In the 1960 movie “Spartacus,” after the Roman Army puts down a slave revolt, the Army Commander offers to pardon thousands of slaves from crucifixion on one condition: they must identify Spartacus, the leader of the revolt. Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) stands to give himself up, but as he says, “I am Spartacus,” so does another slave (Tony Curtis), followed by first one and then another. Eventually all the slaves are shouting proudly and defiantly “I am Spartacus.” It is a memorable display of heroism and solidarity.
Today, to declare “I am Spartacus” is to stand with those who are being wrongly accused or persecuted, no matter the cost.
Which brings us to Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, two Republican members of the House of Representatives who were recently censured by the Republican National Committee “for their behavior which has been destructive to the institution of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Republican Party and our republic, and is inconsistent with the position of the Conference.” The resolution, passed overwhelmingly by voice vote of the RNC’s 168 members, also describes the January 6th insurrection as “ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.”
If ever there was a moment for traditional Republicans to stand and declare “I am Liz Cheney. I am Adam Kinzinger,” it is now.
It hasn’t happened. No Republicans are saying “Enough.” No elected Republicans have declared that they will no longer align with the GOP until it comes to its senses.
Instead we are mostly getting “Twitter outrage” and strong statements released by PR operatives.
Utah Senator Mitt Romney used Twitter: “Shame falls on a party that would censure persons of conscience, who seek truth in the face of vitriol. Honor attaches to Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for seeking truth even when doing so comes at great personal cost.”
Nebraska Republican Senator Ben Sasse also Tweeted: “January 6th was not ‘legitimate political discourse’ and I’ll say it again: It was shameful mob violence to disrupt a constitutionally-mandated meeting of Congress to affirm the peaceful transfer of power.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said in a tweet, “It’s a sad day for my party—and the country—when you’re punished just for expressing your beliefs, standing on principle, and refusing to tell blatant lies.”
In her Tweet, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said that calling January 6th “legitimate political discourse” was “just wrong.” Murkowski also went on CNN and said, “When there is a conflict, when the party is taking an approach or saying things that I think are just absolutely wrong, I think it’s my responsibility as an Alaskan Senator, speaking out for Alaskans, to just speak the truth. The easier thing to do is just go along to get along, or just keep your mouth shut. But you know what, that’s not why we’re here.”
“The RNC is censuring Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger because they are trying to find out what happened on January 6th – HUH?” Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said in his Tweet.
Senator Susan Collins of Maine waited a few days and then issued a statement saying those “who assaulted police officers, broke windows and breached the Capitol were not engaged in legitimate political discourse, and to say otherwise is absurd.”
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a Trump critic who is not running for re-election, issued a statement through his PR team: “The Governor commends anyone who is willing to step forward and tell the truth, and disagrees with this vote. He has been clear that the January 6th riot was a violent insurrection and a sad day for democracy.”
Republican Senators John Cornyn (Texas), Shelley Moore Capito (West Virginia), Kevin Cramer (North Dakota), Roy Blunt (Missouri), Joni Ernst (Iowa), and Lindsay Graham (South Carolina) voiced mild criticism.
Former President George W. Bush has not been heard from.
Leading from behind, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell weighed in four days after the RNC action, calling January 6th “a violent insurrection for the purpose of trying to prevent the peaceful transfer of power, after a legitimately-certified election, from one administration to the next.” He went on to add, “The issue is whether or not the RNC should be sort of singling out members of our party who may have different views from the majority. That’s not the job of the RNC.”
In the film, the defiant slaves pay dearly for their act of courage. Because Spartacus was not identified, the Roman leader crucifies the slaves, saving just two to battle to the death, for the amusement of Roman citizens–with the victor then to be crucified.
Spartacus, the slave leader, learned an important lesson from what had happened: “When just one man says ‘No, I won’t,’ Rome begins to fear. And we were tens of thousands who said ‘No,’ and that was the wonder of it.”
While no Republicans would be literally crucified for publicly declaring “I am Liz Cheney. I am Adam Kinzinger,” they would, of course, be excoriated by Fox News and other right wing voices. But if several dozen prominent elected Republicans found the courage to declare “I am Liz Cheney. I am Adam Kinzinger,” they might very well emerge strong enough to rebuild the Grand Old Party. It certainly would not take ‘tens of thousands’ to halt the downward spiral the Republican Party has taken under Donald Trump.
But don’t hold your breath. Today’s Republicans and the slaves of “Spartacus” differ in two crucial respects. The courageous slaves in the film are being held in slavery against their will. Today’s frightened Republicans have chosen to be slaves. Their bondage is voluntary!
We won’t hear Republicans declaiming lines from “Spartacus,” although we may hear one memorable line from “Gone With The Wind:”
“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!”