O Captain, My Captain
For conservatives, no comic relief.
Thursday, Mar. 8, 2007
Spoiler Alert:For months, the right wing has been sending out distress signals, hoping to attract a hero to rescue conservatism and save the world. Yet just when it seemed the movement's future couldn't look any bleaker, the last best hope for conservatism is dead.
No, it's not who you think. Newt and Jeb are fine; Ann Coulter is in rehab; and Vice President Cheney is in an undisclosed, secure, and jury-free location. But this week will still live in conservative infamy, because Captain America has been shot. If anti-government wing nuts want a superhero, they'll have to settle for Duncan Hunter instead.
Unlike President Bush's domestic policy adviser, who writes comic books, I rarely have the chance to read them. And I'm certainly not suggesting that the late Captain America was a conservative—I don't want a bunch of his grieving superhero friends to come torch my house. But from the cheap seats, the civil war that Marvel Comics cooked up to kill Captain America looks eerily like the current plight of the Republican Party.
In the post-9/11 era, the world could use some superheroes, so it's no surprise that the superhero world is wrestling with the same themes. Last year, the government in Marvel's fictional universe proposed the Superhuman Registration Act, which would require every superhero to register his powers with the authorities or be sent to the fantasy version of Guantanamo Bay. Libertarian superheroes rose up in revolt over the government's superpower grab. In the forthcoming five-part series, Captain America is arrested for leading the resistance and shot to death on the steps of the federal courthouse in New York.
Could there be a more poignant image of the current state of real-life conservatism? From the Patriot Act to the federal deficit, the specter of big government has America and traditional values on the ropes. Now that President Bush has been unmasked as something else, the right wing desperately awaits a hero with Reaganesque powers who is faster than a speeding terrorist and able to leap Berlin Walls in a single bound.
The parallels don't end there. Last year, like their real-world counterparts, anti-government superheroes in the fantasy world found themselves mired in a civil war that blew up in their face. The death toll from the war ruined their standing with the public and lifted the pro-government, pro-registration forces to power. The deadliest battle in the Marvel civil war took place in the summer of 2006 in Stamford, Conn.—strangely echoing the Lieberman-Lamont Senate primary. The motto: "Whose side are you on?"
In both worlds, the anti-government crowd's worst nemesis is a former defense secretary—in the Marvel universe, Rumsfeld's counterpart is Tony Stark, alter ego of Iron Man. The superheroes' disastrous civil war leads to something whose very name will strike fear in real and fantasy conservatives alike: the Initiative. Like universal health care, it is spreading to every state.
Conservatives should look on the bright side: Getting killed off might be the best move their movement has made in a long time. Spokesmen for Marvel Comics acknowledge that Captain America may well make a comeback. In fact, it's clear Marvel iced the superhero for the same reason Ann Coulter spews venom like a supervillain. As one comic-store owner told the Daily News, "I'd rather they didn't kill him—but it's going to mean great sales."
Bruce Reed, who was President Clinton's domestic policy adviser, is CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council and co-author with Rahm Emanuel of The Plan: Big Ideas for Change in America.E-mail him at email@example.com. Read his disclosure here.
Photographs of: Mitt Romney on Slate's home page by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images; Hillary Clinton on Slate's home page by Joe Raedle/Getty Images; man with a pizza box on Slate's home page by Digital Vision/Getty Images; George Bush on Slate's home page by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images; power station on Slate's home page by Digital Vision; the Eiffel Tower on Slate's home page by Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images; Karl Rove on Slate's home page by David McNew/Getty Images; Nancy Pelosi on Slate's home page by Chuck Kennedy/MCT; Bill Sali on the Slate home page courtesy http://sali.house.gov/.