ROOSTER COGBURN: TOUGH JUSTICE
He couldn’t keep track of the people he shot. He couldn’t even keep an accurate count of the men he had killed. But we rooted for him anyway. We love Rooster Cogburn because we know he is a man of the law, and would never kill a man unless he was guilty and deserved to die as punishment, or as a means to protect the innocent. Rooster Cogburn is an iconic American personage, wedded to justice and having mercy only for the helpless or the young. The quick and sure redress of the American frontier afforded little mercy, and the apparently harsh judicature of Rooster Cogburn, and those like him, was necessary in a time when life and survival were always a hair’s breadth from sudden death. Sure, he’s a fictional character, but he represents the remorseless determination that defines the history of the American West. And that gritty resolve, an eye single to the cause of justice, is, at present, in grievously short supply.
I was skeptical at first. How could you remake “True Grit?” It was John Wayne’s magnum opus. The movie and role of Rooster Cogburn belonged to John Wayne. It is the quintessential western movie. But the Coen brothers won me over. And the remake of True Grit has again captured the spirit, and spirituality, of the relic 19th century back country. I have seen the movie two times, I will probably see it a third time. I will probably purchase the director’s cut DVD. I might even watch the Oscars this year. True Grit just stuck with me, the way woodsmoke adheres to the inside of your nose and you continue to smell the fire long after it is doused. It is one of those movies that haunts and colors your thoughts for quite a spell. The images were authentic and the language faithful to the era before contractions were widely employed to make English more efficient. It took a couple of weeks but I finally figured out why this movie kept returning to my musings. It has to do with the stark morality and unflinching resolve of Rooster Cogburn, a flawed man and rash, but always a man who, when he erred, erred on the side of justice.
Hollywood has given us many leading men who are American paradigms of tough justice; Sean Connery as Jim Malone in “The Untouchables.” He was the character who gave us the memorable quote (stolen by Barak Obama) about how to deal with Al Capone. “You wanna get Capone? Here’s how you get him. He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue!” Tommy Lee Jones as the U.S. Marshall Samuel Gerard in “The Fugitive.” Robert Duvall as Gus McCrae in “Lonesome Dove.” And, of course, John Wayne and Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn, to name a few. These characters were men of basic fairness, who relied on the people of their time to govern themselves and their property with equal fairness. And if unfairness, injury or injustice occurred they were there to meet the occasion with, not due process and prolonged adjudication, but with rapid and dispassionate justice.
The media have been rife this month with fond and gracious remembrances of Ronald Reagan, and Americans have lined up at the buffet to take it in. This is not a bad thing. Reagan was, after all, the key figure in the Conservative revolution in America and the greatest president of the 20th century. But I wonder if the troubling reality that in 2011 we are governed by a President who has a distaste for the truth and an even greater distaste for America, her history, greatness and power, presses us to look to the memory of Ronald Reagan? Reagan was a man we could trust and a man who unquestionably loved America and embraced her greatness and righteous power. Barak Obama seems to disdain the principles that forged this country; the self-determination and rugged individualism, and Americans’ tenacious clutch on the Constitution and the limits it places upon government. Obama stands in opposition to the substance of men who had true grit, the tough justice that won the freedom of people on the American continent as well as distant shores and many lands.
If Rooster Cogburn stands for tough justice, then the contemporary Left stands for a decrepit style of convenient mercy. Obama and the Left offer political correctness as a counterfeit of real mercy, not as an opportunity for redemption, but as an excuse for the reprobate. Mercy is a holy principle made possible only through the atoning blood of the Savior Jesus Christ and offered as a second chance to the repentant soul. The politically correct form of mercy excludes any Judeo-Christian notion of correction and renewal, and seeks only to justify the actions of the offenders; those who offend God through sin and blasphemy, and those who offend man through destructive and unjust acts.
America is now faced with many enemies cloaked in the robes of mercy, but these enemies mock the mercy of God, and deride the merciful as weak, easy targets. America’s enemies; infiltration by illegal aliens, domestic and foreign Islamic jihadists, communism, “one worldism”, statism, progressivism, the destruction of families, sexual perversions, and wanton disregard for all standards of decency and civility, would do away with the concept of genuine justice, thereby withholding punishment from the true criminal, and exerting punishment only upon those who think the wrong thoughts and hinder the way of progressive ideology. This is at the core of the Left’s perverse reasoning. Good is called bad and must be punished, and bad is called good and must be rewarded. This is the essence of political correctness.
Barak Obama has erred on the side of mercy in a perverse, politically correct attempt to look reasonable. America has been cheated for decades by a form of fake mercy that has lead to a general acceptance of degenerate behavior and slack standards. The arm of “mercy” is extended to illegal aliens under the falsehood that they deserve something for free simply because they are basically decent people. This is a lie and a destructive lie at that. Terrorists are coddled in American prisons, their every need and concern doted upon. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood jihadist, was dealt with by some bureaucrats in the U.S. Army with a form of “apologetic mercy.” He should have been deemed the Islamic radical that he was, planning to kill Americans. But because fake mercy favored the appearance of reasonableness over safety, truth, and national security, thirteen Americans were murdered in a terrorist attack on an Army base in Texas.
I believe this is one of the reasons that we love Rooster Cogburn and miss Ronald Reagan. We feel safer and more free when tough justice is exerted unflinchingly against the unambiguously evil, without a presumption of innocence, because the damning evidence is conclusive. Rooster Cogburn was a man of tough justice and hard truth. And he enforced the truth in a hard way. A nation cannot remain free if its social structure is built on a scaffold of falsehoods and equivocation. Cogburn’s style of tough justice gave preference to the truth over perceptions of good intentions. The prevailing politics and pop-culture in America have become like the permissive parent, lacking standards and accountability for its citizens. The effective and involved parent uses “tough love” to guide and discipline the wayward child. Tough justice is the tough love of the body politic. Americans are hungry for the truth, and hard truth and tough justice are often partners, and sorely needed in a world where wickedness is too often given a pass.
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