FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Movie Warns Us

by SAUL LANDAU

Occupy Wall Street activists everywhere agree: the system has become dysfunctional. The angst – or anger — among citizens reaches beyond economic collapse and the government’s inability to improve the situation. Frustration and puzzlement persist: why do Presidents keep initiating wars in remote places? Why does Congress back them? Its Members, like robots, then pledge support for our troops – about whom few give a damn. Where is integrity, honesty, courage? Not in politics.

Most Americans don’t vote – a sign of indifference, or distaste for politics. In school I learned politics determines who gets what from the budgets. Our teachers taught us to consider this when we vote for mayor, city council and on up. Democracy!

In June, 16 percent of Miami’s 1.2 million voters cast ballots for mayor. In St. George, Utah, 12% voted in the recent primary elections. In 1996, 49% turned out for the presidential election.

The US uniquely holds elections on Tuesday, during the working week not like other countries who use Sunday; Friday, the holy day in Muslim countries). Republicans like low-voter turnouts. They don’t want the poor and working classes to vote. Democrats have difficulty convincing those classes they represent them.

We read about politicians in brothels, taking money and favors from special interests, or just diddling in the Oval Office. The media inspects the private lives of elected public officials, but does not scrutinize their ideas or principals. Compare the attention given to Clinton’s Monica romp with his decision to de-regulate banks. The former had nothing to do with us; the latter cost us dearly.

The media has reduced politics to personalities, but much of the nation still craves a candidate with integrity, like those our grade school and high school teachers imagined when they glowingly explained our superior political system.

George Clooney’s new film takes us beyond school-taught political science and into the reality of murky deal-cutting arenas (dark rooms and bedrooms, a large office space with three men huddled around a bridge table), the sets for the putrid dialogue of political campaigns.

“The Ides of March” – poor Julius Caesar — warns us: the US electoral system faces danger. Rot has penetrated into the crevices of the structure – beginning with the primary election process, the choosing of presidential candidates.

The film shows how a bright aspirant for President faces tests of integrity, more difficult than those God placed on Job to prove his faith. He — no one — cannot pass them.

Clooney’s and Grant Heslov’s script pits two Democratic rivals and their veteran campaign managers in the key Ohio primary. The winner gets the nomination.

We hear noble speeches, but out of public view we see that morality and virtue have no place in the series of demands made on the candidates. Integrity, truth, and honor – indeed any esteemed values – have little to do with decisions on winning elections. The candidates must dance between ambition and loyalty, powerful lust for young women and family values. Emotional betrayal becomes one price paid for victory.

Power! Political contenders and staff enjoy abusing it, while mouthing lofty words. In this back room of US politics Governor Mike Morris’ (Clooney) campaign manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) proclaims: “I value loyalty over everything.” Paul illustrates this moral high ground stance with an anecdote about how his loyalty “paid off.” Indeed, no character in the film holds allegiance to another person, much less an ideal.

“The Ides of March” uses traditional plot-grammar of Hollywood to dramatize the lowly details of a broken political system. Press aide Steve Myers (Ryan Gosling) sees Governor Morris as the idealistic and realistic answer to the issues. As his media spinner he promotes the man he believes in, while Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei), a New York Times campaign-trail reporter, scoffs at Steve’s innocence. For her Morris is just one more politician.

We all now know about heroic candidates who disappoint as Presidents. The movie dispels illusions by showing the sewage heap surrounding candidate selection, a setting that rules out “honesty” and “integrity.” The candidate sells a line. Eager Americans yearning to satisfy their democratic sensibilities see the candidate as the agency to heal the citizens’ wounds: endless wars, terror threats, diminishing liberties, widening wealth gap, declining education, eroding infrastructure and climate change.

A real Mike Morris? Hey, we have one in the White House, a tolerant liberal who can’t deal with aggressive right wing attacks. The film even refers to Rush Limbaugh and fellow radio bombasts calling for Republicans and Independents to vote in the Ohio Democratic primary so the more beatable candidate will emerge.

Sex, of course, also enters the plot – flashes of Bill Clinton! Discovering that his innocent babe (intern) has something going with their boss, Myers loses his zeal – for the boss and his job. In fact, the film shows Myers’ true character emerging from his unpleasant finding. He uses idealistic rhetoric to cover the sordidness hidden in his heart and soul. The character flaws coincide with the image of Democracy drowning in the muck of money and media madness. Baseness at the foundation of politics, The Ides of March cautions, disguises real political choice – long before presidential elections.

The deal triumphs over the ideal. US democracy in action means, as one film character says, “A president can start wars, lie, cheat, drive the country into bankruptcy, and in general do anything he wants — but he can’t fuck an intern.”

What a job description!

Saul Landau’s WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP screens at the University of North Carolina on November  9. DVDs available from cinemalibrestore.com. Counterpunch published his BUSH AND BOTOX 

SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.

Weekend Edition
February 12-14, 2016
Andrew Levine
What Next in the War on Clintonism?
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Comedy of Terrors: When in Doubt, Bomb Syria
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh – Anthony A. Gabb
Financial Oligarchy vs. Feudal Aristocracy
Paul Street
When Plan A Meets Plan B: Talking Politics and Revolution with the Green Party’s Jill Stein
Rob Urie
The (Political) Season of Our Discontent
Pepe Escobar
It Takes a Greek to Save Europa
Gerald Sussman
Why Hillary Clinton Spells Democratic Party Defeat
Carol Norris
What Do Hillary’s Women Want? A Psychologist on the Clinton Campaign’s Women’s Club Strategy
Robert Fantina
The U.S. Election: Any Good News for Palestine?
Linda Pentz Gunter
Radioactive Handouts: the Nuclear Subsidies Buried Inside Obama’s “Clean” Energy Budget
Michael Welton
Lenin, Putin and Me
Manuel García, Jr.
Fire in the Hole: Bernie and the Cracks in the Neo-Liberal Lid
Thomas Stephens
The Flint River Lead Poisoning Catastrophe in Historical Perspective
David Rosen
When Trump Confronted a Transgender Beauty
Will Parrish
Cap and Clear-Cut
Victor Grossman
Coming Cutthroats and Parting Pirates
Ben Terrall
Raw Deals: Challenging the Sharing Economy
David Yearsley
Beyoncé’s Super Bowl Formation: Form-Fitting Uniforms of Revolution and Commerce
David Mattson
Divvying Up the Dead: Grizzly Bears in a Post-ESA World
Matthew Stevenson
Confessions of a Primary Insider
Jeff Mackler
Friedrichs v. U.S. Public Employee Unions
Franklin Lamb
Notes From Tehran: Trump, the Iranian Elections and the End of Sanctions
Pete Dolack
More Unemployment and Less Security
Christopher Brauchli
The Cruzifiction of Michael Wayne Haley
Bill Quigley
Law on the Margins: a Profile of Social Justice Lawyer Chaumtoli Huq
Uri Avnery
A Lady With a Smile
Katja Kipping
The Opposite of Transparency: What I Didn’t Read in the TIPP Reading Room
B. R. Gowani
Hellish Woman: ISIS’s Granny Endorses Hillary
Kent Paterson
The Futures of Whales and Humans in Mexico
James Heddle
Why the Current Nuclear Showdown in California Should Matter to You
Michael Howard
Hollywood’s Grotesque Animal Abuse
Steven Gorelick
Branding Tradition: a Bittersweet Tale of Capitalism at Work
Nozomi Hayase
Assange’s UN Victory and Redemption of the West
Patrick Bond
World Bank Punches South Africa’s Poor, by Ignoring the Rich
Mel Gurtov
Is US-Russia Engagement Still Possible?
Dan Bacher
Governor Jerry Brown Receives Cold, Dead Fish Award Four Years In A Row
Wolfgang Lieberknecht
Fighting and Protecting Refugees
Jennifer Matsui
Doglegs, An Unforgettable Film
Soud Sharabani
Israeli Myths: An Interview with Ramzy Baroud
Terry Simons
Bernie? Why Not?
Missy Comley Beattie
When Thoughtful People Think Illogically
Christy Rodgers
Everywhere is War: Luke Mogelson’s These Heroic, Happy Dead: Stories
Ron Jacobs
Springsteen: Rockin’ the House in Albany, NY
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“The Martian”: This Heroism is for Chinese Viewers Too
Charles R. Larson
No Brainers: When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail