I'm sitting here watching "First Blood" -- the original "Rambo" movie- and trying to figure out, when it comes to Nicaragua, which character is Ronald Reagan's role model.
Is it the war-maddened jungle fighter, for whom every conflict triggers nightmares of commie atrocities? Or is it the monomaniacal sheriff, willing to risk his life, his men and his community in order to destroy a man who had presented no threat whatever to the town?
It is well known by now that Reagan is a fan of the second movie featuring Sylvester Stallone as the Vietnam veteran who, this time, in the admirable cause of rescuing his compatriots still held captive by the North Vietnamese, is able to frustrate not only the enemy forces but also the swinish Americans masquerading as patriots. In the 1982 "First Blood," the two stars are each motivated by a single purpose: the sheriff's obsession is to kill Rambo; Rambo's is to survive.
Which, I am wondering, embodies the Reagan fantasy?
Sometimes I think it must be Rambo. The flashbacks to Vietnam "tiger cages" and knives at the throat and other mind-searing memories make it easy enough to understand why Rambo sees communists in every crisis. Like Reagan, he feels no need to examine whether killing commies is forever and always a good thing, or whether there are limits as to the means for carrying out that goal. You get the commies because if you don't they'll get you.
Rambo uses cunning and that godawful slash-your-guts-out knife of his. Reagan uses money and those godawful contras. But commie-fighting is no enterprise for the squeamish.
So is it President Ronbo we've been hearing this week, insisting that it's either them or us and demanding $100 million of our money to make sure it's them?
Well, maybe. On the other hand, Reagan sounds an awful lot like Sheriff Will Teasle (played by Brian Dennehy) who, no matter that the former Green Beret has never done him any harm, or threatened to, knows a menace when he sees one. The Sandinistas are as obvious an offense to Reagan's sense of the fitness of things as Rambo was to Sheriff Teasle's. The sheriff's rationale for his campaign to be rid of Rambo (You let one unwashed misfit stay here, and before you know it, the town's crawling with 'em) sounds a lot like the president's rationale for sponsoring the contras' inept effort to overthrow the Nicaraguan government (You let one commie regime survive in Central America, and before you know it they've taken San Diego).
The sheriff cannot see himself as ridiculously macho as he sacrifices his sense of priorities, his budget and (inevitably, however ruefully) his men. Neither can the president. The menace simply has to be stopped, even if it means stretching a point here and there to communicate the nature of the menace.
Climb inside the head of either John Rambo or Will Teasle and the thing makes sense. Only if you step back a way and use your own head do the questions occur: Is there a reasonable chance of winning at an acceptable cost? What have you won even if you win? Is there another way -- negotiations, perhaps?
In fact, the Nicaraguan drama is likely to end as unsatisfactorily as the movie, whether Congress gives up the $100 million or not -- with a lot of damage, a lot of deaths and precious little to show for it.
Oh, well. That's Hollywood.