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Holy Bill of Rights, Batman!

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July 29, 2008

On Friday, I thought nothing could make me feel sicker than the food poisoning I had been stricken with the day before. Then I read an op-ed by Andrew Klavan in the Wall Street Journal likening George W. Bush to Batman, and I realized I was wrong. In “What Bush and Batman Have in Common,” Klavan writes:

There seems to me no question that the Batman film “The Dark Knight,” currently breaking every box office record in history, is at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war. Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand. Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past.

And like W, Batman understands that there is no moral equivalence between a free society — in which people sometimes make the wrong choices — and a criminal sect bent on destruction. The former must be cherished even in its moments of folly; the latter must be hounded to the gates of Hell.

While it thrills me to no end when any individual uses film or the arts to talk about civil liberties and important political and societal issues, (that’s what Rights / Camera / Action is all about) seriously, our President, a dark knight?

One of the things that makes “Batman” such a great film is that it raises many timely and relevant questions about truth and justice, right and wrong. Bill Triplett from Variety said it well in his “Wilshire and Washington” post in response to this piece:

Like Batman, W has had to do morally questionable things to defend our values, and, because of that, the country is angry at him, Klavan lectures and concludes. Presumably also like W, Batman took an unconscionable amount of time to respond to a natural disaster of immediately epic proportions, stood by as Gotham’s economy went down the toilet, disdained any attempt to question his judgment and kept telling the citizenry that his war was succeeding when it wasn’t.

“That’s real moral complexity,” Klavan writes without the slightest trace of irony, which is usually in short supply in revenge fantasies. The real irony? “The Dark Knight” does indeed traffic in moral ambivalence, but George Bush has never even acknowledged that such a thing exists.

What makes the film even better is that it is fantasy — Batman is not bound by the rule of law. As Batman came to learn himself, Gotham didn’t need a caped superhero. They needed a leader with principle, one they could look up to, who respected and upheld the law. Likewise, caped vigilantism is not the answer to the so-called “war on terror” or a way to govern our great nation. How about regard for the limits of executive power, checks and balances, due process, habeas corpus? They call that superhero the Constitution!

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