During 1942, in the darkest days of World War II, the United States was a nation in shock. A decade of worthless government programs had produced only years of miserable Depression. Then came wounding military reverses dealt to an unprepared America. Hollywood responded brilliantly by producing one of the finest films of the time, Kings' Row.
Kings' Row was set in small town America in the idyllic years before World War I. It revolved partly around the story of Drake McHugh. In many ways, McHugh's character represented the America of then and now. At the start of the movie, he is likeable, generous, wealthy, and fun. His personality and joy for life fills and room.
McHugh is hit by twin blows. First, he loses his wealth. Unbowed by the loss of a playboy lifestyle, McHugh resolves to find a job as a laborer to support himself and prepare for marriage. Just as he is about to land on his feet, disaster strikes again. An accident damages his legs severely. McHugh would have recovered, had not a sadistic town doctor removed his legs.
When McHugh wakes from his coma, he feels for legs that are not there, looks up at his fiance and cries out in anguish, "Where's the rest of me?"
Americans in the Great Depression and today ask the same question. Where is the rest of us? Few Hollywood stories match the American experience in these times more than that of McHugh. We remember a prosperous time. We remember unemployment rates below 5%. Like the playboy McHugh perhaps we did not prepare for a rainy day or tend to our prosperity as we should have.
But when hard times hit, Americans are generally willing to roll up their sleeves and work. Left alone, the nation would have labored its way back to productivity and prosperity.
Then someone came and cut our legs off.
They cut our legs off through Obamacare legislation that drives up health care costs, eliminates good coverage for millions, and has hurt the employment of everyone from line cooks to college instructors.
They cut off our legs when they use unnecessary environmentalist regulation to shut down coal mines and power plants, putting tens of thousands out of work while, as Obama said, "necessarily" making our electric bills "skyrocket."
They cut off our legs by rewarding those who sit and discouraging those who work. By giving friends of the administration subsidies and loans to either go out of business or move operations to Mexico and China.
McHugh's psychiatrist friend returns from his work in Europe to treat him. He urges McHughes' fiance to find get him to find meaningful and productive work. "The invalid complex must be avoided at all costs." Unfortunately, the Obama administration policies are designed to enhance America's invalid complex, not cure it.
Americans have never found a cure for malaise in liberal doctrine, whether the doctor was named Franklin Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, or Barack Obama. Their idea was always to keep us comfortable in dependence, not push us to fight our way out and to be productive again.
McHugh, encouraged by his physician friend's tough care, escapes his deep depression. Defying his condition, McHugh returns to productivity and happiness.
The character McHugh gave America a metaphorical image of bouncing back from depression and defeat. It also made the actor who played him a truly respected motion picture star. In many ways the role he played in the 1940s helped to shape his approach to many dire problems solved later in life. We must remember that no matter what has happened in the past, no matter how badly our nation is mauled by foolish policies and plans, hard work and effort will roll back the darkness and bring us back.
We celebrate that actor's birthday, as well as his lifetime of accomplishments, this week. His name? Ronald Wilson Reagan.
Stephen A. Smoot is the Director of Academic Programs at the National Journalism Center