LOOKING AT SALEM: Ah, the Noble Martyr Dodging the Bullet . . . For Now

By Peter Toll

“What we’ve got here,” said the hard-boiled Southern prison captain with an ominous pause, “is failure to communicate.” What we have here, said the weathered observer of Salem’s political machinations, is not a failure to communicate. Instead, it is a failure to acknowledge defeat, admitting when you’ve lost, you’ve lost.

And that is a breakdown of the social contract by which we all live every day.

The prison overseer in the movie, actor Strother Martin, was the hard guy authority figure. The target of his nasty tone was actor Paul Newman playing a dedicated loner who drank too much and got caught taking a big-ass bolt cutter to a parking meter. 

Just another downtown evening for anti-social and dedicated arch anti-authority Newman. Mellow but undeterred. The movie was Cool Hand Luke, 1967, screenplay by Donn Pearce.

Oregon Republican state senators may’ve been watching this film on their own little retreat of late. Maybe it helped ’em get their backbones straighter. 

Or maybe they saw the movie from Oregonian Ken Kesey’s great book, “Sometimes a Great Notion.” Now if that film doesn’t make you put on your Big Boy Oregon Pants then nothing will.

Characters, long-time loggers, in the film are defending their way of life, the values they hold dear, the values they’ve sacrificed everything for. The Oregon Way. Who can’t identify with that?

Knowing they would lose the vote on a big bill, our Oregon GOP senators stood up for their own values in their own way by high-tailing it. They got their hats. And fast.

No sense getting into a fight you know you’re going to lose. We’re outta here.

All of which is to say that they did what they thought was best for their constituents, the voters they represent. All based on high moral values with an emphasis on individual regular folks just doing their best to get by.

But they forgot something, just as the heroic characters in these two great films did: They aren’t alone. Oregonians have chosen to operate though a constitution and a legislature designed to represent all the people in the state. 

No one is alone in our social compact. Especially elected officials whose obligation is to the entire state, first and to their own selfish interests and their constituents second. 

These Republicans, including four who represent parts of Clackamas County, are not doing right with their holier-than-thou walk away. They are terribly wrong. In fact, they are a disgrace.

The late movie star John Wayne is probably their hero. Hard to see him pulling a stunt like this in one of his All-American red-white-and blue films. 

This is not one of Oregon’s finest moments.