Posted on November 9, 2011Before Mel Gibson went completely batty, he made “Braveheart”, an impressive and amazingly entertaining historical biopic of William Wallace.
In the movie, Wallace is portrayed as a principled, patriotic and passionate believer in the cause of Scottish freedom. He was the Medieval version of the Tea Party, unwilling to compromise, impossibly brave and ready to take on all of his enemies.
His sometimes ally, Robert the Bruce, is seen as a shiftless political animal who is all too willing to cut deals with the hated English to achieve his own personal goals.
I always like the Robert the Bruce character, mostly because I had a pretty good sense, that historically speaking at least, the movie wasn’t quite accurate. Robert might have been a double-dealing political operator, but he also is largely seen by history as being on one of Scotland's greatest kings, as well as one of the most famous warriors of his generation, eventually leading Scotland during the Wars of Scottish Independence against the Kingdom of England. Today in Scotland, Bruce is remembered as a national hero.
And William Wallace, for those who remember the movie, ended up getting drawn and quartered in ways that must have been fairly uncomfortable.
I was thinking about William Wallace and Robert the Bruce in the context of yesterday’s elections.
John Kasich, the Ohio governor, reminds me a bit of Wallace, an uncompromising warrior for truth, justice and the American way. Bob McDonnell, the Virginia governor, on the other hand, reminds me of Robert the Bruce, a canny political operator whose political career is destined for stardom.
Kasich’s chief legislative effort just got overturned by Ohio’s voters in a fairly stunning rebuke. He went all in on an effort to revoke collective bargaining for every state employee, including cops and firemen. He did this to try to find ways for the smaller municipalities, towns and cities and counties, to cut back on funding. Unfortunately, the voters spoke loud and clear that they thought that Kasich went too far.
McDonnell, on the other hand, successfully gained control of both Houses in Virginia’s general assembly. McDonnell has kept the main thing the main thing. He has kept his focus on jobs and infrastructure. He hasn’t been distracted by ancillary issues that might alienate swing voters. And because he has built a reservoir of trust with the voters and with media, he is now being openly talked about as a Vice Presidential contender.
House Republicans ought to take note. There are plenty of Bravehearts in the GOP caucus, ideological warriors who will never compromise, who will never adapt and who will waver. They play well with the right-wing media crowd, and they have built up an echo chamber that only confirms their own world-views.
It is nice to have to the Bravehearts on your side, as long as they don’t lead you to a place where you are going to get yourself drawn and quartered.
Before the movie came out, history had largely forgotten about William Wallace, but it had remembered fondly Robert the Bruce. That is what made the movie so interesting, because it brought back to life an relatively obscure historic figure. But Hollywood is different than real life. It is the Robert the Bruces, the political survivors, that make history. The uncompromising zealots usually become only minor footnotes.