A recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by Andrew Klavan argues that the characterization of Batman in the blockbuster film “The Dark Knight” is representative of our Commander-in-Chief George W. Bush. While on the surface there may be similarities between the two, the conclusion that Batman somehow symbolizes conservative principles clearly misses the point of not only the film, but the mythos of Batman as well. For readers who have yet to see “The Dark Knight,” be warned that spoilers are ahead.
Klavan’s op-ed basically tries to compare Batman’s methods to those of the Bush administration. This is credible to some degree due to Batman’s use of sonar-equipped cell phones, which is a clear reference to wiretapping. Batman and President Bush both face criticism for responding to criminals and terrorists in the only way they understand—overwhelming force. Both men also push the boundaries of civil liberties with the belief that the ends will justify the means. That being said, the article fails to account for the motivating factors and relevant contexts that influence the decisions of both men.
Although Batman is a vigilante, he still manages to work within the framework of Gotham’s laws. In fact, his friendship and partnership with Commissioner Gordon anchors him to the law. This helps to legitimize his actions, even when he works outside of the typical constraints of law enforcement. In contrast, President Bush has managed to shock-and-awe his way right out of many legal constraints. His legacy will consist of torture and controversial legislation, such as the Patriot Act and telecom immunity. The sheer number of domestic and international laws the President has broken show his consistent and callous disregard for the rule of the law. While Batman does indeed push many laws to their breaking point, the President has simply blown them out of the water.
Another important point Klavan brings up is morality and responsibility in a world fraught with peril. The author points out that doing what’s right is not always easy, and sometimes the most dangerous thing is the truth. Deciding to defend ideas such as justice, liberty and freedom is not an easy task in a world that often fails to embrace them. Klavan claims that arguments of morality in “The Dark Knight” and in the Bush administration are equally complex. As a result, all those leftists trying to brand conservative views of morality as overly simplistic are just plain wrong. Unfortunately, nuance was absent when the President declared, “You’re either with us or against us,” at the start of the War on Terror.
When Batman faces many difficult moral quandaries, he carefully questions the means and methods he uses to save the day. In contrast, the Bush administration is seemingly indifferent to the real consequences and effects of its decisions on behalf of the American people as wars against the “bad guys” are fought by any means necessary.
Lastly, there is one glaring hole in any argument that links President Bush to Batman. Batman never kills anyone, which should be enough to disprove any Bush equals Batman arguments. Will Batman punch you? Yes. Smash your face into a wall? Yes. Drop you off a building just high enough to break your legs and get the information he wants? Hell yes! But will he kill you? Never.
When he is pushed to the brink by battling a homicidal clown who has killed the woman he loves and turned the city he swore to protect into a chaotic war zone, it’s hard to imagine how Batman manages to keep from throwing the Joker to his doom. However, Batman knows that the minute he takes a life, everything he has worked for would all be for nothing. Batman’s refusal to kill anyone is what makes him the protector of Gotham and its laws. He is its ever-watchful dark knight.
Sadly, the President seems unable to live up to Batman’s level of morality. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have not only taken the lives of tens of thousands of civilians, but also nearly 4,000 of our own soldiers and the lives of people this administration has designated as our “enemies.” So, while Batman can go head-to-head with Gotham’s underworld and still manage never to take a life, it seems that this President’s wars have done little else.
Still, there is an important point to be made about the President and another character in “The Dark Knight.” Harvey Dent, Gotham’s “White Knight,” bears a much closer resemblance to the President than Batman. After 9/11, America was looking for its own white knight, and the President was more than willing to take the role. We rallied behind his War on Terror, and waited for our cries of vengeance to be answered.
While there was no explosion, the President’s white knight persona crumbled into something even more scarred and deformed than Dent’s. Out of that metamorphosis the President’s true form was revealed and consequently we live in a world where defining right and wrong is as simple as the flip of a coin. The crusade to uphold American ideals transformed into nothing more than the failed vendetta of a failed legacy. Thus, if any sort of parallel can be drawn between “The Dark Knight” and our President, it’s the rise and fall of Harvey Dent.
A flattering representation of the President as the Caped Crusader is an easy way to glaze over “The Dark Knight” and sound the victory bells for conservative values, but doing so illustrates a complete lack of understanding of the movie’s politics. Positive parallels between our President and Batman are as much a fantasy as the world Batman lives in.
But is there something to be said about looking up to a figure that is merely a fictitious creation? At least when our real world leaders fail to deliver we have somewhere else to look for a hero.
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