A few days ago I took myself to see Clint Eastwood's powerful film, Gran Torino. I entered the theater morose about the waning days of the Bush administration and his shameless efforts to rewrite his legacy. I left the theater probably just as morose about Bush but with a means to express myself. It is clear to me that the Bush legacy is no Gran Torino.
Walt Kowalski is the focus of the film. If you see beyond his Archie Bunker lingo, you see his iron will and simple aversion to injustice. He--like his car-- is a classic. And I find I am glad to remember a day when there was a true John Wayne (an earlier Clint Eastwood) American persona. There were standards and it was considered to be personally compelling if you had them.
I came away from the film, feeling that the lesson of the whole movie was powerful, but--for me==so was the lesson behind a small portion of the film, the confession. Walter reveals that he has been bothered for most of his life by a time when he sold something and didn't pay the taxes on the money gained.
When did it become allowable to lie? To steal?
I am convinced that the same process of deterioration that made it allowable to lie on ones taxes, made it allowable for one man to lie a nation (and the world) into a climate of perpetual war. And made it possible for the Congress and the rest of the nation to watch idly the progress of thieves and liars in high office.
Sometimes a lie is also a theft. If you lie on your taxes, you steal the money from the government and thereby profit yourself. If you lie a nation into war with another sovereign nation that never attacked you, then you set yourself up to steal that country's oil.
When we lie or steal, we make excuses to ourselves for the behavior. Does Mr. Bush tell himself that he procured resources for his people by stealing Iraqi oil? Is the value of having fossil fuels for the foreseeable future stronger than the detriment of knowing that our new resources were obtained by lies and theft?
Does Mr. Bush tell himself that a grand empire like the United States should have resources to maintain the bloated lifestyle of its people? Never mind that the resources are not ours, never were, and never will be.
Far from driving off in a Gran Torino, Bush is slinking away. He left his final press conference with the body language of a child being sent to the principal's office.
As President Obama assumes office he will be besieged with an almost unbelievable number and depth of problems. Lets all keep an eye on his progress and try to be fair but thoroughly watchful. And lets not allow him to be alone at the helm. We can and should offer our perceptions of his every action (or inaction) throughout his four or eight years.
Obama has a Sisyphean task to merely move us forward. But lets be mindful that going forward must include making corrections where needed. Bush left the ship of state in sorry condition. We need to be Walt Kowalski--I fix things, that's what I do--and mend what is broken. Tools at the ready include a special prosecutor for the Bush gang to make sure the US is not perceived in the world as giving ascent to his dirty dealings.
Although I don't think the US was ever a beacon on a hill, we were once a land of Walt Kowalski's. We once had the character to not lie and steal. And we had the backbone to recoil at the prospect of ever sharing such a legacy.