Being That Guy –The Indispensable Man
You know, Americans are blessed with a lot of indispensable men and women. Without George Washington, the Revolution failed. Without Lincoln, we’d have either become two weaker and even more warlike countries over the issue of slavery; without Grant, the war would have ended differently. Without Robert E. Lee, the Confederacy would have been overwhelmed a couple of years earlier by the industrial might of the North. Without Andrew Jackson, the moneyed oligarchy would have taken over the country completely in 1830 as opposed to whatever we have now. Without Sam Houston, no Texas. Without Martin Luther King, no civil rights movement. (Without John Wilkes Booth, reconstruction probably comes out better for everybody and no need for Martin Luther King.)
Wyatt Earp 1928
We’ve built our own contribution to the heroic mythos. Bigger than life guys and occasionally bigger than life gals doing bigger than life things. Marion Michael Morrison hangs around and drinks coffee in the studio with an occasional consultant on westerns, some old fart named Wyatt Earp, and whiskey with the old man and an apprentice director named John Ford and becomes the Duke. The Duke becomes the personification of all things American men are supposed to be. Now, I personally have no problem with that. There are a lot of things about the persona and the man that are a vast improvement over, say, Louis Gomert or Antonin Scalia or Steve King.
Ford finds a feisty red head and part of the persona of the American woman is born – Maureen O’Hara is the role model for the future in films for decades, whether Rio Grande (which is a helluva film that we usually skip over in the Cavalry trilogy and are mistaken to do so in sense of understanding the myth); Wings of Eagles; The Quiet Man (where the Irish American returns to County Clare and through horseracing, drinking, marriage and the machinations of the IRA and the local pastor, fixes everything that’s gone wrong since the Norman Invasion); McClintock, ( where that Guy fixes his marriage, children, wife, family and the Comanche’s oppression through a barbecue, fist fight and riot); and Big Jake (where that Guy ultimately shoots one of his descendants, Paladin, who mutters “ I thought you were dead..” and that Guy responds “Not hardly.” )
Maureen O'Hara, Duke, John Ford and Friends
The problem isn’t John Wayne, or the indispensable man; the problem is that we have people like Louis Gomert and Antonin Scalia trying to be "that Guy" or "that Man". We have Rand Paul and Ted Cruz trying to take up that mantle as well as the various right wing lunatics like Cliven Bundy and Rick Perry trying to be John Wayne, with Anne Coulter and Michelle Bachman trying out for Maureen O’Hara. By all accounts, Wayne was a helluva guy, and Ms O’Hara a talented and beautiful actress who adored Wayne and dealt well with Ford. (Whom, in recent history, Dick Cheney tried to play. Failed.)
But, the Duke never thought he was in charge of the world, and while a conservative’s conservative Republican – although he and Barry Goldwater would be be labelled Rhinos today – he was primarily a patriotic American who used his movie star status sparingly in real life but was generous to charities and folks down on their luck. A realist, he was asked his opinion on Jack Kennedy and he said, “I didn't vote for him but he's my president, and I hope he does a good job,” a sentiment to get him drummed out of the Orange County GOP today.
The myth of “that Man” is a bit of the myth of Joseph Campbell's Hero of 1000 Faces. It’s not just American, by the way; Michael Collins was “that Man” during the Irish Rising and Civil War. Collins figured out how to beat the British Army and the Black And Tans with pistols and rifles; then, he figured out how to beat the IRA he had built to beat a regular Army.
More recently, Irish Rugby was ruled for fifteen years by "that Man" Brian O’Driscoll whom I didn't get to see play that often until toward the end of his career. Despite an incredible run of injuries and constant foul play directed against him, “Driko” was still an amazing player and athlete. He made everybody around him a better player, notorious for 90 meter runs, blind passes, finishing tries and general magic. In one key game in the 2012-13 Heineken Cup, Leinster was down a man in the scrum, and O’Driscoll scrummed down as outside flanker. If you’re a Rugby fan, you know that’s really odd for a star back to do; it’s kind of like a half back in American football volunteering to go in as Center. Or middle linebacker. Leinster won the scrum.
Brian O'Driscoll Try
O’Driscoll was an incredibly talented player, but what made him that guy was the combination of skill, vision, stubbornness and pure physical courage He left the field when he was younger only when unconscious or otherwise on a stretcher. He did what he had to do for the team.
Well, he’s moved on. The Duke and Michael Collins are dead. Obama isn’t excited about being “that guy,” and the world is probably better for it. But, there are times when somebody needs to step and be that guy.
We see that willingness to step up and take on that role regardless of consequences in the citations of the Medal of Honor recipients in the Afghan and Iraq Wars. None of the men honored have said or indicated that they thought that the deserved the award. No one did it for the glory; they did whatever it was, however insane and crazy not for themselves, nor for their country nor the service but for their friends. They put their own lives on the line and it is brutally personal.
That’s what makes it so obvious when someone in a position of leadership and power tries to be the guy. George W. Bush wanted to be the guy so badly that he could have tasted it, and he made a fool out of himself. He tried to be a man of the people, our war president, our leader and our inspiration, but when we could see him clearly through the tears, he was lacking. Cheney wanted to be the guy up to a point, but that point wasn’t to where it inconvenienced him.
Although in fairness, it seems likely that Cheney will always be “that guy” to the stockholders of Halliburton and the big oil companies.