In his New York Times Op-Ed piece today, David Brooks chides the Republican Party for not seeing the forest for the trees when it comes to their cinematic influences:
Republicans generally like Westerns. They generally admire John Wayne-style heroes who are rugged, individualistic and brave. They like leaders — from Goldwater to Reagan to Bush to Palin — who play up their Western heritage. Republicans like the way Westerns seem to celebrate their core themes — freedom, individualism, opportunity and moral clarity.
But the greatest of all Western directors, John Ford, actually used Westerns to tell a different story. Ford’s movies didn’t really celebrate the rugged individual. They celebrated civic order.
Today, if Republicans had learned the right lessons from the Westerns, or at least John Ford Westerns, they would not be the party of untrammeled freedom and maximum individual choice. They would once again be the party of community and civic order.
While Brooks is correct in his assessment of the misreading of Ford (and Hawks, Boetticher, and Mann), the ideas of community are welcome ones. Politically Ford was more or less a moderate Republican who suggested, through his best work, the need for compassion and dignity in his frontiersman voice. One wonders if the politicization of Ford, long deceased but whose work is among the greatest any American artist ever created, is an apt metaphor for a political party that is timid on torture and socially conservative. An interesting read, nonetheless.