The romantic hero, the person who fights the establishment, the archetype who defends the poor, who fights the tax collector, steals from the rich to give to the poor – Where is Zorro when you need him? Where are Robin Hood, The Three Musketeers, and Jesus – all great heroes who challenged the established norm? Where is Henry David Thoreau and Abe Fortes? Are any of these people represented in the modern day Tea Party, the GOP inspired counter-populism anti-government tax protest?
The romantic heroes of the 18th Century literature are often people who operate outside of conventional culture – they are heroes who fight the noble cause – often opposing an oppressive government. The oppression is often in the form of heavy tax burdens. Most notably in this scenario are Robin Hood and Zorro. These men took the fight directly to the oppressor – and the romantic ideal of good winning over evil always prevailed.
Many of the people in the Tea Bag Movement and Freedom Works see themselves as the same sort of romantic hero. Some of these folks don’t grasp the totality of their propositions – they have merely defined our government as oppressive – and that is good enough to put on the Mask of Zorro:
While the people of modern American tax protest like to see themselves as heroes for a cause – they are usually misguided by the romantic ideal. The reality in modern America is a functioning representative government. The traditional American way is to protest is at the ballot box – but that is not nearly as emotionally empowering as standing on a street corner with a wacko sign portraying our President as some sort of National Socialist Nazi.
Goofy political signs are one thing – but recent efforts to mobilize a militia in Oklahoma are exaggerated efforts to really fulfill the romanticized ideal of Zorro. People do not seem to understand that romantic literature is designed to dramatize the plight of the innocent citizen being trampled on by big government.
Rather – the people of the radical right see themselves as martyrs for their cause. The problem is that they firmly believe the distorted rhetoric of sophisticated political operatives like Karl Rove, and the less sophisticated, but charming anecdotal, Sarah Palin. The difference is that Karl Rove knows exactly what he is doing. Sarah Palin thinks that lining her pockets with radical right money somehow makes her a modern day Robin Hood.
Older folks, like myself, grew up with the Lone Ranger, Hop Along Cassidy, Tyrone Power as Zorro, and Errol Flynn as Robin Hood. We watched the white knight save Snow White and Cinderella. The romantic notion of heroic action to save the damsel in distress is being misapplied to the idea of violent protest as a means to sound government.
Literature abounds with the heroic salvation of the The Lone Ranger.
We fully expect the Tea Party and Freedom Works to begin their rallies with the theme song from Zorro or the Lone Ranger. The stirring idea of a champion on a powerful horse, gun in one hand – sword in the other, riding through the National Mall, leading the peons in revolt prevails as an emotional ideal – but has no real practical application.
Reluctantly, because the point of this post is not about religion, we include a quote from Jesus:
This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (TNIV, Romans 13:1-7)
I am not a religious man – so I don’t really have any idea what Jesus was talking about – but the quote seem appropriate to the situation.
But speaking of Jesus – romantic ideals persisted even in the Old Testament. Noah saved the righteous from the flood. Lot escaped Sodom and Gomorrah because he was righteous. Moses led the peons out of bondage. When Israel was settled the prophet Amos condemned the culture as being too materialistic.
The good guy always wins. That is the romantic ideal. The idea that the common man can stand up to tyranny and prevail is as old as the Bible. Ironically, in this case, it was exactly that notion that spurred the Bolshevik Revolution, fostered the growth of Communism, eventually led to Mao Zedong conquest of China, and ultimately to the Cold War.
The radical right in America should be careful what the wish for.