The movie 42, about Jackie Robinson, the first black man to play Major League Baseball is an inspiring triumph that strangely made me want to go punch a liberal…or to be more precise, to punch liberal moral bullies.
The aggressive impulse stems from my own political drama, which, though I’d guess isn’t rare, has nothing to do with the film or the maker’s intended message. So before I explain, let me indulge in some amateur movie criticism.
It was great! The tale of Jackie Robinson strikes several profound themes. Robinson was exceptionally gifted, not just with athleticism, but with courage and fortitude. The story is bigger though, and the movie encompasses much: Harrison Ford plays Branch Rickey (who looks more like a bespectacled Johan Goodman) a team owner with the moral compass and confidence to do a revolutionarily right thing, the sense to know it would be good business, and the shrewdness to play the right cards to make it happen.
Robinson’s devotion to his wife Rachel, her support of him, and the couple’s courage in the face of challenge and hateful opposition should inspire any couple about the sources of peace in life’s storms. The film’s depiction of American society, including even Robinson’s teammates, feeling the way toward doing the right thing, while one man bore the weight of it on his excruciatingly visible shoulders, evoke admiration, anger, and a few tears.
At one of those moist eyed moments I had a bracing thought: “I love this guy I don’t even know. I honor the path he pioneered. I want the best life offers for everyone. For everyone. But today, a lot of liberals might call me racist because of my positions on current political issues.”
That’s when I got mad. Racism. What an ugly word and an ugly concept. And what an ugly weapon that supporters of big government brandish against supporters of freedom and limited government.
Wait…before the politics, let me dwell a minute on humanity. Most of us love our neighbor. Well, some of us are too busy or disorganized to think all that much one way or the other about our neighbor, but we respond to the chords of humanity. Suffering makes us sorry. Hardship makes us sad. Success makes us cheer. Courage makes us admire, and profound sacrifice or triumph can make us tear up a little. In short, we are human beings and we wish well to other human beings, whatever their race, creed, religion, national origin, or choices in the pursuit of happiness.
But in the matter of how we organize our society, though, and how much power we give the collective vote of our neighbors over our personal choices, we vary widely. From the “Don’t tread on me” liberty advocates to the “Government is we the people” progressives, our visions drastically diverge about the role of the state in steering toward the blessings of domestic tranquility.
It’s an important debate that has continued from the days of the founding and the Federalists and Anti-Federalists. But in my experience, the debate doesn’t unfold on a level playing field. People who want government to impose a solution to every grievance and problem claim the high ground of caring and morality, while they and the media ascribe the worst motives to people who believe that a free community can figure out ways to interact for the greater good.
This is not to deny the role of government as a change agent. The Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and their continued enforcement have given us a better America. But all bureaucracies have the incentive to expand their portfolio and some unprincipled beneficiaries have the incentive to milk the expansion.
So today, we have the circumstance of legal theories like “disparate impact” asserting that it’s racist to require a college or even a high school degree, or to employ skills testing for job applicants. We have elite bureaucracies imposing ratios on limited educational and work opportunities, and calling it affirmative action.
And we have an elite and media culture that calls it racist to question government policies that choreograph and ration access to life’s opportunities.
It goes much further, of course. Anyone who questions any of government’s progressive empire, from welfare, to environmental regulation, to national education policy, is accused of selfishly hating the poor, clean air, and education for children.
But in fact, it all comes down to a debate over the efficacy and benefit of an overweening state. Those who love political control claim to be the only ones that love their fellow man.
It’s getting old.