On Saturday of our vacation it rained hard all day as the remnants of Hurricane Bill sent showers our way. With no opportunity for biking or canoeing, Candice and I pulled out the 1949 Academy Award winning movie All the King’s Men starring Broderick Crawford and settled in for an afternoon with Willie Stark, Sadie Burke, and Jack Burden.
I had a high school English teacher who loved Southern literature, so my first introduction to this powerful Robert Penn Warren novel came early in life. I’ve read it on several occasions since then but it has been a long time since I’ve revisited the tale of political idealism gone wrong. Seeing the movie – which won Best Movie, a Best Actor award for Crawford and a Best Supporting Actress award for Mercedes McCambridge as Sadie Burke – was a timely reminder that demagoguery is part of the American experience and not something new as part of the current health care debate.
Willie has many memorable lines in the movie. One that I’ve always remembered is Stark’s cynical line when he pushes Jack Burden to go find some dirt on the Judge:
Jack, there’s something on everybody. Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption. He passes from the stink of the dydie to the stench of the shroud. There’s ALWAYS something.
But what hit me this time was Willie’s line to the effect that “If you yell loud enough and long enough, people will believe its true.” In today’s current “debate” on health care, that seems to be the operative approach. Yelling and shouting to drown out conversation can come in many forms. We’re all familiar with the nonsense that’s been orchestrated at the town halls. But I also recall seeing Betsy McCaughey – the originator of the sham that the health care bill creates death panels (Palin’s words, not hers) – on The Daily Show earlier this week. While Jon Stewart answered and undercut every one of her arguments, she just kept saying “I’m right and he’s wrong.” No debate. (For an interesting history lesson, read John Buntin’s story in today’s Washington Post about how big government once shut down death panels – which were set up by hospitals – just a few short decades ago.)
Of course, not all falsehood and demagoguery comes from one political party. In the novel, Warren has Jack explain the more complicated realities of life:
And what we students of history always learn is that the human being is a very complicated contraption and that they are not good or bad but are good and bad and the good comes out of the bad and the bad out of the good, and the devil take the hindmost.
All the King’s Men. Still worth a read or a viewing during these most curious times.
More to come…