Tuesday, November 19, 2002

James Coburn, The Magnificent Seven and Tom Daschle

James Coburn died yesterday. In 1999, he won an Oscar for Affliction, an excellent movie in which he played an excellent role, but I will always remember him as “Britt,” the languid, knife-throwing drifter he played in The Magnificent Seven.

As I thought about the loss of Mr. Coburn this morning on my way to work, I couldn’t help rolling the movie around in my head once again. It was based on Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai and the basic plot goes like this: A band of hired guns comes to a town to help its people rid themselves of a gang who’s been terrorizing them. Initially, they lose. The townspeople fail them and the seven are rounded up by the bandits, tossed on the back of the wagon and taken to the edge of the town where their guns are returned. They are told that, if they return, they will be killed.

Here it is, then, the scene for which I will always remember James Coburn. Throughout the movie, he’s been the strong silent type. He seems more than a little shifty and strikes you as a smartass. Then he starts to put his guns back on, heading toward the town. He knows he’s outnumbered. He knows that some of the others may choose to flee rather than back him up. The others do follow him, though.

To make a long story short, they return to the town and kill off the bad guys. Along the way, they even inspire the townspeople to stand up for themselves. It’s trite. It’s silly. It’s a great movie. Anyone who says different can meet me out on the playground after school.

The lesson here for Democrats is this: you have a chance now not only to fight, but to be heroic. Only their return to the fray against great odds makes the gunslingers heroes. That and the fact that their cause is just.

And our causes are just. We only need to remember that. We are correct about the environment. We are correct about tax breaks going mostly to the rich and being far too costly. We are correct about the minimum wage. We were correct in making the case that the UN should support us in Iraq before we take action (as they did). We really do fight for the people, dammit. We just need to show them that. Republicans are wrong on these and other issues and, when the issues are broken down to voters one by one, they will see it. They will join us. I believe it.

The only thing is that we have to get our Democratic “hired guns,” our senators and congressmen, to be courageous. They have to believe in the cause and fight because it’s right. They can’t worry about whether Democrats should swing left or right. They should pick fights they believe in. Don’t worry about the party as much as you worry about issues. Don’t strategize. Believe. Fight for each seat individually. Republicans forced to fight individual issues – instead of just spout “I’m behind the president” nonsense – will lose. My congressman (who is a “blue dog,” I admit), Dennis Moore (D-KS) beat his opponent Adam Taff (R-Out of work) in a very conservative area by making him say what his rhetoric meant, by showing voters the hollow center of Taff’s speech while Taff was offering them rich, creamy nougat. If a Democrat can win here, a Democrat can win anywhere.

So I ask the following of Senator Daschle and to Congresswoman Pelosi: Remember James Coburn. Remember him returning to the fight. Remember what his character told Chico (Horst Buchholz, playing a farm kid who dreams of gunfighting glory) when the kid told him he was crazy for returning to the village. Look in a mirror, put on a Coburn squint and repeat after me: “Nobody throws me my own guns and says run. Nobody.”


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