Sunday, September 9, 2018

Not Spartacus

From Jonah Goldberg at The National Review:
I’m also pretty sure that Booker has a thumbless grasp of what saying “I am Spartacus” even means (even though he didn’t say it). While I was listening to one of the quirky, obscure podcasts that I sometimes dabble in, John Podhoretz reminded me that the “I am Spartacus” line from the 1960 Kirk Douglas movie was written by Dalton Trumbo, a committed Stalinist, who pushed the Soviet line at every turn. (When Stalin signed a Non-Aggression Pact with Hitler, Trumbo dismissed concerns by saying, “To the vanquished all conquerors are inhuman.”) Howard Fast, the author of the book the movie was based on, was also a Communist. I supposed I should note that Kirk Douglas tried to take credit for the line, but that that’s unlikely. I could also point out that Karl Marx considered Spartacus the “finest fellow antiquity had to offer.”

But, like so much of the universe these days, none of this matters. The whole point of the “I am Spartacus!” scene — which is great – is that Spartacus’s comrades showed existential solidarity with the real Spartacus. Crassus wanted to execute the leader of the slave rebellion, but Spartacus’s comrades were saying, in effect, “Take me!” It’s been suggested that the scene was inspired by the apocryphal story of the Danes donning yellow stars in solidarity with the Jews in Nazi-occupied Denmark.

How exactly, you might ask, is this remotely comparable to releasing publicly accessible emails exonerating Judge Kavanaugh of the insinuation that he supported racial profiling under the pretense that you’re breaking the rules? (No cheating off Marco, people.) Take your time. I’ll go sculpt a model of Devils Tower out of mashed potatoes in order to figure out where the alien ship will land while you bust out the grease board to connect those dots . . .Need help? Well, it’s a trick question. Because, on one level — the level Booker thinks he’s working on — it makes no sense whatsoever. But on another level, it actually makes some sense. Here’s a hint: The heroism involved in saying “I am Spartacus” lies in the fact that it was a lie. Those guys weren’t Spartacus; they were pretending to be at great personal sacrifice.

Booker’s close-to-an-I-am-Spartacus-moment line was also based on a lie, but it was decidedly not in the form of tragedy — it was farce. Which is why the spectacle of all of those Democrats joining Booker in fake solidarity about a fake issue was so perfect. They were all shouting, “I’m Cory Booker!” and “Expel me too!” in the hopes his bravery would rub off on them, when there was none to rub off in the first place. Booker wants to be president, and he thinks — rightly — that the base of the Democratic party wants a heroic rebel who will fight the Caesarian Trump at all costs and by any means necessary (yes, I know there were no emperors in the time of Spartacus, but shut up: I’m on a roll). The problem is that Spartacus lost, and all his fellow gladiator-slave compadres who said, “I am Spartacus” were martyred for a lost cause, too. Obviously, this effort to defeat Kavanaugh was a lost cause. (Read more.)

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