The Watchmen of Tucson

Mark Judge Journalist and filmmaker
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There’s no need to make a movie about the Tucson massacre and the media’s reaction to it. It’s already been done. It’s called “Watchmen.”

“Watchmen” is a science fiction film about an alternate America in which superheroes are real. One of them gets murdered, and the movie traces the search for the killer — as well as indulging in various subplots. It’s the definition of a cult classic, a good but not great film that has a compelling and idiosyncratic tone. It was released in 2009 but still turns up on late-night cable.

The killer turns out to be Ozymandias, a liberal utopian. Described as “the smartest man in the world,” Ozymandias’s goal is to create a machine that can endlessly provide energy for the world for free. But that’s not enough. He wants to prevent war. Towards that end, he triggers a nuclear blast in New York City, framing another superhero for the crime. He reasons that the resulting horror will scare the world straight. “Millions die so billions will live,” he says. When the superhero the Comedian discovers the plot, Ozymandias murders him — an act that opens the film.

As difficult as it is to believe, Ozymandias seems to have the same philosophy as the modern left and its friends in the media. The shots had barely been fired in Tucson when Paul Krugman, Chris Matthews, the major networks, and bloggers began to blame conservatives for the tragedy. And it would not be an exaggeration to say that there was a frisson of self-satisfied glee in a lot of their outbursts, from Markos Moulitsas’s tweet — “mission accomplished, Sarah Palin” — to Chris Matthews’s slobbering blather and Andrew Sullivan’s ongoing Palin dementia. (Don’t these guys realize that they increasingly sound like the guys who never got over being bullied in fourth grade?) Shelby Steele nailed it a few weeks back, when he noted that the American left has one surefire way to feel virtuous: by expressing bad faith in the United States. Furthermore, some dead bodies and the ensuing scapegoat of the right will hasten the arrival of the new heaven and new earth, where everyone agrees, there is no war or bullying, gay marriage is legal, and Sarah Palin is a sportscaster. It really has gotten that bad.

In “Watchmen,” Ozymandias almost pulls his plan off. He is thwarted, however, by another superhero, “Rorschach,” who is described by all the enlightened liberals as a sociopath. Rorschach drops criminals down elevator shafts, crushes shot glasses while would-be informants are still holding them, and dispatches a child killer with an ax to the head. He relentlessly pursues the case of the murdered Comedian, all the while keeping a journal (the entries of which provide the narration for the film). Throughout the film Rorschach is seen hanging around in front of the New Frontiersman, a right-wing magazine. In “Watchmen,” it’s the equivalent of Glenn Beck.

The New Frontiersman becomes crucial at the end of the film. Ozymandias has detonated a nuclear weapon, terrified world leaders into declaring peace, and facilitated the murder of Rorschach. There’s only one problem. Before going to confront Ozymandias for the fatal final time, Rorschach drops his journal off in the after-hours slot of the New Frontiersman. The journal contains the truth about the crimes of Ozymandias. The truth will come out.

It’s amazing, and perhaps part of the willful blindness of modern liberalism, that many people who have seen “Watchmen” don’t know its basic plot. They tend to focus on the fact that in this alternate universe Richard Nixon is still president, and thereby conclude that the film is a critique of the right (although parts of it are that). They don’t seem to understand that the hero is a guy who 1) is obsessed with justice and the truth, 2) reads a right-wing magazine, and 3) wears a fedora. Near the end of “Watchmen,” when most of the other superheroes have agreed to go along with the crimes of Ozymandias in order to secure world peace, Rorschach refuses (in the film he is brilliantly played by Jackie Earle Haley). “Never compromise,” he says, “even in the face of Armageddon.” He is confronted by Dr. Manhattan, the most powerful superhero in the world. Rorschach knows he is about to be killed. “Of course,” he says to Dr. Manhattan. “You must protect the new utopia. What’s one more body amongst the foundations?”

The hard, cold truth of the matter is that there are members of the left who, like Ozymandias — “the smartest man in the world” — are glad to sacrifice a few bodies if it will exorcise the demon of conservatism. One can understand this when one understands that there is a pathology to their perception of what conservatism is. To them, conservatism is not a political philosophy; it is a deadly chimera, overwhelming in its toxic iniquity. This kind of outsized fantasia was diagnosed more than thirty years ago by Christopher Lasch in his book “The Culture of Narcissism,” which explores how oversized fantasies and nightmares from childhood can, if not reduced by proper parenting and assimilation into society, become adult pathologies. Political opponents, and indeed all authority figures, become outsized monsters — and it becomes the height of virtue to tear them down, no matter what the cost. Liberal narcissism and utopianism may not be as immediately dangerous as Jared Lee Loughner, but it is indeed a form of mental illness — and, as anyone who has seen “Watchmen” or remembers the Soviet Union knows, in the long run it tends to produce more victims.

Mark Judge is the author of A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock ‘n’ Roll.