As Winter Storm Jonas made its way across the northeastern United States in late January, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) made news with his awkward-yet-delightful livestream of the resulting snowfall in Washington, D.C. This event begged two very important questions — was the song looped over the video a house version of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing,” and was it part of Ryan’s gym mix? Neither was answered, but the dutiful politician provided the internet with yet another question worth asking on Friday — why does he love the film Braveheart so much?
In an email blast titled “Braveheart Was Right,” which was also posted to the official website of the Speaker’s office, Ryan’s Digital Communications Director Caleb Smith invoked the almighty power of William Wallace (Mel Gibson) to “unite the clans.” No, seriously, that is precisely what Ryan said during his address at a conservative conference on Feb. 3. And to make the message even clearer, Smith — with Ryan’s approval, of course — emailed everyone on the listserv to remind them about the Speaker’s insistence that…
“…the agenda will be a bottom-up, organic effort, driven by the people’s representatives and their committees. Building a movement — particularly one based on such an inclusive approach — takes time, but as Braveheart reminds us, it’s all worth it in the fight for ‘freeeeedooooooooom.'”
Both the email and the post also included a chest-pumping, we’re-all-in-this-together GIF from a pivotal scene in the movie.
Okay, but what the hell does any of this talk about Braveheart and uniting clans have to do with contemporary American politics?
Twelve hours before Ryan told the conference crowd “we have to unite the clans” per Braveheart‘s… “fine” example, the Speaker of the House met with more than 25 members of the so-called Freedom Caucus late Tuesday, Feb. 2 for a meeting in his office. The purpose? According to the Huffington Post, Ryan told everyone gathered that “if Republicans want to pass appropriations bills this year, they have to accept the budget number that leaders from both parties agreed to at the end of October.” This meant that the caucus’ more fiscally conservative members, who had a hand in the 2013 government shutdown and renewed threats to do the same in 2015, would have to agree to budgetary decisions to counter the more responsible measures their group has espoused for the past few years.
Many in the Freedom Caucus aren’t happy with Ryan’s efforts to win their votes, and some even told Huffington Post they wouldn’t support anything that resulted from Ryan’s bipartisan efforts to approve the budget. Hence the Speaker’s comments the following day, as well as their repetition in Friday’s email blast and website post. Their intent is to spur House Republicans into uniting together in order to pass the budget and, once that’s done, accomplish their own party line-specific agendas after.
There’s just one tiny problem with Ryan’s scene reference, as well as the GIF Smith chose to heighten it. Robert the Bruce (Angus Macfadyen), the man whom Wallace delivers his “unite the clans” line and clasps hands with, betrays him in the film.
Plus there’s the matter of the loaded term “clans,” which Twitter had a field day with.