19 Sep 2011

Maureen Dowd Misunderstands “Liberty Valance”

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Maureen Dowd compares the prospective 2012 electoral contest between Rick Perry and normal American Republicans and Barack Obama and the coastal pseudo-intellectual elites to the rivalrous friendship of Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) and Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) in John Ford’s 1962 film “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”

In the film, rugged rancher and man of violence John Wayne befriends the tenderfoot, man of peace, attorney James Stewart and defends him against the outlaw Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). When the code of manhood obliges Stewart to stand up to Marvin in a gunfight. Wayne, well of aware of Stewart’s incompetence, casually plugs Marvin with his rifle from ambush at the crucial moment in the gun duel.

John Wayne chivalrously lets Stewart receive the credit for ending Liberty Valance’s local reign of terror, which carries Stewart onward into a political career ending in the US Senate. He even stands aside and allows the lawyer (who owes him his life) to marry the girl he loves.

John Ford means his film to depict his own vision of tragic Historicism, in which manly bravery and larger-than-life frontier individualism is inevitably swept away by Progress and the advance of Civilization. John Wayne’s character is obviously the better man, but he is not the man of the future. He steps aside for Stewart because he recognizes it himself.

The John Wayne character isn’t only more competent than the Jimmy Stewart character, he is wiser and nobler.

The secondary tragedy of the movie is revealed when the Stewart character who has returned in old age, covered with success and honors and still married to the girl, to the frontier town which was the original scene of events for the Wayne character’s funeral.

Jimmy Stewart tries telling the whole story of the shooting of Liberty Valance to a young reporter, and revealing that his whole career has been built on another man’s deed, and the newspaper’s editor declines to print it. “When the legend becomes fact,” the editor says, “print the legend.”

There is no expiation in confession for Stewart. His life has been built upon a lie, and he supplanted a better man in his wife’s affections, and he knows it.

Dowd simplifies John Ford’s narrative into the conflict between the Eastern egghead and the anti-intellectual.

At the cusp of the 2012 race, we have a classic cultural collision between a skinny Eastern egghead lawyer who’s inept in Washington gunfights and a pistol-totin’, lethal-injectin’, square-shouldered cowboy who has no patience for book learnin’.

Dowd goes on to examine, and find unworthy, Rick Perry’s college grades.

Studying to be a veterinarian, he stumbled on chemistry and made a D one semester and an F in another. “Four semesters of organic chemistry made a pilot out of me,” said Perry, who went on to join the Air Force.

What a pity it is that the Egghead Barack Obama has never seen fit to release any of his college or law school grades for comparison.

The self-flattering interpretation of the political conflict between democrats and Republicans, between Maureen Dowd and the rest of the community of fashion and ordinary Americans, and potentially in 2012 between Barack Obama and Rick Perry as the conflict between the forces of book learning and the uninformed is doubtless gratifying to New York Times’ readers, but personally I think the claim of members in good standing of our establishment culture to represent learning and intellectuality has a lot of problems.

The kind of learning that most of these people boast isn’t book learning at all. It’s merely Cliff Notes summary familiarity with names and what they’re famous for.

Our establishment elite does not draw its understanding and conclusions from a reservoir of learning in the traditional Western canon. Our establishment is commonly hostile to that canon, deprecatory of its value and significance, and characteristically Philistine. Establishment judgments and conclusions come much more commonly from a consensus produced by newspaper editorials and articles in journals of opinion.

Our community of fashion is not intellectually inquisitive or critical. On the contrary, it is herd-like and conformist. And it is profoundly intellectually reactionary, being totally and entirely committed to defending late 19th century ideas revolving around Utopian ameliorism effectuated via the rule of scientific experts operating under a rubric of collectivist statism.

People who are gullible enough to believe in Anthropogenic Global Warming, people who have failed to notice Socialism’s failures, people who still think that Keynesian economics will get you out of a recession are not smart. They are dumb.

The democrat party and the American community of fashion are comprised not of Eggheads, but of pseudo-intellectuals and muttonheads.

5 Feedbacks on "Maureen Dowd Misunderstands “Liberty Valance”"

David Gatch

Funny, I’ve yet to see or hear tell of Obama’s college scholastic record. I suspect Obama was the recipient of affirmative action in his admission to college and was beneficiary of a sliding grade scale based on his race to graduate.

Maggie's Farm

MoDo misundertands Liberty Valance…

From NYM’s post: Jimmy Stewart tries telling the whole story of the shooting of Liberty Valance to a young reporter, and revealing that his whole career has been built on another man’s deed, and the newspaper’s editor declines to print it. “…


I’m wondering how Maureen Dowd did in her chemistry, organic chemistry, or any science classes. Perhaps she should release her transcripts. I struggled, but passed.

Llegar Tarde

While your analysis of the movie is correct, I think it’s a little incomplete, and so a bit unfair to Ransom Stoddard. He is depicted as an honorable sort, and he is shown to have physical bravery in a fist fight. In a word, he is manly. BUT, yes, larger-than-life frontier individualism is inevitably swept away by Progress and the advance of Civilization, and something is lost with that. Stoddard is noble enough, and manly enough, to know it. ALSO, the movie is complex enough to show a little annoyance at the comic-book vision of heroism that comes with Progress — the pose that comes just as the real frontier is gone. Stoddard is depicted as a good Senator who has done good things, but at the end of the movie there’s an encounter that shows that the average guy — the voter — is still more enthralled with the old Liberty Valence story. Stoddard’s genuine virtues are not appreciated the way his comic book virtues are.


I don’t disagree with any of this.


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