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May 28th, 2017

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Five Lessons for Lawmakers From 'American Sniper'

Laura Hollis

By Laura Hollis

Published Jan. 30, 2015

On the heels of another public display of bungled leadership by congressional Republicans (pulling a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks — an initiative which enjoys broad support among American voters), they should take a page from director Clint Eastwood and his recent blockbuster, "American Sniper." The movie's enormous popularity tells us some things about Americans that the GOP should heed:

1. Americans still love a good hero and accept that he has clay feet

After the abuse Vietnam War veterans endured upon returning home, Americans have compensated by showing at every opportunity that we support our men and women in the armed forces. But some of our most vocal elites continue to take satisfaction in criticizing the military and condescending to those who support it. In the case of "American Sniper," critics point out the fallibilities and shortcomings of Chris Kyle, the protagonist of the film, as if that takes away from his service and his bravery. It does not. He was a flawed man — we get it. Americans are capable of comprehending complex realities.

2. Support for the military is not inconsistent with distaste for war and violence

Similarly, critics of "American Sniper" complain that the film glorifies war. This is de rigueur in leftist circles. Eastwood spoke publicly to this criticism, pointing out that the film is about the painful realities of war and its aftermath for Kyle and his family. Americans — particularly those with military members in their families — understand these truths very well. But we also understand that all wars are not equal; some things are worth fighting for; and some people will have to do the fighting.

3. When Americans push back, the Left backs down.

When director Michael Moore tweeted that snipers were "cowards" and actor Seth Rogan compared "American Sniper" to the Nazis in "Inglourious Basterds," both men were harshly criticized and derided on social media, and both backed down from their earlier statements. In a later Facebook post, Moore explained that his family members had served during World War II and that he was describing German snipers. But that explanation appears to equate a soldier fighting for the Nazis and a soldier fighting for the United States. Hollywood might subscribe to moral equivalence, but most Americans don't.

4. These are majority values, and Americans are tired of them being mocked, maligned and mischaracterized

Notwithstanding the condescension of our media elites, Americans support people, programs and products that reflect their values. Across the country, showings Of "American Sniper" are selling out, necessitating long lines and advance purchases. The film has grossed nearly $250M in just two weeks, breaking all records for winter film releases, including the (also surprise) blockbuster, "The Passion of the Christ."

This is not just an entertainment phenomenon. Following the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, Americans donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to businesses — many owned by African-Americans — to help them rebuild. Conservative radio giant Rush Limbaugh promoted their GoFundMe sites on his talk show. And yet some liberal writers called Tea Partiers and conservatives "unlikely" sources of support for black business. This is part and parcel of the same Progressive meme that mischaracterizes the motivations of conservative Americans — and they are tired of it.

5. Take your message directly to the people

Clint Eastwood has never cared what the rest of Hollywood thinks about his pictures or his public persona. He makes the films he believes in. Americans have rewarded him richly.

The GOP — and its leadership — should take a cue from this. Even your opponents will respect you if they know that you stand up for what you believe in. More importantly (at least if you care about winning elections), you cannot lead and you will not win by watering your core message down to the point where it offends no one. (Imagine if Eastwood had tried to direct "American Sniper" by avoiding offending anyone that might see it.) Republicans at the national level have allowed themselves to be so cowed by lefty press pundits and Hollywood blowhards that they no longer see the powerful and diverse constituents they were elected to represent, or realize the dominance of the values those voters hold.

As Clint Eastwood has demonstrated, the most confident artists take their message directly to the public without allowing others to filter that message. Republican politicians would enjoy much more success if they did the same.

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Laura Hirschfeld Hollis is on the faculty at the University of Notre Dame, where she teaches courses in business law and entrepreneurship. She has received numerous awards for her teaching, research, community service and contributions to entrepreneurship education.

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