They even look something alike.
Burt Lancaster, the late Hollywood matinee idol with the jutting jaw and slicked back hair. And Bill Keller, the editor of the New York Times.
Burt and Bill, committed liberals both, have something else in common.
Burt starred in the film version of a popular political thriller, Seven Days in May. The template for the film is one Bill would recognize easily. Considering the screenwriter, he should. The story? A politically unpopular President of the United States is targeted for a coup d’etat by a charismatic would-be usurper who has a fanatic belief that un-elected though he and his like-minded friends may be, they have a better grasp than said President about what passes for a national security concern. The screenwriter for this classic of early 1960s liberalism? A well-known supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union named Rod Serling. Serling, who died in 1975, is famous eternally as the creator of The Twilight Zone television series. The Twilight Zone, that classic Serling-spawned sector of the universe where weird and unlikely things can and do happen.
In the film, based on the bestselling 1962 novel by journalists Fletcher Knebel and Charles Bailey, Burt plays to crisp perfection Air Force General James Mattoon Scott, the renegade Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “President Jordan Lyman,” played by Fredric March, is, alas, down to a mere 27% approval rating in the polls, a stress occasioned by his negotiation of an arms control agreement with the Soviet Union. General Scott, along with a coterie of his military buds throughout the Army, Air Force and Marines (but not the Navy…a reluctant but definite holdout) believes disaster looms with such a “criminally weak sister” in the White House. Along with the assistance of a cartoonish conservative commentator (there is no other kind of conservative except cartoonish in Hollywood’s writing DNA) Scott and his co-conspirators, haters of the President one and all, have devised a plan for the overthrow of the government, installing Scott in the Oval Office without benefit of that troublesome constitutional device known as an election.
When Scott’s top aide (played by Lancaster’s friend and fellow liberal Kirk Douglas, father of Michael) discovers the plot he goes straight to the President and the plot is foiled in the required Third Act. But not, of course, without the also-required final confrontation between Good and Bad.
The film is interesting in many ways, not least of all because it stars two of the most famous liberal Hollywood stars of the day in a great piece of screenwriting written by one of the best writers — also a liberal — in the business.
But without question the irony here is that the then decidedly liberal bogeyman of the piece is the idea of un-elected and self-selected zealots presuming to usurp the decision-making authority of the constitutionally elected President of the United States. Considering the real President of the day was the then-liberal favorite John F. Kennedy, this was a real concern when liberals pondered over-much the fact that the real Joint Chiefs included the Scott-like Air Force General Curtis “Bombs Away” LeMay. Befitting the blossoming liberal paranoia of the early 1960s that focused on the military, the Usurper-in-Chief was made to be a decorated Air Force General who was also Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Serling, a much-decorated Army paratrooper in World War II, had no fear in taking on the military.
Yet the template the liberal Serling hammered home again and again in the film was not that the military was the problem. After all, one of the key conspirators in the story was a California U.S. Senator, a duly elected civilian legislator. Serling’s point, delivered in precise and searing dialogue in the climactic scene between the fictional President Jordan Lyman and General Scott, was that the elected government of the United States — and only the elected government — has the right to make national security decisions for the American people.p> AFTER PRESIDENT LYMAN ANGRILY accuses Scott of handpicking a subordinate, “Colonel John Broderick,” who was “openly contemptuous of civilian authority,” the verbal fireworks between President and Usurper explode. The Oval Office confrontation about respect for the decision-making authority of elected officials over the self-chosen but non-elected Usurper Elite begins. Based on the recent statements of the elected President Bush and the New York Times ‘s would-be Usurper Editor Mr. Keller, it is not hard to imagine the two having a version of this precise conversation that was constructed by the liberal Mr. Serling in his screenplay. br> /p>
President Lyman: I am prepared to brand you for what you are, General. A strutting egoist with a Napoleonic power complex and an out and out traitor. I know you think I’m a weak sister, General — but when it comes to my oath of office and defending the Constitution of the United States..
General Scott: Nobody has to teach me how to salute a flag.
President: Somebody has to teach you about the democratic processes that that flag represents.
General: Don’t you presume to take on that job, Mr. President because frankly you’re not qualified. Your course of action in the last year has bordered on criminal negligence. If you want to talk about your oath of office, I’m here to tell you face-to-face President Lyman that you violated that oath….when you deliberately played upon the fear and fatigue of the people….And when this nation rejected you, lost its faith in you and began to oppose you, you violated that oath by simply not resigning from office and turning this country over to someone who could represent the people of the United States.
President: And that would be General James Mattoon Scott, wouldn’t it? I don’t know whether to laugh at that kind of megalomania or simply cry.
General: James Mattoon Scott, as you put it, hasn’t the slightest interest in his own glorification. But he does have an abiding concern about the survival of this country.
President: Then by God run for office! You have such a fervid, passionate, evangelical affection for your country, why in the name of God don’t you have any faith in the system of government you’re so hell bent to protect! You say I’ve duped the people, I bilked them, I misled them, I stripped them naked and made them defenseless. You accuse me of having lost their faith, deliberately and criminally shut my ears to the national voice…
General: I do!
President: Where the hell have you heard that voice General? In freight elevators? In dark alleys in secret places in the dead of night? How did that voice seep into a locked room full of conspirators? That’s not where you hear the voice of the people General. Not in this Republic.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?