A NEW HOLLYWOOD “PLAN” Hollywood loves to make “provocative” left-wing movies and East Coast journalists love to write about them. Most of L.A.’s hot-tub artistes believe that they live in an oppressively puritanical or irrationally mean- spirited political culture. Hence, their films are usually about liberating the protagonist from “out-dated” thinking or demonstrating, through a lens darkly, that our oppressive culture kills the soul.
There have been two types of big box-office political movies in the last decade. The first are movies about, literally, politics. Dave, An American President, Bob Roberts, Primary Colors, etc. To the extent they have any meaningful message it is that gooey compassion is more important than clear thinking, superficial “understanding” and “tolerance” of human differences is more important than hard-earned wisdom. The second type of 1990s political film falls under the category of culture-war agitprop. These movies are genuinely better made because they stem from an artistic spirit rather than a Clinton-fund-raiser enthusiasm. But they are still movies with a message. Thelma and Louise, The Truman Show, Pleasantville, Slingblade, and many, many others, make poignant arguments that patriarchy, religion, convention, tradition — you name it – oppress the human spirit. Have some really good sex and maybe inflict a little (maybe a lot) of violence on some mean white men and ye shall be set free.
But what about the conservative movies? Well there aren’t many. Forest Gump took some potshots at the 60s counterculture. Red Dawn is often cited as an “anti-Communist” movie, but really it was simply glandular. To be sure, conservative truisms can be found in many, if not most, movies, including some deliberately liberal ones. But generally, if you’re looking to take away serious conservative lessons from an American movie, you’d better carry them into the theater with you.
Not so with the just-released A Simple Plan by horror-movie impresario Sam Raimi. This is not a cheery movie by any stretch; in fact it is devastatingly depressing. But it is the most profoundly conservative, and therefore encouraging movie in years. A Simple Plan is about three Midwestern schlubs who find a pile of money in the woods. Bill Paxton, who plays a happy accountant married to a very pregnant and happy wife, immediately suggests calling the police. Keeping the money would be stealing. “It’s the American dream,” the town drunk says to Paxton. Paxton replies, “You don’t find the American dream, you work for it.”
“Well than this is better,” responds the souse. They convince Paxton and then devise “a simple plan” for keeping the money.
From this modest premise, a profoundly conservative lesson is taught: Do the right thing. We have very humble moral rules of thumb for a reason. The “wisdom of the ancients” that Edmund Burke invoked was not some grandiose philosophical aphorism encumbered with Euclidean proofs. The wisdom of the ancients is simply work hard, play by the rules, do unto others, etc., and a million other lamps illuminating our path through life.
A Simple Plan is, of course, an ironic title because often there is no such thing. Conservatives generally do not like “planning”; a central tenet of conservatism is “an affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence,” as Russel Kirk put it. The world is too complex for even simple plans to work reliably if they run against the grain of history or morality. This is why the most practiced liars stick as close to the truth as possible. Once Paxton, and later his wife, jettison seemingly old-fashioned notions of right and wrong and attempt to cheat the moral order, chaos ensues and tragedy follows.
Michael Oakeshott, the British romantic philosopher, wrote that a conservative, if “forced to gamble, would bet on the field.” With the parade of liberationist twaddle coming out of Hollywood these days A Simple Plan is a wonderful reminder of how even a sure thing can really be a long shot.
SID, SID: HE’S OUR MAN! Today’s Washington Post has a long piece about the books this scandal has generated. Yes, I am quoted at some length in it. But the really interesting quote comes from Sid Blumenthal. The man who has done more to make smearing the president’s concubines a cabinet-level job than anyone is very upset. He has been told not to keep a daily journal of his activities by the White House lawyers — for fear someone might discover the truth, presumably. He considers this prohibition “a crime against history.”
First of all, one wonders why he can’t simply keep a journal and then claim, if convenient, that he was lying to it like another Clinton aide did a few years ago. But I suppose I have to agree with Blumenthal. What a fascinating document his daily journal might have been:
Monday: 7:00 AM — breakfast with HRC. She: “Wouldn’t it be terrible if Joe Conason were to write that Ken Starr keeps shaved goats in basement decorated like Arabian harem?” Me: “Yes. Terrible.”
7:30 — Call J.C. in re: “terrible story.”
8:00 — Meet with Pres. Re Third Way economy. Pres: “Sid, you’re the most brilliant man ever to serve the public; I need your help. We need a catchier title for my plan, sorry, our plan to eradicate the false choices of Reagan-Bush greed. The false choices between the individual and the family, between capitalism and socialism, between tasting great and filling less, between fluffy softness and sheets per roll, between whether you, Sid, are a philosophical writer or a writing philosopher . . .”
12:00 PM — Cancel lunch w/Gene Lyons. President still talking about me.
1:15 — Pres: “So as I was saying, Sid, only a mind as incisive and encyclopedic as yours can fashion a new name for our third-way philosophy which only racists and morons believe is really just warmed-over Swedish-style labor socialism or the reincarnation of the romantic delusions of the Prague Spring . . . .
Tuesday: 7:00 AM — Breakfast with HRC. She “angry” over Conason piece: “Damn shame. Please send Joe champagne with stern note…”
8:00 — Meet with President. He: delighted with my Blumenthal Doctrine as new name for third-way philosophy. Very upset with neo-fascist editorial in Washington Post calling it “Blumenthal with a Human Face.”