During this past weekend I saw “The Campaign,” a political comedy starring Will Ferrell and Zack Galifianakis. All in all, the movie provided its fair share of laughs, although it did become a little sappy and self-serious over the last 30 minutes or so.
But I am not here to write a review of “The Campaign.” Instead, I'd like to talk about some of the issues and questions that the movie raises. Namely, what the heck is wrong with our political system? And, is there any way to fix it?
In the movie, a nice enough but somewhat dim-witted Chamber of Commerce director, Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) is recruited to run as the Republican candidate in North Carolina’s 14th District against four-term Democratic Congressman Cam Brady (Ferrell). A pair of billionaire brothers (a thinly veiled take on the infamous Koch brothers) choose Huggins because of his family ties and his apparent meekness. The brothers want someone in office who they can manipulate to help push through legislation that would allow for a new, environmentally unfriendly factory.
Therein lies the first accurate issue that the movie points out. Nowadays, once politicians get into office they don't do what's best for the people who voted for them. Instead, they appease their financial backers and special interest groups that fund their campaigns. Because if they don't, those groups won’t finance the candidates’ next reelection campaign, and without that money, how will the politicians get reelected?
The movie also milks a running joke about Brady's campaign tagline: “America. Jesus. Freedom.” Brady doesn't really have anything intelligent or productive to say, but he does love America and Jesus and freedom. All Brady has to do is say those words with some conviction, and the crowd goes wild. Sadly, this scenario is not that far from the truth. As long as a Republican candidate displays his or her religious fervor for all to see or a Democratic candidate constantly voices his or her support for gay marriage, the masses will eat it up. Americans love to see their values validated, and God help the candidates who may actually have some fresh ideas to bring to Washington but have values that go against the majority of their constituents.
Another running joke involves attack ads that the Brady and Huggins camps run on TV. In one, Huggins is portrayed as a Communist, simply because he owns two pugs, which originally came from China. In another, Brady's people take a negative (Brady cheated on his wife with a younger woman) and somehow portray it as a positive, bragging about how Brady was able to sleep with a young, vibrant, very attractive woman. And lo and behold, the ad improves Brady’s numbers in the polls. Just like with Brady’s three buzz words, the attack ads aren’t silly enough as to be impossible. Especially on the national level, candidates tend to focus on the supposed weaknesses and differing moral values of their opponents, instead of on things that actually matter.
Watching “The Campaign,” I couldn't help but think about a “South Park” episode that came out just before the 2008 (or was it 2004?) president election. In the episode, the students at South Park Elementary have to choose a new school mascot. The two less than desirable choices they are given are, let's just say, a dirty napkin and a disgusting sandwich. The point of the episode was, “Does it really matter who we elect?”
No matter which mascot the students chose, they would be saddled with something that would invite ridicule and shame, and not really bring anything positive to the table. So, they asked themselves, “Which is the least worst candidate?”
I feel like that’s what America’s political system has become. It doesn’t really matter who we elect. Whoever is in office will just do whatever he or she can to further their political career and line their pockets with cash. Maybe that’s a little cynical, but there’s no denying that our political system is broken.
One needs to look no further than our current presidential race for proof. In one corner we have the ultimate 1-percenter, who if elected would undoubtedly do everything he could to lock in tax cuts for the rich and bring back the “anything goes” attitude in regard to business and Wall Street that existed when Bush II was in office. And in the other corner we have someone who when elected in 2008 was supposed to be our savior but has produced only middling results.
Choose wisely, America. Or not.