Thursday February 18, 2010
Why Harry Can't Read Rights
So the main argument in yesterday's post was that the product of Hollywood, far from being liberal, is actually conservative, and, despite cries from the right about Hollyweird, on the left coast, being run by—as Sean Penn humorously put it in his Oscar acceptance speech last year—“commie, homo-lovin' sons of guns,” the movies have actually helped conservativism. The movies, which are often simple and absolutist (good vs. evil), help conservatives, who are also simple and absolutist, more than they help liberals, who are sometimes simple but rarely absolutist.
A good example is how the right frames the left's response to terrorism. If you're against torture, and in favor of putting terrorists, or alleged terrorists, on trial instead of holding them indefinitely or forever, you're impugned as wanting to “read the terrorists their rights.” Three days ago, in fact, the Obama administration announced the capture, in a joint raid by the ISI, Pakistan's Secret Service, and the CIA, of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's no. 2 man and main military strategist. That's huge. The fact that the Pakistani Secret Service is involved is huger. And the right's response? From Powerline:
That's great, and we sincerely congratulate the administration on this accomplishment. We can't help noting, though: why didn't they pay for a lawyer and read Baradar his rights?
Google “Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar” and “read him his rights” and, as of this morning, you'll get 161 responses. Google “read the terrorists their rights” and you'll get over 33,000 responses.
And where does this sneering attitude about reading people their rights come from? The movies. Liberal Hollywood. The most famous example is in “Dirty Harry.” Scorpio, the giggling homicidal killer based upon San Francisco's Zodiac killer, says it first:
Scorpio: You tried to kill me.
Dirty Harry: If I tried that your head would be splattered all over this field. Now, where's the girl?
Scorpio: [cries] I- I have rights.
But when Harry brings him in, the evidence is inadmissible:
District Attorney: You're lucky I'm not indicting you for assault with intent to commit murder.
Dirty Harry: What?
District Attorney: Where the hell does it say that you've got a right to kick down doors, torture suspects, deny medical attention and legal counsel? Where have you been? Does Escobedo ring a bell? Miranda? I mean, you must have heard of the Fourth Amendment. What I'm saying is that man had rights.
Dirty Harry: Well, I'm all broken up over that man's rights!
It's not just “Dirty Harry,” either. No modern action movie about cops dealing with killers would take anything less than a hardline attitude toward Miranda rights. The phrase has become a code for being soft on crime.
The right-wing's “reading the terrorists their rights” sneer is effective, in other words, because it's already embedded in U.S. society... through the movies...which the right-wing attacks as Un-American. It would be laughable if it weren't so hypocritical.