Mary Katharine Ham

Gardner just gets it done, against greater odds than many of us will ever have to face. Hunter, who gave the movie a good review, describes the movie’s lessons:

It's certainly got the old man's lessons, the ones you thought were so full of hooey. Remember when he told you, "Stick to it until it's done"? What did he know?

And then there was: "Get along with your boss. He's your boss because he's earned it." What a crock.

And then, "Don't whine, don't make excuses, just do the job." Boy, that one was a bummer. What was he, a Republican or something?

And finally, worst of all, the one nobody wants to hear, it hurts so much: "Work like hell." I hate that one.

America is used to seeing those values embodied in a sports film. When a hero sticks to it to win a state championship, the values are not considered “radically conservative.” When a football player is allowed “no excuses” for not catching a game-winning pass, no one thinks he’s a Republican.

It’s mostly because this man succeeds against great odds in a business environment that the movie is “conservative.” His accomplishment is found in capitalism, not football. It’s refreshing to see that held up for recognition, glamorized just a little bit without making the white-collar hero into a money-grubbing demon.

After all, the free market is the motor that makes this country run—and run better than any other country on earth—whether liberals want to believe it or not. It offers greater opportunity to greater numbers of people than any other system every conceptualized.

Not everyone will be a Chris Gardner in our society, but the free market can offer great rewards for those willing to take great risks, and very good rewards for most of the rest of us. Upward mobility is not a myth, though many liberals would like you to believe it is.

The utter reliance and faith some liberals express for government programs requires that they believe men like Gardner are victims, and stories like his, impossible. For many people who believe that, liberalism has devolved into a way to encourage victimhood over personal responsibility, and value dependence over self-reliance.

For that reason, this movie is a pleasant surprise coming from a very liberal Hollywood. Also a pleasant surprise, the fact that Will Smith’s star power carried the movie to the top of the box office in its opening weekend. I imagine it will continue to do well.

The message and values of “The Pursuit of Happyness” are not so much “radically conservative” as they are just plain optimistically American. Americans like those kinds of values, and they like seeing them on screen—“Rocky,” “Rudy,” “Hoosiers.”

Seeing them on screen, embodied in a homeless black man gunning for a stock broking position, is different, and inspiring. Chattanooga mayor Ron Littlefield is banking on Gardner inspiring a few of the homeless of his city, whom he took to the premiere.

As far as government initiatives go, I’ll take that one over most of the liberal social programs I’ve seen in practice. Ten bucks a person for an introduction to the still-accessible American dream, or a mill or two to convince them it doesn’t exist?

Go see the movie, retell this American story, and watch your liberal friends squirm. If these are “radically conservative” values, then we should all be proud to be radicals and create work to create more of them.

Mary Katharine Ham

Mary Katharine Ham is editor-at-large of, a contributor to Townhall Magazine.

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