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Anti-Hero Worship

“You’re our hero,” read a sign at a statue of the late government-college football coach Joe Paterno, who died on Sunday at the age of 85. But Paterno, who by his own admission sidestepped, ignored or evaded allegations of child rape, is not a hero. He was a football coach at a state college and he made crucial errors of judgment which, by the kindest interpretation of his involvement, which was under investigation, may have aided or abetted serious crimes against children. Nevertheless, government-financed Penn State declared that it will hold a public memorial service, where signs, photography and video will be forbidden.

The governor, Tom Corbett, ordered state flags to fly at half-staff. Joe Paterno, an employee of the college for 61 years who by most accounts did his job and coached football better than most, does not in my estimation deserve the accolades. He worked for a well-respected college and his primary responsibility was to teach students and provide an example and, whatever the outcome of the charges against his former colleague, Jerry Sandusky, whom I think is guilty, he failed. “I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was,” he told the Washington Post about his actions in his final interview. So, he made a mistake and did so at a place for higher learning on the taxpayers’ dime, which, while it does not make him a monster, makes Paterno a non-hero and undeserving of worship by people in the Keystone State and everywhere else. We don’t yet have all the information about Sandusky’s alleged crimes or Paterno’s actions, but, increasingly, sports spectators worship thugs, not heroes, as pro hockey team owner Mario Lemieux said when he threatened to quit. Given what we do know, Paterno worship is more of the same.

Another non-hero is also a government employee. Her name is Gabrielle Giffords, the stricken Arizona congresswoman who was shot and survived in a lunatic’s attack in Tucson, Arizona, last year. It was a good call for her to quit, as she recently announced, though it would have been better had she done it sooner. Her district has essentially been without representation since she was injured in a terrible tragedy in which lives were lost. It is a representative’s job to serve the republic and represent constituents and she should have quit her job months ago. Instead, Congresswoman Giffords, too, is being treated as some sort of heroine. I am sure there are millions of Americans like me who are sorry she was shot and wish her well. But it doesn’t make her a heroine or excuse the lack of representation for Americans who deserve full, congressional representation during the nation’s darkest times since the Depression.

A third government non-hero, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, a Christian libertarian son of a GOP presidential candidate, was detained earlier today by the TSA for refusing a government-dictated security pat-down. While Sen. Paul exercised his individual rights and I hope (and doubt) his act of civil disobedience encourages people to act to kill the TSA, Matt Drudge’s red-colored headline, “TSA DETAINS U.S. SENATOR”, should read: TSA DETAINS U.S. CITIZEN. The outrage is that Americans are submitted to the tyranny of unconstitutional restrictions on travel and association every day. That a politician is affected, too, should be of no concern to anyone except the politician. Any decent politician would use the detainment as an opportunity to build support for a law abolishing the government agency.

Because praise for non-heroes trivializes the concept of heroism, glorifying these three government workers – Coach Paterno, Congresswoman Giffords, Senator Paul – redounds to anti-hero worship. Real heroes are those who consistently live life at their best; men such as Andrew Carnegie, Steve Jobs and John Lewis. Real hero-worshippers refuse to raise a glass to mediocrity. They know the difference.

Movie Review: The Iron Lady

Concerned that hers would be a distorted, doddering depiction of Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1979-1990), I was more or less dragged to see The Iron Lady and was pleasantly surprised by the movie, starring the overrated Meryl Streep (Doubt, Mamma Mia!), one of my least favorite actresses. The framing device, Thatcher’s delusional visits with her late husband, Denis (Jim Broadbent), provides a subtle focus on the price she paid for power and, while some may find it distracting, I found it interesting. The framing of this old former prime minister, holding on to her top value as a means of orienting herself to a harsh reality, deepens one’s understanding of what might motivate an intellectual woman to seek power over one of the West’s greatest countries.

In a culture that fetishizes powerful women instead of admiring them for themselves and their achievements, The Iron Lady stands out as a well-crafted tale of a woman who merely steps in to run things because no one else is really up to the job. Another forceful mind in history, Ayn Rand, once wrote unfavorably about the issue of a woman president and, seeing The Iron Lady, one is reminded why. Throughout modern history, from Catherine the Great to Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, the toll such power takes is clear and director Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!), with writer Abi Morgan, deftly suggests that what moves Margaret Thatcher is looking up to man, not looking down upon men.

Shuttling between certain episodes of Thatcher’s past and present (centered during the aftermath of the Islamist terrorist attack in London), which is often awkwardly activated, we see the young, middle class grocer’s daughter form her political philosophy early in life from gathering lessons based on talks and actions in abundant example by her father, an extraordinary man who taught young Margaret (Alexandra Roach) rational virtues such as pride and productiveness. With her daughter Carol (Olivia Colman) bearing indignities of her own from her mother’s harsh words, Thatcher trudges onward, gamely filling in gaps where strength and dignity are lacking in the world around her. In other words, like most strong women of the 20th century, she became the man in an era in which men were weak, indecisive and increasingly emasculated by feminism because, rather sadly, she had to.

Here is where Streep’s performance should have been brilliant and isn’t (and critics’ conventional wisdom that Streep is better than the movie has it backwards). The real Margaret Thatcher, by most accounts, possessed an undeniably fiery sexuality in her Parliament and Downing Street years, and none of that’s in evidence in Streep’s performance. Margaret Thatcher was womanly, in the best sense, during her stirring and passionate speeches, as if she was laughing or winking to the mostly foolish men that surrounded her and they were everywhere in politics (and still are, only more so). Streep’s Thatcher is more dowdy and plodding than womanly, though her best scenes involve striking recreations of Thatcher’s finest speeches, which resonate powerfully for their words and meaning, and one craves more because Thatcher, who was always better than Reagan, has wickedly been vindicated by history.

That fact, the rightness of her political philosophy of capitalism, is inescapable in its logic as dramatized in The Iron Lady and, while it’s not as neatly created and edited as The Queen, seeing Margaret Thatcher as she might have been in her prime is reason enough to see this movie. There are glaring omissions, such as her relationship with the British royal family, but seeing an intelligent woman take on the world in order to be both her best and live in a liberated world of her making is its own reward. In one scene during the controversy over the poll tax, Thatcher’s harsher side is exhibited when she dresses down one of her Tory leaders. She snaps and rips him and everyone realizes she’s gone too far. The unspoken thought is that everyone realizes she’s right. Margaret Thatcher, born in 1925 and still living in Britain, held to certain ideals like a steel claw. Whether taking on an American diplomat urging her toward appeasement during the initiation of force against Britain off the coast of South America, labor unions and socialists or Irish terrorists, Thatcher was an iron lady. The Iron Lady demonstrates why.

Mississippi Forgiving

Take note, conservatives, anyone-but-Obama types and apologists for Republicans: the governor of Mississippi’s pardon of rapists and murderers is an example of the danger of mixing religion and government. That he pardoned over 200 prisoners, several of whom are on the lam now that a judge has issued an injunction against the inmates’ releases on the grounds that the pardons may have violated the state constitution by failing to give sufficient public notice that the convicts were seeking clemency, on his last day as governor is an act of cowardice.

The former governor, Haley Barbour, is the epitome of a fatcat. The longtime politician and former Republican National Committee chairman, who made a career of lobbying for political favors, is an anti-abortion conservative who condemned an American pastor’s burning of the Koran in Florida and his despicable pardons are an example of Christian forgiveness. One of the murderers Barbour pardoned is David Glenn Gatlin, who walked free after being convicted of murdering Tammy Gatlin in 1994 by shooting his wife in the head as she held their two-month-old child, and then turning the gun on a man named Randy Walker. Barbour’s turning the other cheek, which has within a lawful stroke of the pen endangered the lives of Mississippi residents, ought to remind voters that politicians who pledge to act like Christians in government and impose their faith-based beliefs in matters of state mean it.

So whether Ron Paul is promising to turn the other cheek from a nuclear Islamist Iran or Mitt Romney is pledging to help others with government intervention or Rick Santorum is demanding an end to homosexuality, abortion and contraception, it must be remembered that they aim to practice what they preach.

Presidential Politics 2012

On the eve of the New Hampshire primary, I must say that I find the current field of presidential candidates to be terribly depressing. We are stuck with an American president, Barack Obama, who is hastening the end of freedom in the United States of America. But the pathetic opposition is no real opposition. Besides the crazies and clowns who have already exited or not yet entered, including the dreadful Ms. Palin, Republicans are a bunch of dishonest looters and moochers, to paraphrase Ayn Rand from her novel Atlas Shrugged. They support the status quo; America’s rotting welfare state.

Mr. Gingrich is an infantile fraud, the only Speaker of the House to have been punished on ethical grounds. Archaic Mr. Santorum is an advocate of government based on faith, in other words theocracy, who would target gays, abortion and contraceptives. Whiny Dr. Paul is a Christian anarchist whose only coherent position is that he is maniacally willing to support nuclear weapons for Islamist Iran. Smug Mr. Huntsman worked for and praised President Obama. Befuddled Mr. Perry fumbles, fasts and prays and also seeks theocracy and laws against gays. Smarmy Mr. Romney enlisted the conservative Heritage Foundation and created the model for America’s first totalitarian health care system, ObamaCare. Cumulatively, the candidates are a reminder that America is careening toward the latter part of New Hampshire’s state motto and is probably doomed.

It is a new year, though, so I look to men such as the late new intellectual John David Lewis, a history professor whose writings and teachings and example are positively inspiring, new intellectual Robert Mayhew, a philosophy professor whose courses and books provide rich resources for future artists and scholars, new intellectual Shoshana Milgram, an English professor who is writing a biography of Ayn Rand, the new Ayn Rand Campus, premiering online tomorrow, where students will be able to pursue a course of self-study on Ayn Rand and her writings and ideas and some other individuals, above all Ayn Rand’s torchbearer, Leonard Peikoff, who recently wrote that he’s putting the finishing touches on his new book, The DIM Hypothesis. 2012’s politicians are a reason to fear the government and be depressed. 2012’s new and emergent intellectuals are a reason to fight for the future. Those who lie, cheat and loot deserve our scorn, but those who create deserve our enthusiastic support. Fight every dictate and directive and let us repeal their bad laws one by one, but don’t let the filthy politicians get you down. Let the few good, rational men lift you higher, spread reason and buy us more time.

Newt Gingrich

From my perspective, Newt Gingrich would make a terrible president of the United States. The anti-abortion Christian conservative congressman from Georgia was the darling of the New Right when he rose to power in the early 1980s and his 1994 Contract with America, a promising idea which was a colossal missed opportunity in policy and in action, demonstrates why he’s a failure, not a success, as a legislator. Gingrich wasted the GOP’s historic 1994 House victory and tinkered with a slightly smaller welfare state thereafter and the reality of our collapsing economy speaks for itself in this regard. He squandered enormous public support for capitalism in the wake of the Clinton health care plan debacle with his subsequent initiatives, compromises and statements, not to mention his narcissistic, Clintonian antics.

The former college professor is the embodiment of a self-centered, power-lusting politician and nothing he says is credible. By the time Gingrich became recipient of the most severe penalty ever imposed on a Speaker of the House, the first time in history the House of Representatives punished the Speaker on ethical grounds, he had crucially refused to include expansion of Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs) in his 1994 policy pledge, effectively killing a potentially powerful hedge against socialized medicine and he had completely, totally failed to articulate a case for capitalism. In fact, Gingrich thoroughly and repeatedly accepted and advocated the moral directive of the left: shut up and obey the state and live for the sake of others. Gingrich is the true paleo-conservative, with a pragmatic streak: bereft of new ideas that advance liberty and capitalism, he pompously draws upon whatever ideals seem popular in order to expedite a return to the traditions of the past.

It’s true that Mitt Romney also fraudulently claims to support liberty and capitalism while seeking more government control of religion and economics. But slick Romney’s desperate willingness to do or say anything to gain power is widely known and acknowledged. There is no doubt that President Obama is ruining the country, and the sooner he goes the better, but for those who seek a secular republic based on individual rights, Newt Gingrich is the ultimate Trojan Horse.