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Captain America’s embroiled in a whole different controversy these days, but some real-world analysts remember the last time he got mixed up in a political back-and-forth: Marvel’s Civil War. Back then, Cap took up arms against Iron Man’s Superhero Registration Act, which required super-people to be registered, regulated and trained by the government. And this time, it’s liberals who are calling Cap out about it.
In a post that kicks off with a take on this week’s tea-party tantrum, national security blogger Spencer Ackerman of the progressive site Firedoglake argues that Iron Man and the pro-Registration side of the superhero Civil War were in the right:
[…] what Iron Man was really saying was no different than the uncontroversial principle that the state needs a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. When Cap launched his “the government will pick the supervillains” monologue, I was surprised that someone — like She-Hulk, who’s a lawyer — didn’t reply, “Wait, no. We have laws criminalizing certain behavior. We’ll have to follow those laws. That’s why the cops and the firefighters and the military and the intelligence communities don’t just go around legally killing members of the out-of-power party. Why would we be any different?”
Ackerman argues that by making Captain America, the living symbol of American patriotism, the leader of the anti-Registration side, Marvel stacked the emotional deck against Tony Stark even though the facts were in his favor.
Left-leaning economics and domestic-policy blogger Ezra Klein of the Washington Post agrees, and makes his case even more bluntly than Ackerman:
Iron Man was unequivocally right in the argument over superhero registration. I’m not even sure what the case for the other side is, and the libertarians I’ve asked haven’t been able to come up with one. If the state has any legitimate function at all, it’s to train and regulate people who could accidentally kill everyone in a hundred-mile radius.
For the record, I agree completely, and I’ve ranted and raved about this ever since the Civil War broke out. All Iron Man was calling for in the Superhuman Registration Act was for the government to exercise the sort of control over superpowered vigilantes that they have over the police, military, and intelligence agencies. When Captain America rebelled against this, he was basically fighting for the right for him and his chums to be able to toss Doctor Octopus or whoever into a city bus with less government oversight than a 16-year-old learning to drive or the nice lady who runs the nail salon at the strip mall around the block. But Marvel relentlessly loaded its Civil War comics with cues that Cap was the good guy and Iron Man was bad, from comparing the SHRA to internment camps and Guantanamo Bay, to giving Cap the more sympathetic side of the “freedom vs. security” debate for which Civil War was a broad-strokes metaphor (keep in mind that in the real world, the leader of the “security” side was George W. Bush), to making Stark act like a tyrannical tool for no reason (J. Michael Straczynski’s Amazing Spider-Man Civil War tie-in storyline, I’m looking in your direction), to simply giving the anti-Reg side much cooler superheroes. Captain America, Spider-Man, Luke Cage, the Thing, the Young Avengers, and the Punisher vs. pre-Robert Downey Jr. Iron Man, Mister Fantastic, Hank Pym, Ms. Marvel, Norman freaking Osborn, and a psychotic Thor clone? Yeah, no bias there.
You ended up almost having to root for Captain American against the increasingly unlikeable Iron Man, even though Cap was wrong on the issues. Fortunately, our nation’s pundit class is setting the historical record straight.