Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"Von" Ryan's Express

Though not a student of popular culture, I have been known to enjoy a good movie now and then. While certainly not one of the greats, one that I seldom pass by when it's shown on TV is the 1965 Mark Robson film starring Frank Sinatra and Trevor Howard, "Von Ryan's Express". 

For those of you who have never seen it, it's the story of an American P-38 pilot (Col. Joseph Ryan) who's shot down and captured by the Italians. Sent to a prisoner-of-war camp in Italy, he joins a number of British troops that have been incarcerated there for some time. 

 Apparently now content to sit out the war himself, Colonel Ryan shows the Italians escape tunnels that his fellow prisoners have been working on in order to see medicine and clothing properly distributed to them. When soon after this apparently traitorous act, the Italians surrender to Allied troops and the guards flee, they leave behind the brutal Italian commandant "Battaglia" who Ryan spares when prisoners want to hang him. 

When German troops move in to take over the camp, the once contrite Battaglia cheers as they place the prisoners on a train for Austria, shooting the sick ones and earning Sinatra the title of "Von Ryan". In a daring bid however, Ryan and the prisoners take over the train and attempt to use it to make a run to neutral Switzerland. One step ahead of a German troop train, they make a made dash through occupied territory on the Italian railroad system. Just as the train is about to reach the Swiss border however, and after repairing damaged track that will lead to freedom, Ryan is killed while running to catch up to the last car of the train ... and reach his goal. 

I couldn't help but think of this movie as I contemplated the fate of the 'Ryan Budget' in Washington DC. For those of you unfamiliar with this story, it's the tale of a Wisconsin Congressional Representative, long held captive by a House intent on imprisoning American taxpayers through rampant over-borrowing and over-spending. When few elected officials had the courage to do so, this Ryan committed the apparently traitorous act of attempting to solve the runaway cost problems of Social Security, Medicare, and Medcaid funding. By doing so, he has attempted to lead prisoners known as taxpayers out of the internment camp of spiraling debt and taxes. His plan may have its faults and may not properly cover all contingencies, but it carries the benefit of being the only realistic plan yet proposed in any detail to solve the problems. 

Like his movie counterpart (and I'm sure that Rep Ryan would not object to being compared to Sinatra in his heyday), this leader has likewise been demonized by many of those around him. And while those doing so present no practical alternative his plan, they seem intent on accusing him of "shooting the prisoners" personified by our aging and poor; making him the modern day version of 'Von Ryan'. This latest escape is making a desperate attempt to find its way through a hostile territory filled with subsidies, grants, and entitlements.  

It's pursued through Congress by a troop train full of deficit doves in both houses, with few having anything but evil intent for someone trying to lead these prisoners to some vestiges of long-term financial freedom. Intent on recapturing the American public and continuing to subject them to a 'sweatbox' of out-of-control bureaucracy, increasing regulation, and intensified government scrutiny; they pursue Ryan with little on their minds but preserving their own power and lavish lifestyles, while spending this country into bankruptcy. 

Still, Ryan at least attempts answers for a deficit more firmly entrenched than any opposing army. He at least strikes a blow against special interest spending that has warped what was once a free market, and confronts federal entitlement programs that will surely conquer us if we don't fight back now. Republicans in the House appear to already have the train moving down the tracks, passing this budget by a vote of 235-193; but there seems little hope that it will get far enough for a vote in the Senate, let alone passage. There seems even less hope for it to cross a border where an alternative plan will be discovered, let alone discussed. 

As for the President, he seems content to remain in command of the railroad, throwing rocks at the trains as they pass. Neither he nor his party appear able to give the same detailed strategy for escape, but feel free to demonize Ryan and his. While giving a number of recent speeches on his already launched 2012 campaign, President Obama has chosen to play the role of the Italian commandant Battaglia from the movie (played to the hilt by Adolfo Celi). One moment playing the victim and repudiating the fascism of the existing system, the next betraying the spirit of compromise that he claims to foster by his constant partisan sniping. 

I can only hope that the modern Ryan does not in the end, suffer the same fate of his movie counterpart. There are an awful lot of people taking shots at him, and while their aim may not be good, the law of averages (and Congressional history) certainly seems to be against him. There are few enough leaders in this country that appear willing to take such a risk and even fewer men of courage and intelligence in Congress today to lose one when we might actually be on the verge of freedom.

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