Dec 10, 2007

A libertarian twist on "It's a Wonderful Life"

In our new movie, our main character is a political operative – let’s call him Sam. He has been a mover and shaker in politics for many years, but he finds himself and his allies in trouble after word leaks out about one of his shady, backroom deals. He and the others are likely to be thrown in jail for a long time.

He returns to his hometown. His cronies see that he is despondent and pray that he can pull himself together and maneuver in such a way as to get them out of trouble. An angel named Frederic, who has not yet earned his wings, is summoned to help Sam. As he is about to jump off a bridge, Frederic arrives and talks to him. Sam describes his troubles and says that he wishes he were never born; Frederic grants him his wish, though Sam does not realize what has just transpired.

He decides to return to town to try to sort things out. He runs into a neighborhood kid whom he had drafted while serving as the head of the local draft board. He is shocked, as this kid had been killed in battle. But the man insists that he was never drafted and is now a successful businessman and community leader. Sam meets his fine wife and children too and is left speechless. He scratches his head and decides to move on; perhaps a good walk will clear his head. Before long though, he is taken aback when he runs into another familiar young man. He was sure this fellow had received a long prison sentence for drug offenses, under the tough mandatory sentencing guidelines he had successfully lobbied for. Yet this guy tells Sam that he never went to jail, is now clean, and is helping to rehabilitate others who are trying to overcome their dependency. Now he is sure that he is losing his mind, but continues on, in a daze. Is someone playing a cruel hoax on him? This is all just too much. He wonders if anything could top what he has just seen. A moment later he runs into his old high school sweetheart who had died many years earlier of cancer. Now he is certain that he has lost his mind. He distinctly recalled her story; she had died after unsuccessfully trying to gain access to a promising experimental cancer treatment. In fact, the man he helped get appointed commissioner at the FDA had declared the treatment illegal. Yet she goes on to tell him that she had in fact used that experimental treatment, was now cured and was working hard to spread the word about this miraculous treatment to other cancer patients. Stunned, he decides to walk to the military base down the road and check in with some buddies there. Maybe they will tell him what is going on and bring him back to his senses. Yet when he comes to his destination, there is no military base there. There is no munitions plant nearby either. He had successfully lobbied for funding for both of these though! What is more, there are all sorts of unfamiliar sights in their place – parks, theaters, historical sites, businesses, and a myriad of other developments. Not only that, as he stops to take it all in, the whole town is unmistakably more prosperous and cohesive than he had remembered it.

By this point, Sam has returned to the bridge and it finally dawns on him that Frederic had indeed granted him his wish and that what he had just seen was the impact of his never having been born! He realizes that he has made life worse for so many in a number of different ways. He is more despondent than ever. He asks Frederic if he has anything to say to him, hoping to hear something, anything uplifting. As much as Frederic would like to do so, he is honor-bound to tell Sam the truth. But what can he say? Suddenly he recalls Clarence’s wise words and decides to paraphrase them, "The State touches so many lives; when it isn’t around, it leaves a whole lot of freedom." That is the last straw and Sam jumps off the bridge, never to be seen again. And Frederic earns his wings!

~ D. Saul Weiner, "It’s a Statist Life,", December 10, 2007

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