'Les Miserables': A Fitting Lesson for the Age of Obama
The groundbreaking new film adaptation of the Broadway musical "Les Misérables" features desperate people suffering under soul-shattering unemployment, naive university students decrying the rich and stoking the flames of socialist revolution, an unyielding government official interested not in right and wrong but in following his government's rules, and one heroic individual who follows his faith in God to guide him from one success to another–all the while truly helping others by using his own private wealth rather than through the ineffective and neglectful government.
In short, it is the perfect allegory for Americans living in the Age of Obama.
In 1987, when "Les Miz" opened in New York, many liberal columnists and critics tried desperately to make a connection between the 19th century Victor Hugo story and Ronald Reagan's America. The best they could do was show pictures of homeless people in New York and juxtapose them with the desperate characters in the play who live on the streets of Paris. The comparisons never held water in a macro way, considering that Americans in the late 1980s enjoyed prosperity across most economic classes. Now that the film is premiering in Barack Obama's America, it's remarkable how the comparisons are much more appropriate.
The most important thing for a filmgoer to understand when viewing "Les Miz" is to realize that Jean Valjean and only Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is the hero of this story. Do not get fooled by the heroic depiction of the mindlessly earnest students screaming for revolution and building barricades in the streets as a futile attempt to rally the people of France to their side. Watch Valjean's reaction to them as they choose to face certain annihilation as a symbolic gesture. Watch how he values life over their depraved narcissism and ends up making a real difference, not a symbolic one.
The students' cries for justice and freedom are not completely lost on a conservative viewer, however. They are protesting an out of touch and bloated federal government that is unresponsive to the people's wishes and uninterested in hearing any dissent from the rabble. Replace those red flags with Gadsen flags and you can see some important parallels in the struggle. But once they take to the streets and build junk-heap barricades, they end up just as selfish, ineffective, and destructive as the Occupy protesters, and they get the end-game they deserve.
In Obama's America, the government has all the answers, the people are pitted against the "wealthy," and a sense of hopeless doom permeates daily life. So many Americans feel like the best days of our nation are behind us, and Obama has begun the slow and inevitable decline of our society with taxation crippling the successful producers and multitudes enjoying government handouts with a sense of entitlement and even contempt for those who provide the tax money to pay for them.
It is in this spirit that one should view "Les Miserables" and draw a very important lesson. Jean Valjean begins at the lowest possible place a person can be. He is a desperate, angry criminal willing to let his rage at society destroy him. Instead, after being touched by faith in God, he brings himself up from the gutter and becomes wildly successful. He is constantly driven by his responsibility to his fellow man, his workers who relied on him, and his determination to right wrongs and seek justice--not through government action but by his own efforts. And over the decades, he continues to succeed and help those around him while the government prattles on, making things worse and never able to do anything effective at all.
Jean Valjean should be a model for all of us. It is too easy to be downhearted and angry over the direction in which our leaders are taking us. But we conservatives are not the ones who threaten to leave the country if an election doesn't go our way. We don't throw up our hands in surrender because our guy didn't win. If we stake everything in a four-year election cycle, we are doing it all wrong. We need to focus on our lives, our faith, and our families. We need to do whatever we can to provide for those around us. We need to do for our society what our government is incapable of doing. Through that model we will practice the conservative ideal we preach and the country will come along with us.
Even the hardest of hearts will soften to our side ... one Inspector Javert at a time.