Tucson and Zhivago

A powerful scene from Dr. Zhivago, the Academy Award-winning movie based on Boris Pasternak's novel of the Russian Revolution, provides insight into the libel of conservatives following the Tucson killings and why the libeling will not stop.  Zhivago, a doctor and poet, flees with his family from Moscow to his in-laws' estate in the Ural Mountains after Soviet censors denounce his poems, putting the clan in mortal danger of condemnation as "enemies of the people."  The family arrives to find the estate boarded up and a poster on the door declaring the property confiscated in the name of "the people."  Outraged, Zhivago's father-in-law Professor Gromeko utters one of the film's classic lines, "I am one of the people too!" 

We empathize with Gromeko because, throughout the movie, a ubiquitous commissariat brutalizes, ruins and kills anyone they label an "enemy of the people."   Commissars seize Zhivago's house in Moscow.  They order summary executions.  Their secret police hunt the wealthy, business and farm owners, intellectuals and other enemy classes.  Petty apparatchiks force their way into every aspect of their neighbors' lives.  There is no escape from the misery sown by communism in the name of the people.  In the end, even the fanatical Bolshevik revolutionary, Commissar Strelnikov, falls from the Party's favor and commits suicide on the way to his execution.  Yet another enemy of the people. 

We see in Dr. Zhivago an important parallel to American politics today.  By using the Tucson murders to attack conservative "incivility," the left is essentially calling their opponents out as enemies of the people.  Uncivil conduct is by definition not conducive to civic harmony and welfare.  The uncivil are literally not civilized, and thus, barbarous. In other words, as threats to the common good, they are enemies of the people.  From there it's a short step to using defamation, career destruction, net neutrality, the Fairness Doctrine or any other means to silence and sideline the enemy.  Such is the audacity of power-hungry leftists who euphemize a demand for political suppression as a call for civility. 

We have seen this movie before.  Today's incivility gambit expands the left's shopworn tactic of charging conservatives with racism and discrimination against various minorities i.e., making them enemies of certain classes of people.  Post-Tucson, they simply began tarring the right as enemies of all the people.  Pasternak shows that, once begun, such witch hunts gain a grim momentum that feeds on itself.  In the American context, with the onset of an epic policy struggle between the branches of government and a presidential election, the libeling of the right will surely continue.  Progressives and their media supporters will be further motivated by a desperate need to dictate the terms of a debate they cannot win on their agenda or their record.  After their midterm debacle, keeping conservatives on the defensive is an existential imperative.
As the specter of leftist libel looms over America, we should add the verb "Zhivago" to our political lexicon.  To Zhivago an individual or group is to attempt to suppress them politically by leveling charges of incivility, discrimination or other conduct that casts them as enemies of the people.  The term provides useful shorthand for debating current events.  We see Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and the Tea Party being Zhivagoed.  Doctors, bankers, insurance companies and the oil industry have been Zhivagoed.  So have been the Chamber of Commerce, the State of Arizona and the Supreme Court.  Americans with an affinity for Bibles and guns were Zhivagoed.  Parents have so far escaped the full Zhivago, but they are under suspicion as not trustworthy of feeding America's children (dare we call this a food libel?).  Wherever we turn, the Zhivago narrative is hard to escape.

Dr. Zhivago is a warning of the clear and ever-present danger of political actors who style themselves as defenders of the people.  To fully appreciate the danger, watch the movie or, better yet, read the novel (since Hollywood played to type and softened Pasternak's critique of communism).  Then cue the elegiac strains of "Lara's Theme" and watch America's commissariat at work -- on behalf of the people, of course. 

Bogie is the nom de plume of a New York-based writer