The year was 1996.Â Clinton was in the White House.Â The GOP nominated Dole/Kemp.Â Di and Charles got divorced.Â I got married.Â Ella Fitzgerald passed away.Â The Olympics were held in Atlanta.Â And for once, I agreed with the Academy:Â Braveheart was an awesome movie.Â Fast-forward about fifteen years:Â Clips and quotes from Braveheart have come to be used, quite appropriately, as inspiration for the conservative movement in this country.Â One local GOP activist I know used a still photo of Mel Gibsonâ€™s William Wallace in woad as his Facebook profile picture from time to time during the 2010 elections.Â It always made me smile, and on a few cold, dark mornings in late October, served to bolster my resolve.
[“Umm…sophomore in the second row….yes, you, the one rolling your eyes.Â Did you have something you wanted to add?Â What?Â Oh.Â Yes, I do know that the movie is historically inaccurate.Â There’s an empty corner over there where you can go to bask in your intellectual superiority.Â Come back when you’re finished.Â Or don’t.Â We’re talking about ideas here, and this movie illustrates them. You know, come to think of it, there’s a seminar in the room next door where they’re discussing ‘Tolerant Green Feminist Wealth Redistribution and its Influence on Multiculturalism, Anthropomorphic Global Warming and Childhood Obesity.’ Â You actually might be more comfortable over there. Now…where was I?”]
There are two scenes from the movie which have become most familiar to us.Â One is that of Wallaceâ€™s torture and execution, where he refuses submit to the will of his captors by begging for mercy and instead cries out, â€œFreedom!â€ with his dying breath:
The other, of course,Â comes immediately before the Battle of Stirling Bridge, where Wallace rallies the troops with his “They may take our lives, but they will never take our freedom!” speech:
This latter is such an iconic piece of cinema that it has passed into the popular culture.Â It has been parodied on South Park and borrowed for hardware store commercials.Â It is echoed in the equally magnificent speech by Aragorn at the Black Gates in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.
But back to Braveheart . . . there is another little-noticed scene which I like better than either of these other two.Â It is my absolute favorite and contains my takeaway quote from the film.Â To set the stage:Â Wallace and his band of Scottish freedom fighters are in hiding, after having been betrayed by their own countrymen, the nobles, at Falkirk.Â Although they’ve enjoyed some successes on the battlefield and with guerilla-style attacks, they realize that they can never hope to liberate Scotland on their own.Â Wallace receives word that Robert the Bruce and the other nobles want to meet with him in Edinburgh.Â Wallace’s friend Hamish Campbell protests; with good reason, he suspects a trap.
â€œDo you know what happens if we donâ€™t take that chance?Â Nothing.â€
What makes this so meaningful is that it depicts a different kind of courage.Â It is perhaps not so hard to perform a singular and final heroic act where the outcome is inevitable, and there is nothing left to lose. And it is not so hard, perhaps, to muster the will fight when one finds oneself actually standing on the battlefield. We are, after all, endowed by our Creator with adrenal glands along with our inalienable rights; when the only options are to kill or be killed, what choice is there, really?
But it takes a different kind of courage entirely to leave a position of relative safety and security and take a chance in the face of long odds and uncertain outcome.Â At this point in the movie version of Wallace’s story, the safe choice for him would have been to stay away from Edinburgh. By all estimations, Scotland’s independence looked like an impossible dream.Â He could have survived by remaining in hiding for awhile and then settling back into life as a farmer, subject to English rule.Â If he had not gone to Edinburgh, chances were reasonably good that “nothing” would have happened to him.Â But having “nothing” happen was unacceptable.Â So, knowing he was risking everything, including his life, he chose instead to take the chance, because he had hope that if he did, the nobles would join the fight and Scotland would be free.
[“Ok, that’s very nice and we’re delighted that you’ve finally learned to embed videos.Â But what does this have to do with electing constitutional conservatives?”]
[“Hang on…I’m getting there.”]
News crews are beginning to broadcast live from Iowa again; the presidential primary season has begun, along with the primary season for any number of elections that follow the presidential cycle.Â And, as predictably as day follows night, we are already witnessing the opening salvos in what seems to be the never-ending war between those who would demand that we nominate â€œsafeâ€, middle-of-the-road, even squishy and RINO-ish candidates over candidates who are infinitely better qualified for the job,Â but arenâ€™t deemed to be â€œelectableâ€ by the party establishment.Â It is strongly suggested that we not take a chance by nominating true constitutional conservatives.Â It’s “too risky.”Â They are “too radical.”Â They “won’t appeal to independents.”Â They are “too polarizing.”Â They “don’t have the right kind of experience.”Â They “could never get elected in [fill in the name of the state or district in question].”Â The list of reasons excuses goes on and on.Â It all boils down to this:Â folks want a sure thing.Â They are unwilling to take that chance. But if we don’t, do you know what will happen in D.C. and in statehouses across the country?Â Nothing.
When I post this,Â there may be some who will point out an irony in the fact that I’ve used a clip in which Wallace elected to try to “join with the nobles” in support of my view that the “commoners” not kowtow to the “wisdom” of the party “establishment” just quite yet when it comes to picking our nominees.Â Go back and watch the whole movie.Â By this point in the story, the freedom fighters had already handled a few things with regard to those nobles who had orchestrated the betrayal at Falkirk.Â (There is a lesson here, also.)Â When Wallace went to Edinbrugh, he went on his own terms.Â Ultimately, the nobles joined him, not the other way around.
My experience is admittedly limited, but I have learned this much about election politics :Â the â€œyour candidate canâ€™t winâ€ meme, repeated over and over again, by different people, in different words, different contexts, and different venues, is a potent weapon for the destruction of courage and resolve.Â And, although we’ve been borrowing the imagery of swords and battle axes, this one actually works more like a biological.Â It’s stealthy, it spreads geometrically, and identifying the source (and the source’s motivations) can be difficult.
Fortunately, there is a simple and effective counter-measure:Â “Who says?”