Sunday, November 2, 2008




The Happy Warrior / National Review


17 November 2008

By the time many of you read this, the winner of the presidential election will be known — assuming, that is, that the result is sufficiently non-close that it’s beyond the margin of lawyer. So, before we close the book on this election season, let me quote one of the most dispiriting asides on the subject. Daniel Craig, the star of the new James Bond movie The Audacity of Solace — no, wait, A Quantum of Hope — was being interviewed by Kevin Sessums for Parade (that supplement thingy that’s free in all the local newspapers), and as a final question was asked which of the two candidates would make the better 007:

Craig doesn’t hesitate. “Obama would be the better Bond because — if he’s true to his word — he’d be willing to quite literally look the enemy in the eye and go toe-to-toe with them. McCain, because of his long service and experience, would probably be a better M,” he adds, mentioning Bond’s boss, played by Dame Judi Dench. “There is, come to think of it, a kind of Judi Dench quality to McCain.”
Oh, great. John McCain has survived plane crashes, just like Roger Moore in Octopussy. He has escaped death in shipboard infernos, just like Sean Connery in Thunderball. He has endured torture day after day, month after month, without end, just like Pierce Brosnan in the title sequence of Die Another Day. He has done everything 007 has done except get lowered into a shark tank and (one assumes) bed Britt Ekland and Jill St. John.

And yet Daniel Craig gives him the desk job.

On the other hand, Barack Obama has spent his entire adult life chit-chatting with “community organizers” and campus lefties — and he’s the last action hero? It’s true he’s offered “to quite literally look the enemy in the eye” without preconditions. But, given that he looked the Rev. Jeremiah Wright in the eye for 20 years and failed to notice he was an ugly neo-segregationist race-baiter peddling insane conspiracy theories, and that he looked William Ayers in the eye for almost as long and failed to notice he was an unrepentant terrorist, and that he looked Tony Rezko in the eye for an extremely beneficial real-estate deal and failed to notice he was already being mentioned in the Chicago papers for various unsavory activities, I’m not sure Senator Obama is the go-to guy for in-the-field intelligence work.

As for his plan to fly to Tehran to “go toe-to-toe” with President Ahmadinejad, one can’t but feel that 007’s famous exchange with Goldfinger pretty much sums up the cross-purposes:

“Do you expect me to talk?”

“No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.”

Barack Obama expects to talk and talk and talk, while our enemies expect the West to die. I’m not sure Chat Another Day is a recipe for a satisfying Bond movie.

Yet Mr. Craig gets to the heart of the conservative crisis at the end of this dispiriting election season. I’m sure the Bond star disagrees with John McCain on a zillion things — although, come to think of it, he’d be hard put to disagree with him more than I do, on campaign-finance reform, illegal immigration, government mortgage bailouts, etc. Still, political dispositions aside, it surely shouldn’t be so difficult to see in the old, cranky, physically awkward survivor an heroic narrative, a sense of honor and sacrifice and personal courage — the qualities that animate great storytelling across the ages.

But no: the passive campus yakker for Bond, the naval-pilot POW for desk-jockey. That’s it in a nutshell: Culture-wise, conservatives are only up for the supporting role.

That’s the problem, and pulling the lever for a guy with an “R” after his name every other November isn’t going to fix it. If the default mode of a society’s institutions is liberal, electing GOP legislators eventually accomplishes little more than letting a Republican driver take a turn steering the liberal bus. If Hollywood’s liberal, if the newspapers are liberal, if the pop stars are liberal, if the grade schools are liberal, if the very language is liberal to the point where all the nice words have been co-opted as a painless liberal sedative, a Republican legislature isn’t going to be a shining city on a hill so much as one of those atolls in the Maldives being incrementally swallowed by Al Gore’s rising sea levels.

As I said, I don’t know the election results at the time of writing. Whatever they are, conservatism’s fractious precriminations — David Frum vs. Tony Blankley, Mark Levin vs. Peggy Noonan — are set to continue. But the lesson of the last grim year is that it’s not merely about candidates or policy or electoral strategy. We have to get back in the game in all the arenas we’ve ceded to liberalism — from kindergarten to blockbuster movies. Otherwise, as in Daniel Craig’s improvised casting call, we’ll be lucky to wind up with a cameo in the national narrative.

And yes, his answer was ridiculous. Whom do you want on your side when you’re approaching Checkpoint Charlie and you’ve got to rescue the girl? The guy who flies to Germany and coos fatuous platitudes about there being “no challenge too great for a world that stands as one”? Or a crazy old coot who’ll get you over the wall and take a bullet for you? I know whom Ian Fleming would have bet on.

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