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Valuing American Values

Meryl Streep in a scene from Lions For Lambs…

Every day, we get hit with news blip after news blip, Beltway machinations galore, and a pile of interconnected disperate actions that speak far more loudly than all the pretty speeches that drip out like so much honey.  Only it isn’t honey at all, but some saccharin-laden approximation of reality that never lives up to the original.  It is frustrating as hell to find that something you’ve poured an enormous amount of effort and emotion into has dissipated like so much sand in a roaring wind.

The one constant is that the fight for “a more perfect union” continues.  The responsibility for continuing that fight rests on all of us.  As it must.

I’ve been watching the build-up of publicity, and the accompanying poo poohing of the chattering classes that a political think piece could do anything at the box office with some interest about Lions For Lambs.  There is a predictable red versus blue sort of review of the film, but beyond that there are excuses for the media consistently interjected in the discussion…by members of the media doing reviews.  Talk about your manufactured superficiality and ego.

The reality is that there are a lot of frustrated Americans out there looking for better answers. 

A work of fiction can be a starting point, a springboard to a national conversation, not a means for finding all the answers. If ever there were a need for a wholesale national conversation about who we are and where we ought to be going, it is now.  Honestly, I have never seen this level of disgust and simmering anger and fear and wholesale worry about where things will be for our nation’s children than I hear from friends and family these days — across the political spectrum.

This interview with Robert Redford, who directs and stars in the film, raises a whole lot of questions that we all ought to be asking — of ourselves and of the people we elect to represent our interests.

That reluctance goes a long way in explaining why Redford chose to direct “Lions for Lambs,” which in 88 fast-paced minutes takes on the issues of terrorism, U.S. foreign policy, higher education, personal responsibility and journalistic integrity. The script by Matthew Michael Carnahan uses three interlocking storylines to pose JFK’s venerable adage: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

But after a preview of “Lions for Lambs” recently at the University of Chicago, Redford steered clear of picking a favorite among the current field of presidential contenders. “No, I’m not backing anybody,” he said. “I made the film to provoke thought, not to supply the answers.”…

Yes, but you have to pick somebody. “Eventually,” he said, laughing. “I do think activism is crucial however it comes. Just getting involved is important.”

Redford sees the movie as a challenge to the younger generation: “Use your education to get to the truth. Find a way to hold people accountable. Get involved; it’s your future. I can’t. It’s too late for me.”

Those words remind us that the perennially youthful Sundance Kid is now 71 (ironically, the same age as GOP candidate John McCain, who many consider too old to be president). Though the actor-director-activist might be riding off into the sunset, he’s still passionate about the state of our nation. “The values that this administration has trashed,” he said, his voice trailing off in disgust. “It’s going to take a long time to dig out of this hole.”

Later, talking about the scene where Streep tells her editor that she doesn’t want to be used as a pawn in another march to war, Redford dismisses the easy excuses now offered by the body politic. “Like Hillary Clinton has said, ‘If I’d known then what I know now’ [she never would have supported the Iraq invasion]. But we did know. That’s just bull—-. We just rolled over.”

Despite what Fox News host Bill O’Reilly (who has called the movie “anti-American”) might contend, Redford insists “Lions for Lambs” is not an attack on Bush’s Iraq policy. “It’s not a lefty film. All points of view are represented. This film is not just about those issues. It had to be about something deeper.”

The issues that fuel the movie’s debate, Redford contends, follow in a line of political flashpoints such as McCarthyism, Watergate and Iran-contra. “You see a similar mindset during these eras that led to a loss of freedoms,” he said. “There are patterns that are being repeated today. What we’re trying to ask is: How close are we to losing what’s great about this country?”

Even though conservative pundits are piling on, Washington Redskins owner and voluble Republican Dan Snyder calls “Lions for Lambs” “pro-American. It asks questions that not only deserve to be asked, but heard. That’s more American than anything I can think of.”

Whatever your political philosophy, it is the day to day participation — the holding elected officials to account; the asking of difficult questions; the demanding transparency instead of backroom, hidden deals; the constant, ever-present push for the will of the people as opposed to the benefit of the few — that really counts.  I’ve been wrestling with ways to involve more Americans in the discussion and activity:  how do you interest an entire segment of the population which has turned off the citizenship portion of their lives?  And, worse, how do you keep them going in the face of one frustration after another when the Beltway seems to be a completely different world from the one the rest of us live in every day?

Personally, I’ve stopped relying on the end result, and started concentrating on the fight itself.  What is important is that you keep pushing toward a more perfect union, and that you work to bring more and more like-minded patriots into the mix where and when you can.  Every day.  Change occurs more gradually than most of us would like…but a change is gonna come.  

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com