Sunday, February 27, 2011

Scott Walker, Meet Harry Lime

“Don't be so gloomy. After all, it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love -- they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long, Holly.”  -- Harry Lime (Orson Welles) in The Third Man.

Harry Lime is the charming entrepreneur in the Carol Reed classic, The Third Man. Graham Greene wrote most of the script, but the above quotation, one of the most famous in the history of film, reportedly came from the third genius of the film, Orson Welles.

Harry Lime is an entrepreneur because in post-World War II Vienna he bought low – actually stole - penicillin, and sold high, diluting the penicillin to maximize profits. Harry Lime is charming because even after his nefarious enterprise results in the death and suffering of hundreds, his friend Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) and lover Anna Schmitt (Alida Valli) cannot bring themselves to betray good old Harry.

The Third Man is a truly great film. I have seen it a half dozen times and have always found something new to appreciate and wonder about.

The quotation above is part of the Ferris wheel scene where Holly Martins confronts Harry about his crime and Harry explains his philosophy. He is a complete egoist. As they reach the pinnacle of the Ferris wheel ride he beguiles Holly with the idea that one should always regard his self-interest above all the “little dots” below.

Selfishness as a virtue, disregard for the masses, disparagement of democracy, and appreciation of the advance of creativity regardless of bloodshed, these are all attributes of an Ayn Rand hero. Fortunately, here they are the attributes of a Greene/Reed villain.

The analogy is this: Randians cannot disassociate their hero John Galt from the villain Harry Lime any more than Marxists can disassociate Marx from Stalin. The moral bankruptcy of Randism and Marxism is equivalent.

Capitalism is not inherently evil. Neither is it unqualifiedly good. Like any human invention, it is susceptible to corruption. The ideology of Randism threatens to corrupt capitalism in our republic.

I doubt that Wisconsin governor Scott Walker has read Ayn Rand because I doubt that this college dropout has read much of anything. His singular talent is to get himself elected to office. As Milwaukee County Executive, he solved none of the county's problems. He dedicated himself to reducing government and taxes without regard for the consequences.

I do not know that he is a Randian. He has drunk the Kool-Aid. His ideological purity has brought on moral corruption.

Governor Walker was pranked. A caller pretending to be radical capitalist David Koch recorded a conversation with the governor. It was damning at several points, most of all in revealing the Governor’s regard for the citizens protesting his latest power grab before the state senate.

Murphy [pretending to be Koch]: Right, right. We’ll back you any way we can. But what we were thinking about the crowd was, uh, was planting some troublemakers.

Walker: You know, well, the only problem with that — because we thought about that. The problem with — my only gut reaction to that would be, right now the lawmakers I’ve talked to have just completely had it with them. The public is not really fond of this. …My only fear would be if there’s a ruckus caused is that would scare the public into thinking maybe the governor has to settle to avoid all these problems.

The protests in Madison have been amazingly peaceful. Even when pro-Walker demonstrators showed, there were no incidents of violence. Tens of thousands of demonstrators have flooded the capitol and there have been no arrests. The capitol police have been wonderfully professional and the demonstrators have been respectful.

Little did the police suspect, however, that the Governor himself had been thinking about sending “troublemakers” into this situation. He did not send them, which is to his credit. The reason he did not, however, deprives him of all credit.

He did not send troublemakers into the crowd because it would be immoral, illegal, and very likely, dangerous in a crowd that at one point swelled to 70,000. He did not consider that such an action might cause bodily harm or even death. His only concern was that such an action might backfire and cause the public to turn against him.

Eagle Scout Scott Walker is a radical who believes in himself as the strong individual who is without all doubt on the right side of history. He dismisses, without the least consideration, the concerns of the tens of thousands of little dots who surrounded the capital. He is concerned about their safety and well-being only to the extent that they threaten him and the success of his ideology.

Mr. Walker has graduated from being a bungling county executive to being a truly dangerous governor.

Scott Walker, meet Harry Lime.