Bryan Caplan  

Two Observations on Milk

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I normally dislike movies based on true stories, but Milk is genuinely good.  Two observations and a question:

Observation 1.  I was disappointed that the infamous "Twinkie defense" and the Szaszian critique thereof got virtually no attention in the movie.  What a missed opportunity!

Observation 2.  If you want to embrace the virtue of libertarian friendliness, you can learn a lot from Milk's rhetorical approach.  Most movies about politicians - no matter how hagiographic - lead me to personally dislike the main character.  But Milk - or at least Sean Penn channeling Milk - was so cheerful and kind that he didn't feel like a normal politician.  Even when he praised rent control, I just wanted to sit him down and give him an intro econ lecture - not roll my eyes.  My point is not, of course, that you should trust friendly politicians (I don't), but that if you want to be an effective communicator, you should try to be as friendly as Harvey Milk.

Question: Who do you think Milk would have felt better about?  A libertarian who treated gays with respect but opposed anti-discrimination laws, or a typical 70s liberal who supported discrimination laws but treated gays with thinly-veiled disgust?

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COMMENTS (7 to date)
David R. Henderson writes:

I liked the movie a lot too. I saw him speak in late May or early June 1978. It was at a church in downtown SF and it was an event held by BACABI: the Bay Area Coalition Against the Briggs Initiative. The reason I was there is that my friend Roy Childs was in the libertarian part of that coalition and I went to see Roy speak. Milk had incredible charisma and the crowd--straight and gay, men and women--just ate him up. His friendliness was infectious.

Les writes:

Thanks for your interesting post about Harvey Milk. Good point about Hollywood missing the opportunity of featuring the "Twinkie defense."

But, to borrow a quote, Hollywood seldom misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

beamish writes:

Who do you think Milk would have felt better about? A mugger who treated gays with respect or a typical 70s libertarian who opposed anti-discrimination laws and treated gays with thinly veiled disgust?

SydB writes:

"typical 70s liberal who supported discrimination laws"

What typical 70s liberals supported discrimination laws?

Jacob Oost writes:

I once sat near Gus Van Sant at a showing of 2001 (he was in town for a retrospective of his films, but I didn't realize it was him until much later).

I missed the opportunity to give him a wedgie or something for his horrid Psycho "remake." :-)

Bryan, are you one of those peeps who goes to see all of the big Oscar nominees? I'm a film freak, but haven't given a rat's patootie about the Oscars since Return of the King. If Tree of Life gets some nominations, I may watch.

Karlsson writes:

I did not see the movie, but I find it interesting that they left out Milk's association and support of Jim Jones and Peoples Temple. I thought you might have been tougher on the movie for this point alone Bryan.

Scott Wentland writes:

I also liked the movie more than I thought I would, partly for the same reasons you describe.

To answer your question, it appeared like Harvey Milk tried to work with Dan White precisely because Dan White treated him with respect (or at least more respect than other conservative politicians at the time). He knew Dan White disagreed with his positions (much like a libertarian who might not support anti-discrimination laws), but he tried to work with him and possibly liked him more because of this respect.

Of course, Dan White went crazy and killed him...but at least prior to that it seems like the movie supports the former.

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