance 
        He was the bravest of them all.


Now if you don't want me to spoil the surprise ending go and rent the movie before you finish this. It turns out Jimmy didn't really kill Liberty. John Wayne was hiding in the shadows during the gunfight and plugged Liberty after Stewart shoots wide. Stewart becomes an instant legend and gets elected to the United States Senate. John Wayne's house burns down and he dies a nobody. Years later at Wayne's funeral, in a fit of conscience, the Senator tells the truth to a reporter but the reporter rips up the story telling Jimmy that the legend has become the truth. If only journalists were like that today . . .

But wait a minute! Who was the bravest of them all? Who shot Liberty Valance?

I'll just bet that the neo-cons left the theater thinking Wayne was the bravest of them all because, after all, he killed Liberty Valance. Those draft avoiding Neo-cons are famous for their pragmatism. Shooting Liberty in the back wasn't so courageous but it was better than committing suicide by meeting Liberty face to face. The only problem for the neo-cons was that Wayne didn't get the glory that he deserved.

Liberty Valance was filmed during the height of the Cold War. American's were worried that Godless Communism was bent on taking over the world by cheating and subversion. Should an honorable America meet this deadly challenge by strapping on guns like the suicidally noble Jimmy Stewart or would it be acceptable to adopt the Commie's dirty tricks the way John Wayne did?  Without Wayne there would have been no Jimmy Stewart legend just another dead idealist. It was Wayne who got the job done. You can certainly hear the echoes of the movie today in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Maybe the Geneva Convention doesn't really matter when you're dealing with bad guys who fly airplanes into skyscrapers.

But I'm not quite ready to concede this point to President Bush partly because of Bush's idol Ronald Reagan.

Reagan was a lot like the Stewart character and lived by what he called the eleventh commandment: "Thou shalt speak no ill of a fellow Republican." It probably cost Reagan the Republican nomination in 1976 to Gerald Ford such was his fidelity to the commandment.

So how did Bush honor this Reagan ethos? If you were to cast Liberty Valance in 2000 the Wayne character would have been played by Bush, the Stewart role would have gone to John McCain, and Karl Rove would have been Liberty Valance. But the plot would have been altered. When McCain/Stewart's POW legend got out of hand Bush/Wayne would hire Liberty/Rove to go to South Carolina and assassinate McCain's character by claiming that he had fathered an illegitimate black child. But pulling dirty tricks on evil commies is one thing. Using it on a fellow Republican and genuine war hero is quite another. Its no wonder that nobody makes Westerns any more.

And if this isn't bad enough George missed another aspect of the Wayne character. In the movie John Wayne lets Jimmy Stewart take all the credit for ridding the town of Liberty Valance. Can anyone imagine George Bush not taking credit?

"Mission accomplished!"

Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at: www.snowbizz.com