Why is there still no good Huckleberry Finn movie? America’s greatest novel, and still every movie made of it has been crap. Not even close to being good. The Tom Sawyer movies are bad, too, but that’s slightly more excusable. I suspect the reason is that people persist in thinking of them as kids’ books, and therefore insist that the movies be for kids. In fact, Huck Finn, funny as it is, would be best made into a darker, grittier film. Clint Eastwood would be a good director. Or the Coen Brothers, to do it sort of True Grit-style. Huck Finn is not just good clean fun. It’s about a rougher, more romantic, harsher world; one with murder and danger as well as sublime beauties and supreme peace. It’s time someone in Hollywood took it really seriously.
But there no reason to believe that Romney would be any better, and there is good reason to believe that he would be worse.
We have had enough experience with unprincipled, “moderate,” “compassionate conservatives” who will say anything whatsoever to be elected. Romney is at best a reincarnation of George W. Bush—and our experience has proven that we are safest when the President is of a different party than the Congress. President Obama’s crazier ambitions are now at least potentially checked by a Republican Congress; President Bush’s were not, and a Romney Administration working in sync with a Republican Congress would not be. It would almost certainly expand, not contract, the regulatory welfare state—as the Bush Administration did. Such a prediction would be unfair if there were any reason to think Romney a principled believer in limited government. But there is no reason to believe this. His record double-speaks for itself.
But one thing a Romney presidency would certainly mean: it would embrace the worst elements of the religious right with no compensating benefit for believers in limited government. And as bad as the Obama Administration is on economics, I believe, in the long run, it is a less dangerous prospect for liberty. On the contrary, although the Obama Administration’s respect for the rule of law is a humiliating record, it appears at worst only to equal the Bush Administration in this regard, and there is some reason to think it has been better in some small ways. For instance, it has not opposed marriage equality—although the President himself still embarrassingly says he’s opposed to it.
Still, we are told, we should vote for Romney because he would appoint conservative judges. And then word comes that the guru to whom Romney is turning for advice on the judiciary is none other than Robert Bork, an intellectually dishonest anti-moral authoritarian with no respect for individual rights and little for the Constitution; the single worst influence on conservative legal thought in a generation. No believer in constitutional liberty can possibly endorse such a move.
Finally, President Obama has done one great thing for this country, and four more years of him will do us much better in this regard: he has brought out the masses in opposition to collectivist economic policies and unconstitutional extension of federal power. Some Republicans grumbled about Bush’s violations of the Constitution and his expansion of entitlement programs, but they didn’t do anything to stop it until the very end, when it was too late. That was when the Tea Party backlash against big-government conservatism began. Obama has unified supporters of small government and individual liberty like nobody else, but this movement still needs time to incubate and produce a serious independent leadership or to reform the GOP. That effort would not withstand a Romney presidency. Until the Republican leadership abandons big-government conservatism, it does not deserve to lead. Bad as the Obama Administration is, it is now checked relatively well by the Republican Congress and Republican state legislatures, and until a serious small-government alternative emerges, we are better off with that than with a one-party government, of any party.
Update: Several people have responded by saying that I’m overestimating the influence Bork will have with Romney. Of course, none of us can know that, but that’s not really the point. Romney’s choice of Bork is supposed to be a signal: it’s a signal that he intends to appoint authoritarian, anti-individual rights, “judicial restraint” judges. Well, signal received. This means that judicial appointments is not sufficient consideration to outweigh the other reasons to vote against Romney: specifically, the importance of balancing a Republican Congress against a Democratic president.
Cato’s Ilya Shapiro and I have an article on Forbes.com about President Obama’s recent comments that “activist” judges shouldn’t strike down the Individual Mandate:
Everyone disagrees with Supreme Court decisions from time to time. But Americans understand that majorities are not always right, and that our Court plays a crucial role in the system of checks and balances that protects the rights of minorities and individuals who lack political influence. President Obama should recall how [Franklin] Roosevelt’s war on the Court backfired—not only on him, but on the cause of justice in general.
I saw The Cabin In The Woodsthe other day. It’s very bit as bizarre as people say it is, and entertaining and funny. And being co-written by Joss Whedon, that’s to be expected. What’s interesting is the existentialist element in it. It struck me as being much less “post-modern” and “meta” and all that (yawn) as being old-fashioned modern—Six Characters In Search of An Authormade into a sorta horror movie. If that’s overthinking it, then so be it. But the movie is really about free will, and its conclusion is straight out of the existentialist, free-will-as-defiance book. I think this is what accounts for the popularity of Whedon among Objectivists. Existentialism and Objectivism have some notable parallels; if you take “reason” out of Objectivism and replace it with “will,” you basically have existentialism. And as a result, Objectivists are often fond of existentialist things, with some qualms—Nietzsche, for example. The characters in Cabin In The Woods ultimately refuse to participate in a universe in which the gods demand sacrifice—or even to sacrifice one innocent to rescue the world from the gods’ perverse demands. That’s a beautiful and good message. But the universe is not like that, and it does not normally demand such choices of us. Life isn’t to be lived on conscientious-objector status. Rebellion must be followed up by creation, and the characters in Cabin In The Woods—like the characters in Firefly—are much better at the former than at the latter.