Class War in America

Last night, for the first time, I watched the movie, The Fugitive, from start to finish. The film is about a surgeon, falsely accused and convicted of murdering his wife, who escapes during a prison transfer, and is pursued by a US Marshall.

For Chicagoans, the film is one of the great movie portrayals of the city. But I now believe the classic moment in the movie comes in the 82nd minute. Harrison Ford, playing the falsely accused doctor, Richard Kimble, tries to lose himself from his pursuers by joining in the St. Patrick's Day Parade. This parade always draws Chicago and Illinois politicians to show their Irish stripes, regardless of their ethnicity.

So which leprechaun is the politician shown marching as Kimble breaks into the parade? Roland Burris! Yes, that Roland Burris, who at the time the movie was released in 1993, was Illinois Attorney General. Both my wife and I jumped up at the sight of our new US Senator, in a moment that should be engraved on his tombstone.

Another note on timing: The Fugitive is a movie about a drug company that attempts to fake the results of a new cardiac drug (which causes liver damage) and uses murder to get its way (FDA approval). The drug company's security agent kills Kimble's wife, and sets up Kimble to be convicted of the crime, murders another doctor whose drug trial results showed the liver damage, murders a cop on a train, and tries to murder Kimble and a US Marshall (Tommy Lee Jones).

Just an average day's work for your big bad corporation. Big pharma plays dirty and how!

Now recall the date of the movie's release: the summer of 1993 (on my birthday in fact). Do you remember what was on the national agenda at that point? Clinton health care reform. And who were the villains targeted by the Clinton healthcare plan: big pharma, and insurance companies.

The movie, of course, is based on a long running TV series from 1963 to 1967, that may have been based on the case of Dr. Sam Sheppard, who always claimed innocence (though convicted) in the murder of his wife. The TV series, all 120 episodes, was primarily about the chase -- a fugitive on the run, and the US marshal's dogged pursuit. The movie is much more centered on the evil of the drug company. Somehow, I think this was not just coincidental.

Movies with that anti-corporate theme are still pretty mainstream in Hollywood. Michael Clayton, released in 2007, centered on a chemical company with a product that killed hundreds and a security detail that killed those who threatened the company in a class action lawsuit. Before that we had A Civil Action, about chemical companies that polluted the groundwater by dropping their barrels of toxic waste in the rivers, causing cancer outbreaks among the locals, and of course, killing women and children disproportionately.

We are now in the midst of a tidal wave of anti-corporate, anti-Wall Street and anti-capitalist hysteria. As with so much else in American politics, Hollywood can be counted on as a loyal ally to deliver the messages of the left through the vehicle of entertainment. The Fugitive is a solid thriller. Is the message it delivers on the evils of big pharma just part of moving the story along?

How many movies on the evils of Wall Street do you think are now on the drawing board? Demonize the wealthy to create class warfare, deliver a message that corporations routinely take risk to enrich themselves and the few, while the rest of us suffer the consequence of their bad bets, make folks believe that only government is fair and on their side, and Democrats are the party of fairness (the Republicans, of course are assigned the role as the Party of the big banks and Wall Street, who ripped us off, and deregulated the financial industry to accomplish this).

Let us disregard all those contributions to Chris Dodd, Barack Obama, Chuck Schumer, and the Democratic Senate and House campaign committees from AIG, and Wall Street firms. Let us ignore the role of Barney Frank in the mortgage mischief of FNMA. Let's forget about FNMA CEO Franklin Raines, walking away with $120 million in a severance package (where are those demands for payback of bonuses from executives who looted the nation, and cost it tens of billions in bailout money?).

Populism has been let loose in America, and it is a dangerous thing. Republican are not free of exploiting this disease of course (Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley encouraging AIG executives to commit suicide!). At the moment, I am rereading Eric Hoffer's classic from 1951: The True Believer. This longshoreman intellectual wrote the playbook for the Obama campaign -- the exploitation of the frustrated to make them think change is needed, and there is new hope for the future.

A mass movement is being created in America. Mass movements are not nuanced. They need good guys and bad guys, and an emotional desire to ruthlessly steamroller the bad guys. The left attacked George Bush for creating a simplistic division of the world into good guys and bad guys, and for using terminology like the axis of evil.

We are seeing something similar now, but not for use in unifying the country for a targeted conflict abroad, but for use in changing the very foundations of our economy. The anger and scapegoating that has been unleashed will not easily be bottled, and of course, it is useful for those who seek foundational change.

Richard Baehr is chief political correspondent of American Thinker.