Of Bandits and Zealots

Hill Spill

WHY DIDN'T anyone filch a few hundred grand?

Among the unanswered questions of the "Iranamuck" scandal, this is the one that really nags the nation.

With millions and millions of dollars lying around, and no one keeping track of just how many millions there were, it was un-American not to skim off just a little.

Administration apologists say that the big difference between what the President has called the current "shenanigans" and the last big presidential spaz attack is that this time no one was playing dirty politics. This time, the President's men did what they did for the good of the country. There wasn't any thievery. No one even dreamed of putting a little green in his pocket. Not once. Nope.

Things might have gotten a little out of hand, but it was only because a "national hero" lost sight of a few things like the Constitution and the U.S. Congress in his zeal to export the American way of life.

That's not much to brag about. But it's about all the Reagan Administration has. The Administration apparently believes the American people will forgive zealousness more readily than thievery.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Remember Jesse James? He was the outlaw who knocked off trains, shot innumerable law men and stars in movies that air after Letterman.

In light of what we all profess to think about guys who knock of trains and kill officers of the law, it's pretty surprising that many of us know the song about the James Brothers--the one with the verse about the "dirty little coward" who killed Mr. James. And is there anyone who hasn't rooted for Paul Newman and Robert Redford against the marshals who would keep Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid from living it up on stolen loot?

"Get the money," we are told even though most of it is locked up on someone else's train.

We all admire Jesse, Butch and Sundance just a little bit. We wish, just a little bit, that we too had the guts to line our own pockets with ill-gotten gain. Given the scarcity of unguarded trains and the faintheartedness of most of us, the outlaw lurking in a corner of our psyches is not really cause for worry. It's part of what makes Americans so much fun.

THERE ARE A LOT of things America finds more disturbing than a likeable cowboy--even if the cowboy happens to be a murdering bandit. One of those things is "the dirty little coward." The creature had crazed eyes, relentlessly pursued James across the West and mortified himself by sleeping in stables. No one really seemed to care that he had finally made Jesse pay for his crimes.

It could be that the American people fear such zealots because they have been history's worst monsters, the ones who wouldn't stop until they had rolled over a whole continent, the ones who couldn't be bought off.

This doesn't bode well for Messrs. MacFarlane, North and Poindexter, who, for the sake of their cause, resisted all temptation to raid the till.

America hasn't treated the three, or their beleaguered boss, with much indulgence. If the team expects the balladeers to start celebrating their unbounded patriotism, they're likely to be disappointed.

Of course, if Hollywood learned that the colonel syphoned a few of the Ayatollah's bucks and planned to abscond to Bolivia, it would make a movie. And North and Poindexter would become the new Redford and Newman.