Call it a moment of karmic resonance or proof that irony is the soul of wisdom. While channel-surfing in advance of the latest Republican debate I happened upon a scene from the movie “Billy Jack Goes to Washington” (1977). For those with the good fortune never to have seen it, the movie features Tom Laughlin (who also directs and produces) as Billy Jack, a rugged individual who manages to combine the squared-away look of a martial arts expert with the political sensibilities and laid-back lifestyle of a middle aged hippie. Indeed, as a character type it’s as hard to pin him down as it is for his many adversaries to beat him up.
Wearing a T-shirt with blue jean jacket and signature black, flat-brimmed hat, Billy confronts a broad cross-section of evil doers–from smug frat-boys, to biker gangs, to run-of-the-mill thugs–who inevitably surround and vastly outnumber him, at which point he confronts the leader of the menacing group and serenely explains that, while he doesn’t want to fight, if forced to do so he intends to kick said leader in the face (knee, kidney or what have you), pointing precisely to the place where the blow will land. The villain, of course, laughs scornfully at so absurd a threat, and what happens next is a blur of carefully-choreographed karate maneuvers whereby the entire gang is reduced to a mass of battered bodies moaning helplessly on the ground.
The movie in question offers a variation on the theme. In this, the second of three sequels of the original, “Born Losers (1967),” Billy is called upon to appear before a congressional hearing, where he is subjected to a long list of alleged offences. (Somehow, whatever he has done in the way of righteous ass-kicking has become a matter of national interest and concern.) It was at this point that I happened upon the show, just in time for the climactic moment when, if past performances were any guide, our hero would somehow make mincemeat of his enemies. Instead, Billy stands before the self-important yet corrupt legislators and, pausing dramatically with a look of implacable disgust on his face, turns his back and walks out of the chamber. Take that, representatives of the people!
Cut to the steps of the Jefferson Memorial at dusk, where Billy is brooding over the day’s events. Here he is joined by some woman that follows him around (precise relationship unclear), who begins consoling him about what happened at the hearing. Meanwhile Billy sits in front of the iconic statue, wondering how ol’ Tom Jefferson could have founded such a great but ultimately screwed-up country. He starts speaking in heartfelt tones and… well, that’s where I gave up, cutting away to one of the more nuanced episodes of “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
It wasn’t until later, during the debate, that I was reminded of the scene from the movie. In the words of the late Yogi Berra, it was like deja vu all over again. Indeed, it seemed as if each of the debaters were doing his or her best impression of Billy Jack, evoking the same sense of stalwart individualism pitted against a sadly corruptible American government. On their faces was the same look of implacable disgust at the machinations of the federal authority. There too was the same deep sense of aggrievement at what the sainted Founding Fathers would think of those modern Americans who have so thoroughly desecrated their creation, trampling on the deathless pronouncements of the Constitution! –Oh, the humanity!
Witness also the candidates’ thinly-veiled threats of what will befall wayward Americans (liberals) on day one of a new Republican presidency, when a litany of self-indulgent federal programs and weak-kneed law enforcement operations will be terminated with the unequivocal finality of a karate chop. Obamacare? –chop! Illegal immigrants? –chop! Federal Reserve? –chop! Internal Revenue Service? –chop! And then, in the time it takes to put one’s hat back on, everything will be made right again, the way it was back in Jefferson’s day.
You see, folks, it’s all about leadership. This was the subtext of the entire evening. We need true leadership: the kind that comes from forceful personalities. It’s what the electorate is crying out for; how else does one explain Donald Trump’s swift elevation to front-runner status? Diplomacy? –to hell with it! Compromise? –not a chance! When it comes to domestic politics as well as international affairs, we need someone who will kick asses and take names. We need a hero like Billy Jack. So forget about learning the details of the candidates’ budgets or any particulars about how they intend to govern. That kind of thing is for corrupt losers without the stones to simply get ‘er done.
Maybe this kind of thing once made for good entertainment (“Billy Jack” was a blockbuster hit when it came out in 1971), but it’s hard to see how it leads to a credible candidate for the world’s most important job. And let’s be honest, its entertainment value has long since passed its sell-by date.