The President’s Speech
Published on: May 25, 2013
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  • wigwag

    “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence;” if you haven’t seen it, you should. I think its one of the ten best American movies ever made. I bring this up because as I was reading Professor Mead’s fascinating post, I couldn’t get this movie out of my mind.

    The plot is simple; an Eastern lawyer (played by Jimmy Stewart) is relocating to a small town in the Western hinterland where the law isn’t worshipped quite as reverently as it was from the big city that he left. The stage coach he’s in is robbed at gunpoint by a gun slinging outlaw with the peculiar name of Liberty Valence (played by Lee Marvin). Stewart is roughed up and left for dead and his prize possession, his law books are stolen and scattered to the wind by Valence and his mob of outlaws.

    An uneducated, decent and muscular rancher (played by John Wayne) rescues Stewart and saves his life. The lawyer ingratiates himself to the new town by teaching the innkeepers illiterate daughter to read and by starting a school. In the meantime, Liberty Valence continues to make mayhem, sow terror and create a state of anarchy. The Stewart character complains about Liberty’s lawless behavior but the outlaw laughs in his face and challenges Stewart to a duel; a challenge that Stewart foolishly accepts.

    As the duel begins, John Wayne hides in the shadows; the shots ring out and unbelievably, Jimmy Stewart is merely wounded while the heinous outlaw lays dead. The town rejoices that Liberty’s reign of anarchy is over; Jimmy Stewart is lionized as a hero; he becomes the man who shot Liberty Valence.

    There’s only one problem; unbeknownst to everyone, it wasn’t Stewart who killed Valence, it was the brave rancher who, all along, had been the only man brave enough to stand up to the outlaw. Hiding in the shadow, it was a shot from his gun that killed Valence. He had saved Jimmy Stewart’s life a second time.

    Stewart’s reputation as the man who shot Liberty Valence catapults him into a political career. He’s elected governor of the new state. He then becomes a two term U.S. senator, then the American ambassador to Great Britain. Eventually he becomes his Party’s nominee for Vice President of the United States. Even better; he gets the girl. The innkeeper’s daughter who Stewart had taught to read agrees to Stewart’s proposal of marriage even though John Wayne’s character had loved her all along.

    Even after Stewart learns that it was not he who killed Valence but Wayne; he decides to say nothing. As the accolades for him pile up and as his political and financial success continue to increase, Stewart remains silent.

    The movie ends with Stewart and his wife leaving town after attending the rancher’s funeral. It wasn’t the lawyer who killed Valence and ended his reign of anarchy, it was the tough, uneducated but decent rancher, slow to anger, but quick with a gun. As Stewart and his wife board the train to head back east, the conductor greats the warmly. Stewart thanks him and the conductor grins. “Nothings too good for the man who shot Liberty Valence” he says. Stewart stares out of the train window and remains silent.
    If there is a better metaphor for the legalistic liberals that Professor Mead writes about in this post than Stewart’s character from the movie, I would like to know what it is. Inept, effete, and sanctimonious, the liberal legalists that Obama was trying to placate with his speech may think that their resort to legalism makes the world a better and safer place, but they are as deluded as Jimmy Stewart was. It’s a muscular America and the willingness to prudently use American power where necessary which is what saves the world from anarchy. Whatever these arrogant and pampered elites may think, their references to legalism don’t prot

    • Corlyss

      Love the analysis, Wig. Great parallel to Obama. Spot on all the way down to “they’re dangerous.”

      • wigwag

        Thank you, Corlyss for the kind words. If you haven’t seen “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” I highly recommend it. It was one of John Ford’s two greatest movies. The other was “The Searchers” which also starred John Wayne. Both movies are as fresh today as they were 50 years ago and both touch on themes that are intensely relevant to contemporary America and its place in the world.

        • Corlyss

          Your reference to MWSLV couldn’t have been more timely. A friend has been trying to get me to see it for donkey’s ages, and we were discussing it just a month or so ago. I was never interested. My problem with it wasn’t that it is a western – I’m a big fan. I’m passionate too about Ford’s cavalry trilogy, esp. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. My problem with MWSLV is the clips I’ve seen from it lacked stunningly contrasting B&W cinematography and epic scenery, for me the major reasons to have a western. MWSLV always seemed to me to be both stage-bound and claustrophobic. In fact, my friend is a regular reader of WRM and shot me a link to your remarks before I’d had a chance to check in yesterday morning. I told him after your stunning analysis I simply HAD to see the movie.

          It’s funny too that you should see MWSLV in operatic terms. I’m a recovering opera fanatic and at the height of my addiction I used to think in terms of what stories would make good operas. I’ll let you know what I think after I see the movie.

          • wigwag


            A particular scene in the movie that is also worth focusing on takes place in the saloon after the Jimmy Stewart character supposedly guns down the Lee Marvin character. Valance’s henchmen are in the saloon calling for Stewart to be lynched. John Wayne drives them away but then becomes incensed when his farmhand, Pompey, is refused a drink because the bartender refuses to serve a black man.

            The movie was released in 1962. Audiences of the time would have found the message conveyed by this scene completely unambiguous.

            I hope you enjoy the film.

    • Baby Bunny

      That was one of the best examples of how things now are that I’ve ever read! What a wonderfully eye opening and thought provoking comment. Thank you! Oh, and I couldn’t agree more!

  • Anthony

    Stipulation: American power yet remains number one in world….

    “Confronted by a troubling strategic and political situation in world at large….” “the time has come to think the unthinkable: the era of American dominance in international affairs may well be coming to an end…. Global leaders – whether policymakers or intellectuals – bear a responsibility to prepare their societies for impending global shifts…. Americans need to be told a simple, mathematical truth. With 3% of world’s population, the US can no longer dominate the rest of the world…But the belief that America is the only virtuous country, the sole beacon of light in a dark and unstable world, continues to shape many Americans’ worldview.”

    Now, whether the idealism of an elite law school culture embraces POTUS policies going forward ought not detract from aforementioned as it relates vision of world engagement – inside (informed by Niebuhr’s arguments) and outside of United States.

    • Corlyss

      The only way American dominance in international affairs might be coming an end is if we keep electing to the White House Democrats who think American dominance is too costly, too unequal, and too remote for them to get any strokes from. IOW it will be decline by policy choice, much as postwar British governments were perpetrating on Britain before Maggie Thatcher took the helm.

      • Anthony

        Take the quote in context and don’t put personal interpretation on it; for entire author’s position see forum on the future of American Power – Kishore Mahbubani.

        • Corlyss

          So you don’t agree with the envious third-worlder?

  • Corlyss

    “This is a President who feels that wounding and dangerous criticisms have been made of his approach.”
    Only because his approach has been callously ineffective at accomplishing anything 1) he wanted or 2) is good for the US in the long run. The problem as I see it is he hasn’t been criticized enough by anybody, never mind people who matter.

  • Jim Luebke

    “Many people on Wall Street both now and historically have supported a vision of world politics that holds law as the paramount good – given the role that international legal norms play in securing investor rights around the world.”

    But they too often fail to see the other side of this feedback loop — the financial and economic strength that these bring has to contribute to an unassailably strong national defense (capable of being projected worldwide) that makes those international treaties worth more than the paper they’re written on.

  • ljgude

    I can’t say that the legalists have ever impressed me for a moment with their Lilliputian attempts to tie down great powers with a thousand threads. The proactive peace prize was I suppose an advanced reward for supporting that kind of position. For intending the complete elimination of nuclear weapons as opposed to dealing (or apparently not dealing) with the difficult realities, like Iran.

  • Tom

    Part of the problem is that Obama isn’t really Niebuhrian at all. If he were, he would have been much more chary of intervening in Libya, and his rhetoric rarely evidences the Niebuhrian understanding of man’s limitations.

    • Corlyss

      Progs/Dems/Liberals so rarely think tragically about human nature that I believe there’s something defective in their genetic makeup. Time and time again Progs/Dems/Liberals exhibit a stunning capacity for self-delusion about the perfectibility of human nature, about their own capacity to recreate the Garden of Eden, if only everyone would do as the Progs ordered them to do. They have no appreciation for their own tyrannical tendencies. And David Horowitz observed in his C-SPAN Book TV In Depth appearance 10/07, “If you believe that you can end war, poverty, and racism forever, what crime will you NOT commit, what lie will you NOT tell? That’s why progressives have committed such horrendous autrocities and told such big lies in the 20th and 21st Centuries.” As Robert Kaplan noted in his Warrior Politics, modern liberals have lost the capacity to think tragically. It was the Founding Fathers’ grounding in ancient history and The Western Cannon, including the Bible, that enabled them to think tragically and to thus craft a system of government that accounted for the flaws inherent in human nature and deploy means of minimizing the impact of those flaws.

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