Thursday, March 13, 2008

Everything Is Under Control

There's a terrific movie from the late 90s that's been on my mind quite a bit over the past couple of days.

David Fincher's wonderfully creepy gem The Game had the misfortune of falling between the director's masterworks -- it was released after Se7en and before Fight Club -- and as such is now largely overlooked. For those who haven't seen it, the film stars Michael Douglas as an icy corporate baron whose perfectly self-structured life begins to unravel after his brother, played by Sean Penn, enrolls him in a mysterious "game," supposedly for the purpose of helping him relax. Douglas's character is initially told that he'll never know exactly when the game -- which has been specifically tailored to his personality -- begins. But what starts as a series of seemingly harmless pranks eventually turns sadistic and terrifying, with the main character running for his life, unable to tell what's real, what isn't, or how to make any of it stop.

The movie never fails to breathe with an uncomfortable sense of dread, despite the fact that its entire storyline -- every frightening twist and turn -- can be negated by the viewer with one single thought:

None of this is real. It's all part of the game.

Last night in Washington DC, Hillary Clinton prostrated herself before a gathering of black newspaper publishers, unleashing a torrent of apologies for recent comments made by Geraldine Ferraro -- the perpetually irritable former presidential candidate who until yesterday was an honorary member of the Clinton campaign. Over the past few weeks, Ferraro has regaled anyone willing to listen with her theory that Barack Obama owes his current political fortunes to the color of his skin, saying that if he were white, or a woman, voters wouldn't be paying attention to him. Although Ferraro has resigned her position with Camp Clinton, telling Hillary that she doesn't want to see the campaign damaged by unnecessary controversy, she's anything but contrite. Last night on NBC, not long before Keith Olbermann's brutal on-air denunciation of her comments, Ferraro arrogantly insisted that she was the victim of a witch hunt and that it was the Obama camp who owed her an apology. She's gone on to say that she's under attack for being white and that Obama supporters are attempting to violate her first amendment rights -- rights she plans to continue exercising now that she's gone Ronin from the Clinton campaign proper.

While I admire Ferraro's tenacity and refusal to offer up the traditional insincere apology, a firm spine doesn't necessarily prove the existence of a functional brain: What Ferraro said was astonishingly stupid.

But here's the thing -- it was also completely predictable.

Despite her well-deserved status as a trailblazer in politics, Geraldine Ferraro is one of the Beltway's most infamous loose cannons. She's a reliable fountain of bitter rhetoric and a stubbornly pious crusader for her own brand of logic. She's the political Terminator: She won't listen to reason and she can't be bargained with once she's acquired her target, whatever or whomever that may be. What's important though is that she's been this way for decades. Geraldine Ferraro isn't some untested neophyte with stars in her eyes and a blank slate for a reputation, and Hillary Clinton knew as much when she brought her on-board the campaign. Clinton was well aware of what kind of product she was buying from the very beginning -- and make no mistake, she got exactly what she wanted. Taking a page from her legal background, she implicitly allowed for a pejorative statement to be made in court that would sway the jury, but from which she could officially distance herself. Clinton now has the best of both worlds: An "evil twin" doing the dirty work -- raising the vilest of bullshit controversies to anxious voters -- and not simply clean hands but the added benefit of being able to play both ends against the middle by publicly repudiating the actions of the other half.

We've seen this before from the Clintons -- many times. It smacks of the kind of political opportunism and self-satisfied aren't-we-clever machinations for which they've become legendary.

There's the chance that I'm wrong about all of this, of course -- that Hillary Clinton gave no more thought to hiring Geraldine Ferraro than she would have to any other heavyweight ally, and that she was as repulsed by Ferraro's ridiculous comments as the rest of us.

But how can anyone tell anymore?

At this point, is it really so foolish to assume that everything we see is just part of the game?


slouchmonkey said...

You are so bitchin for referencing the Terminator!

VOTAR said...

I'll risk wondering this out loud: was there no veracity to what Ferraro said? Her comments may have been stupid in a political sense, given how everyone now is following the Al Sharpton playbook of the over-sensitive perpetually aggrieved, but think back: before The Oprah anointed him with her blessing a year and a half ago, had any of us ever heard of this guy? Do you think she would have offered the same endorsement to Al Gore, or Joe Biden, or John Edwards (whose very name is the embodiment of "same old generic white guy politician")?

Whether it makes us uncomfortable to admit it or not, America collectively is fascinated with Obama because he is an aberration. The foundation of his candidacy is its unprecedented uniqueness. The fact that we have never seen anything like this before in our history is the core message of his campaign, and although it's easy to feign indignation at the idea that it would not be so for any one of the "same old generic white guy politicians" we'd otherwise have to choose from this time, Obama supporters (among whom I tentatively find myself, just so everyone is clear) can't have it both ways. He's gotten this far at least partly because he's so different than what we've had to endure for so long that we're willing to take the very obvious huge risk of putting our lives in his hands, just for a chance at a "change we can believe in." It may be politically incorrect to say so out loud, but it's honest nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

God, if only I could believe it was just a game. I mean, I'm sure it is for them...

but not for the rest of us.

RusSCF said...

I think a lot of Obama's popularity is due to the (lack of) competition. Most of the other democratic contenders were marginalized by the media before the campaign even started, even Edwards was getting a lot less coverage than Obama and Clinton from the get go.

So we're left with a choice of 100-years-of-war, world class flip-flopper McCain, or Billary. Compared to those two, almost anybody looks good.

And another kudos to Chez for the Terminator/Ferraro comparison, nicely done!

Rob P said...

votar: As an Obama supporter, I'll be the first to say that there are definitely political advantages to Obama's race. Ferraro is like the college football coach who said "We need more black guys" at a press conference. Everybody knows it, but that doesn't mean you say it.

Aaron X said...

Given the calculating manipulative nature of Hillary Clinton and those running her campaign, I'd say it's highly likely that this whole Geraldine Ferraro incident was orchestrated, that she decided to take one for the team, in order to start this race debate once again. Notice that she's gone on every network morning show out there in order to elicit sympathy for the poor little white girls who are being attacked unfairly by the big bad Black man.

A tactic that will play well with the conservative working-class Blue Dog Democrats of Pennsylvania, who are quick to jump on board with anyone interested in playing the racial politics of Black against White, because they feel they've been victimized by terrible inequities, like affirmative action that have granted African-Americans special privilege in this country. Ferraro's attack seems specifically intended to portray Barack Obama as the affirmative action candidate, much as Clinton's condescending offers of the vice presidents seat have attempted to do. The Clinton campaign apparently hopes that this fantasy they are attempting to construct in the minds of voters will overshadow the facts, facts like Obama being significantly and almost insurmountably ahead in the elected delegate count, the popular vote, and the number of states won.

What we see here is Hillary Clinton and the Clinton campaign morphing into a new Neo-Republican branch of the Democratic Party. The Clintons would demolish the their own party and perhaps even the nation itself in their maniacal pursuit of power.

Notice as well how all the major networks are eager to spread the blame equally between the Clinton and Obama camps for this playing of the "race card," even though it's never the Obama campaign that initiates this crap, apparently that's the media's idea of a fair and balanced approach to addressing this issue. A sorry example of journalism if you ask me.

Alysa hears a who said...

Votar - how about the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and Obama's keynote address? I sure as hell knew him long before Oprah, and I dare say so did many others.

Aaron X said...

Fantastic must read article on Hillary Clinton, this campaign and feminism.

Hell hath no fury

A Bowl Of Stupid said...

"But how can anyone tell anymore?"

Same way as in the movie ... make 'em jump off a roof.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article. Only thing...things are very not under control.

VOTAR said...

Alysa you make my point for me. I remember that speech, and I remember thinking it was quite good. Aside from that, what else? People reduce their understanding of politicians to Jungian archetypes. We are less concerned with the details and the statistics than we are with the label. People remember the t-shirt slogans easier than the campaign platform. For example, Bob Dole was the guy who ran for president despite having a stalk of broccoli in the place of a usable arm, erectile dysfunction, and an odd compulsion to refer to himself in third person. The average American will fail any test of knowledge of his accomplishments as a senator.

Likewise, in general, the attention span for most Americans pretty much stops at "Barack Obama is that black guy running for president." Few really know what his accomplishments are, and fewer care. It's enough that he is a phenomenon the country has never experienced before, and it's disingenuous to deny that this is a huge part of his popularity.

Terry McCarty said...

What we see here is Hillary Clinton and the Clinton campaign morphing into a new Neo-Republican branch of the Democratic Party. The Clintons would demolish the their own party and perhaps even the nation itself in their maniacal pursuit of power.

That's been happening since 1992. I'm always surprised how little attention is paid to the machinations of the Neo-Republican Democratic Leadership Council.

Nightmare said...

Did n't the same thing happen 15 years ago, when Issah Thomas said that the only reason Larry Bird was good was because he was white, and if he was black he would just be average?

Maybe Geraldine just likes basketball? Or at the very least Basketball players!

Can you imagine Charles Barkley giving the ol' Mandingo Weiner" to Geraldine...jesus I creeped myself out.

Anonymous said...

For someone who considers himself the purveyor of all that is ballsy and truthful, how can you NOT see the truth to what Ferraro said?

I think your disgust with the Clintons has tarnished your sense of irony. And for seeing some things for the way they are...

Before you spew on for your love for Barack, I ask you to list ten REAL accomplishments he has under his belt (without bashing Hillary in the process).

Then, ask yourself - are whatever accomplishments you come up with enough to be elected president?

Your move, Chez.

Gregg - supporter of Hillary and political realism.

Chez said...

Political realism. That's good -- really.

Look Gregg, it's not my move because I've stated my case enough over the past week or so and have made my points crystal clear. Add to that the fact that my sole purpose here is not to engage in some onoing debate about this with you; I don't feel that I need to make myself available to defend any of my positions 24/7 since I'm pretty damn sure my columns do that for me.

Chances are you'll call my unwillingness to play your slightly irrelevant game cowardice. Trust me, I won't lose any sleep over that.

Anonymous said...

Aaron X:

Scheming and conniving to "start this race debate once again" - really???

From down here in the southland, where there also are many "conservative, working class" folks and where "this race debate" never freakin' ends - - I just want to say "God damn America."

(And no, you don't have to admit you heard that until you begin to run for President.)

Anonymous said...

Your columns really haven't outlined anything substantive in terms of why you support Barack. What has come across is your support for Barack because of your distrust and hatred for Hillary.

What Ferraro was saying - and what I was asking you - is to take the time to imagine Barack's "accomplishments" on let's say, a white guy, and then ask if you think it's really enough to lead this country out of the quagmire it's currently festering in.

I am not interested in calling you a coward. I'm interested in why an obviously intelligent writer seems to gloss over substance when it comes to this man's candidacy?

The bottom line is: Is you support for Barack about the man - or against the woman?


Chez said...

Actually, I've made it unequivocally clear as to why I support Obama over Hillary. You're choosing either not to hear it and/or to discount as worthwhile someone saying that he's willing to vote for an ostensibly unproven candidate over one who's proven that she stands anathema to his beliefs. I've seen what Hillary has to offer and I want none of it, and whether you choose to accept it or not, that's a good enough reason to support her opponent -- particularly since I've paid attention to Obama's record and nothing I've found in the negative column stacks up to what I know about Hillary. Sorry, but I'm not going to run it all down for you. If you think I'm intelligent then you'll have to trust my judgment insofar as my own vote goes. If you disagree, that's fine -- you can counteract that vote with your own in November. That's what politics are all about.

Enrique O said...

At the risk of fanning the flames, I have to say that, to me, the thing that remains curiously unsaid is the flipside to Ferraro's comment. If we allow that it may be true that Obama's race is an asset for him in the campaign, isn't it equally true that Clinton's gender and spouse are the assets that put her in the position she is in? Can anyone imagine that Hillary Clinton would be even a remote contender for the presidency if she were not a woman and married to former-president Bill? What has she accomplished outside of the shadow of her husband's presidency that Obama has not accomplished on his own? Personally, I think she's being carried along by irrelevant and non-presidential factors far more than Barack, who has my complete support.

denesteak said...

I was actually thinking about that, enrique, especially since if the reason why Obama is favor is because of his differences, isn't Hillary different as well?

I vaguely remember "The Game," and for some reason, a scary clown face comes to mind. I was actually pretty terrified of that movie.

namron said...

I apologize in advance to anyone who reads this, and I suspect that the groaning will be audible.

In this election, Obama is Forest Gump's box of chocolates. You'll never know what you have until you bite into it. Hilary is macaroni and cheese: It's right there on the plate, you know what it tastes like, you know what's in it, and you've eaten it before. Do we want chocolate or mac and cheese?

McCain is liver and onions. We are told it's good for us. We don't know if that is necessarily true, but we know it looks nasty, smells worse, and tastes like shit.