Mark Ellis
The un-wounded warrior
By Mark Ellis
November 17, 2011

The other night while paying bills and watching Hannity, I heard conservative actor and singer Robert Davi say something from the Great American Panel that made me sit up and take notice.

He was trying to inject the idea of the wounded archetype into an otherwise typical political discussion about why Mitt Romney has failed to resonate strongly with the Republican and center-right Independent electorate.

His comment was offered in the context of mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell's groundbreaking work fleshing out what Jungian scholars and storytellers know as the Hero's Journey. Campbell theorized about how archetypal characters, traits, and situations rooted in stories serve as guideposts which preexist deep within the human subconscious.

Davi's evocation of Campbell's Journey was far removed from the usual empirical and rhetorical fare of cable politics, and was quickly passed over in favor of a return to more conventional discourse and analysis. But not before Davi, who has appeared in such films as Die Hard and The Goonies and who has just released his new CD, Davi Sings Sinatra, got his key point across: The reason Romney remains in a 25% glide pattern is because he bears no identifiable, relatable wound.

I understood immediately, and saw that in the context of Campbell's work, Davi is right.

Wounds make characters, people and leaders more human, and more sympathetic. We relate to the wounded because they mirror our own wounds and offer us the opportunity to show compassion. We celebrate those who have survived wounds because such survival shows strength. It's hard to deny that the former Massachusetts governor seems a man unscathed.

In the cases of one of our greatest presidents, Lincoln, and most popular, Kennedy, their ultimately fatal wounding enshrined them in the archetypal mind beyond the historical significance of their presidencies. FDR's paralysis from polio was kept hidden during his four terms in office, but as the extent of that paralysis became known after his death it bolstered his legacy as an iconic leader.

With Richard Nixon the paradigm changes. There is a difference between wounding and wounds inflicted upon the self due to a question of character. Self-inflicted wounds divert us from the Hero's path, and toward more cerebral calculations. Nixon was on his way to being recognized as a good if not great president, until Watergate.

The case of Ronald Reagan offers the best illustration of the power of wounding to elevate a leader who is already revered and beloved into near-spiritual realms. When The Gipper looked up from the operating table and told the surgeons, "I hope you're all Republicans," he embodied the sympathetically wounded Hero. When he survived he became, in terms of archetype, the nation's Great Father.

A wound can be a troubled childhood, as in the case of Bill Clinton, but it can also be something that happens later in life that is perceived as a wounding. In the view of most Friends of Bill and even for many who had little use for him, his 1998 impeachment was unwarranted given the nature of his indiscretions. This had a rallying effect for some. Obviously our interpretation of the fates of archetypal figures can be influenced by our own biases.

Given the troubled history of race relations in this country, I think Campbell would agree that President Obama's "wound" is his ethnicity. His victory was a triumph over the perception of race discrimination in America. Even influential conservatives like Sean Hannity see value in the election of our first African-American president.

This brings us to Governor Romney, the un-wounded warrior. As Davi attempted to point out, this perception that Romney has had too easy a ride may partially explain the tepid response to his candidacy.

But before we write Romney off as too vanilla, too country club, too slick, or too moderate, we need to remember that Campbell explored other traits, other archetypal characteristics in his theories. Intelligence, diplomacy, attractiveness, innovativeness, effectiveness and successfulness are but a few which candidate Romney possesses.

His story has already begun its Campbell-esque trajectory — he is embarking on the challenge of a lifetime. If that trajectory holds, he will encounter news-bringing heralds and merciless jokesters, will enter the innermost cave and reach his darkest hour. He may ride to victory unscathed, or not.

Hopefully, one aspect of the Romney narrative should already be written in stone: If he gets the nomination it will be the duty of every Republican, every conservative, and every citizen worried about the trajectory of the American story, to support him on his journey to the White House.

© Mark Ellis


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