We’re going nowhere

I heard a political speech this weekend. I transcribed the end of it from a recording. If you didn’t hear it, too, I’d suggest you take the time to read through this brief section.

But I remember this: I remember my mom and dad went through the 1930s without welfare, without poverty programs. (Sarcastic)) None of us kids even had a social worker! [Laughter in crowd] How did we do it?

Well–ladies, excuse me–we worked our butts off [crowd cheers]. But I tell you this, good people: Crocker Jarmon still believes that individuals are responsible for themselves and so does the vast majority of the American people!

And that’s why were’s going to tell Big Brother to get lost!

The solution to welfare is not more welfare. It’s more enterprise. More industry and more jobs. Now, there are those that say to industry, “Don’t build, don’t develop, don’t cut a single tree or you’ll destroy our watershed,” and so on. But I know that when the time comes for building, we will build, because building means jobs.

And we’ll find a way to love Mother Nature and preserve her…without going to extremes.

You think I’m mean? [Crowd cheers, “No!”] Well, I am. I’ve spent the last 18 years in the Senate being a meanie, and if need be, I will spend another 18 years working to keep this country healthy, and growing, and booming into the future.

Frankly, it’s a speech that could’ve been given this weekend. It wasn’t, however. It came from the 1972 Robert Redford film The Candidate. The writer, Jeremy Larner, won an Oscar for best screenplay of that year.

Somehow my many years of film consumption had passed without me seeing The Candidate . I watched it this weekend and was struck by how…modern…it was. It not only spoke to 2010 politics 38 years later, it defined 2010 politics. I sat in my living room and marveled at how prescient Larner was, how before-his-time he must have felt! And then I realized that it probably wasn’t prescience at all.

This is modern politics.

It’s been this way since I was a baby. It was this way when I was younger (Dan Quayle once called the film an inspiration, to which Larner wrote “Mr. Quayle, this was not a how-to movie, it was a watch-out movie. And you are what we should be watching out for!”). It is this way today.

Worse, I don’t see any reason to believe it will change.

If you think I’m taking a swipe at the Grand Old Party here, you need to watch the movie first. It’s not a film about conservatives versus liberals as much as it is a film about the political machine and ways it operates. The movie speaks to the buzz words, endorsements, and personalities of politics that manipulate hearts and minds. Nearly 40 years ago Larner warned us to watch out. Instead, we watched the movie and then pretended it wasn’t talking about us. We as a electorate believed we were smarter than the sheep while lining up to be sheared…again.

I spent the early part of the weekend wondering how several hundred thousand people could stand in front of Glenn Beck and find inspiration–inspiration enough to donate $5 million, in fact–in his words and the words of Sarah Palin. I’m all for political discourse and open debate. I appreciate a political movement as much as anybody else. But, when you read THIS terrifying piece and combine it with what happened in Washington D.C. this weekend, it makes a guy wonder. That is, if legions of Tea Partiers can be so easily manipulated, how often am I being manipulated by the other side–my own side? The answer, I suspect, is often.

The point is, as cynical as it sounds, we exist as part of a democracy in name only. While my values haven’t changed and my beliefs about right and wrong remain the same, I remain exceptionally cynical about the state of affairs in America. That is a big softball to the people who know who I supported President Obama. They love the told-you-so game. My only response is that I supported someone I believed would change the country for the better instead of someone I was sure would make it worse. Inefficacy is not a crime or treason. It’s simply another in a series of disappointments.

While I won’t spoil the film for the few people who haven’t seen it, there is one climax spoiler in the following sentence, so stop reading if you want to go in fresh.

Robert Redford’s character goes off-script in his final debate with his incumbent and utters the line of the film (a clip of which you can watch at the end of this post). Here’s what he says:

“I think it’s important to note what subjects we haven’t discussed. We completely ignore the fact that this is a society divided by fear, hated, and violence. And until we talk about what this society really is, then I don’t know how we’re going to change it.”

It’s been nearly four decades since then, and I’m afraid we haven’t gotten around to that discussion yet.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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32 Responses

  1. Pauly says:

    FYI… The Candidate was directed by Michael Ritchie. He loved sports flicks and directed such gems as The Bad News Bears and Wildcats. He also directed both Fletch movies.

  2. StB says:

    Why is it you think that people attending the event in Washington were manipulated? Have you not been manipulated already? I would even suggest that including an article about Koch while not mention George Soros would be an attempt to manipulate your own readers.

  3. otis says:

    StB…I can only point you to this sentence which was right after the one your knee jerked at:

    ” how often am I being manipulated by the other side? The answer, I suspect, is often.”

    It might be more clear if I said, how often am I being manipulated by MY OWN side…often.

    In fact, I think I will change it to make it clear.

  4. otis says:

    And re: Koch. I think it’s worth putting things in context. If a corporation is spending that much money to back a movement, it might be worth noting.

  5. gracie says:

    The older you get, the more you realize that nothing changes. Books, films (plays), speeches and music written 40, 50, 150, 200 years ago become surprisingly modern in tone after having the experience of living through even one generation of watching political and social events unfold first hand.

  6. Julius_Goat says:

    Love “The Candidate.” That and “Network” really saw the future . . . or, as you propose, clearly saw the things about the present that would be unchanging.

    Redford getting the giggles in his limo as he realizes the complete emptiness of his talking points is gold.

    STB, to your question, I think Otis is pretty amazingly clear-eyed about the fact that he thinks that he actually IS being manipulated. As for whether or not the people who came to hear Beck speak were being manipulated . . . well, Beck deals almost exclusively in fear-mongering, misinformation, and alligator tears. I suppose it is possible that the Mall of Washington this weekend was filled with clear-eyed and well-informed individuals who merely find that sort of thing amusing on the level of performance art, but if they took it at face value, than I gotta say, I think they took the bait and got the hook.

  7. squeaky wheel says:

    If you haven’t watched “Dr. Strangelove” lately, give it a whirl… feels way too relevant.

  8. BigMike says:

    I need to add that movie to my Netflix queue, it has been too long. I agree with Gracie, the older you get, the more you begin to discern the patterns around you. Especially in the eternal sea of politics.

    As a media person, I am sure you have seen Network. I have always thought that movie was dead on in predicting the future of television especially news. Infotainment is nothing new, but what seemed like absolutely absurd extremes now seems dead on — or in some cases tame compared to the various news networks.

  9. otis says:

    Goat and BigMike–Network probably stands out as the most prescient film of its time.

    Squeaky–Don’t get me started.

  10. gracie says:

    Ooh. Network! Along with The Candidate, I’ve got some fun re-watching in my Netflix queue!

  11. squeaky wheel says:

    “Mr. President, we must not allow a mine shaft gap!”

  12. Karol says:

    I agree with some of what you write, about the buzzwords and the personalities trumping everything, but I actually disagree about the state of our world in general and politics in particular.

    I’m always optimistic about America, because I feel I know what the alternatives are having been born in the Soviet Union and having lived in Europe for several years, and I actually think that despite our contentious political debates things are better than ever. We can’t point to a time where our lives were safer or more comfortable than they are today. We’re healthier and richer than ever. If we accept that both sides want what’s best for America, and just have different ways of achieving that, it would ratchet down the rhetoric a little.

    Finally, about Obama, it was weird that so many people had such a cultish devotion to him so I am glad that is dying down (although I still see people wearing his Hope t-shirts which I find creepy–just imagine people wearing W. shirts not during campaign season), but I’d rather him succeed in all his grand promises than fail.

  13. Karol says:

    Also, I have seen maybe 5 minutes of Glenn Beck in total but what, exactly, is he manipulating people into DOING?

  14. KenP says:

    I got the good goose bumps listening to Johnson’s “Great Society” speech. Results didn’t match expectations.

    My father and his father lived through the Great Depression. Gramps owned a nice grocery store for the time. I was about 14 when he pulled a box from the drawer under the coffee pot. The cigar box was half full of wedding rings. Later, I asked my dad why he didn’t sell them and why they were stored that way. Dad said they weren’t worth anything; he’d taken them in trade for food. Now I was confused. I asked why. Dad said it was a way for him to give them some food and let them keep their self-respect.

    My Gramps was smarter and kinder than me. And, maybe all those bleeding heart liberals out there.

  15. otis says:

    Karol…I don’t think it’s as much of manipulation of doing as a manipulation into being part of a group who can espouse the following as if it’s part of proper discourse. The part that bothers (or, perhaps botherED) me is that if Beck can rally enough people who agree with the following, you have a voting block of people who can make a difference.

    Re: Obama: “This president I think has exposed himself over and over again as a guy who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture….I’m not saying he doesn’t like white people, I’m saying he has a problem. This guy is, I believe, a racist”

    Re: Stem cell research: “Eugenics. In case you don’t know what Eugenics led us to: the Final Solution. A master race! A perfect person. … The stuff that we are facing is absolutely frightening”

    Re: Democrats ‘When you see the effects of what they’re doing to the economy, remember these words: We will survive. No — we’ll do better than survive, we will thrive. As long as these people are not in control. They are taking you to a place to be slaughtered!”

    Re: Californians: “‘I think there is a handful of people who hate America. Unfortunately for them, a lot of them are losing their homes in a forest fire today.””

    Re: Obama’s religion: “Barack Obama … chose to use his name Barack for a reason — to identify, not with America — you don’t take the name Barack to identify with America. You take the name Barack to identify with what? Your heritage? The heritage, maybe, of your father in Kenya, who is a radical? Is — really? Searching for something to give him any kind of meaning, just as he was searching later in life for religion.”

  16. Karol says:

    Listen, people on both sides say crazy things and have a lot of followers. Even that clown Al Sharpton gets people to show up to his rallies, and he out-crazies these comments any day of the week. Also, do you really agree with every single thing Obama ever said? Do you agree with every single thing anyone has ever said? The people who attended the rally might not agree with the comments above but agree with the big picture of smaller government, faith, etc.

  17. Karol says:

    And what about my other comment, about how pessimism is misplaced? 🙂

  18. otis says:

    Karol…I think maybe I’m not making my point clear enough. That is…we agree. People on both sides say crazy things and they do it for a reason. They do it to appeal to a human’s basic desire to either be better, richer, more empathetic, caring, or whatever. They say crazy things to create an enemy. The problem is not in the message, it is in the messenger. I think what goes unsaid is that while smart people like you and StB can wave Beck off as a crazy, there are people–and lots of them–who take his word as gospel. That’s where the danger lies.

    But again, I’m simply reiterating my point that it’s all for naught anyway. My fear of a nation governed by people who believe what Beck says is irrelevant in the big picture. Obama will finish his jimmy Carter impersonation, then we’ll do the heroic fiscal conservative, followed by another conservative who can’t hold a candle to his heroic predecessor, followed by hard core lib who maintains power long enough to scare the hell out of conservatives, such that they firebomb the political landscape and do eight years of hard work that scares the bejesus out of libs, who then elect Jimmy Carter III.

    And we agree on your original comment. If we only would “accept that both sides want what’s best for America, and just have different ways of achieving that” it would solve 80% of the problems we have. I’d vote for that. I’d donate to its cause.

    Only problem…we won’t, because people like Glenn Beck, Keith Olbermann, and Rahm Emanuel exist and they exist to make sure we remain as divisive as possible. If we don’t, their people don’t win elections.

  19. otis says:

    And, in the spirit of keeping this a sane discussion, I’m happy to lump Sharpton in with Beck, but let’s leave the crazies in their own realm and not use Beck to defend any just cause. I can respect people who seek smaller government and faith, but as soon as those people point to Beck (and/or Palin) as leaders of their movement, that’s where we have to part ways.

  20. Julius_Goat says:

    Otis — While I agree with your premise (and taste in films), I think we need to draw a distinction in demagoguery here in 2010. Though both “sides” (whatever that might mean) have their crazies saying crazy and divisive things, there really is a difference between far-rightists Palin and Beck, who are increasingly seen by their base as potential leaders, and leftist hacks like Olbermann (semi-popular but definitely not seen as a policy-maker) and Sharpton (pretty much a non-factor for at least one decade, maybe two).

    I don’t agree with everything Obama says, and certainly not with everything Rahm Emmanuel says. However, they don’t have the sheer volume of crazy that Beck has collected. That list of yours is a good representation of Beck’s worldview, but it’s just a drop in his crazy pro-McCarthyite sea. You could literally find hundreds of such statements. I don’t think you can find an equivalent leftist crazy these days who is as clearly divisive and as clearly and cynically wrong, and who is concurrently seen by growing thousands as A Voice To Lead Us, and who furthermore cultivates that image by claiming that his rallies are “the beginning of a new era in America” or the kick start of the new Civil Rights struggle, or however the hell he put it.

    If we had such an equivalency, I certainly think and hope that I would be just as opposed to that nonsense as I am to the tenants of Rushbeckistan. But I just sense a false equivalency in saying “both sides have crazy people talking crazy talk.” There is a perceivable difference, I think.

    Karol — I agree that there is more to be hopeful about than we often realize. I think it’s getting better, but the process is slow, torturous, and repetitive. It can often seem that we’re spinning our wheels.

  21. otis says:

    What Goat said.

  22. Poker Shrink says:

    I have used the same antidote for several decades. When someone (right or left) is sure they are right and the other side is the spawn of satan, I tell them to listen to the criticism of their guy from within his own party. Really listen to what the far left has to say about Obama today, it is exactly and precisely the opposite of what Palin and Beck are saying. Then ask yourself how can supposedly rational people see the actions of a person as completely diametrical? The answer is they are not rational, there have an agenda and no one will ever meet their standards, at least not anyone actually trying to govern 300+ million people.

  23. Poker Shrink says:

    Oh and I would be remiss if I did not quote my good friend Bill here:

    “We agree that one party is stupid and the other is evil. All we are arguing about is which is which.”

  24. Special K says:

    JG (et al),
    It’s obvious that you view the world through a liberal filter. Obama, Pelosi, Gore, Sharpton, Oberman, Maddow, Frankin, Jackson, Reid, Edwards, Blagojevich, etc. etc., all say the stupidest, craziest, frightening things, if you tend toward a conservative political/economic viewpoint. Many of the quotes that Otis uses above aren’t as crazy as he’d like to conservatives.

    So Koch is spending his own money (not a “corporation”, Otis) on a cause he believes in. Good for him. The Progressives are outspending him with our money. I find that disgusting. Progressives can’t even find anything illegal about illegal aliens when it’s half the name.

    BTW, I, like most conservatives I know, never met anyone I agree with politically 100%. Progressives would like to think we are robots. That is insulting and you should drop it from your argument logic.

    Man, see what a little trip to Afghanistan will do to a guy.

  25. Special K says:

    … and what Poker Shrink said.

  26. otis says:

    And here we reach the point that inspired this post to begin with.

  27. Special K says:

    … and here is how some progressives spend their money for their cause:

    Huffington Post Offers $100,000 for Sex Tapes, Phone Records to Destroy Glenn Beck (http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2579985/posts)

    Sounds like attacking the message isn’t working so well.

  28. Julius_Goat says:

    Special K — It’s also obvious to me that I view the world through a filter of my own worldview (I hesitate to label that filter ‘liberal’ as it and ‘conservative’ have become so positively and negatively charged as to be meaningless). I think it’s pretty clear that literally everybody does this. The only question is whether or not one is honest about that filter, and willing to inspect it and clean it occasionally before the pool gets green and manky, and replace it if it stops functioning. Otis I think is pretty admirably up-front about his having a filter, too (understandable since it’s kind of at the root of what he’s saying).

    What I’d like is to start having a conversation about what those worldviews are, what sorts of assumptions drive them, what the basic values are that inform them, and (most importantly) those places of commonality that we all share.

    I think that Beck gets in the way of that about as much as anybody I can think of, but I’ll grant you your list. I think it would be interesting to know what (for example) Obama has said that you find so scary, and why, and why some of Beck’s statements seem more reasonable to you. Just based on those assumptions, we clearly don’t see eye-to-eye on some things. I’m at a point, though, where I am more curious as to why you see things your way, much more so than I am interested in you seeing things my way.

    “BTW, I, like most conservatives I know, never met anyone I agree with politically 100%. Progressives would like to think we are robots. That is insulting and you should drop it from your argument logic.”

    I certainly don’t like the tendency in modern discourse — particularly modern political discourse — to treat one perceived group as a monolithic entity of ‘robots.’ It’s not nice, and it’s never accurate. I not certain if I am the ‘you’ you’re referring to in the above quote, but if it was something I said that gave the impression that I think this, I do apologize. It wasn’t my intent.

  29. StB says:

    I think everyone overreacts to Beck. You are giving him way too much credit here. I myself am not a fan of his. Way too dramatic about the issues.

    Not sure how you do it Otis but there may be one of the few comments sections where a civil debate of the issue can take place.

  30. Joe says:

    Believe it or not I found one small bit of comfort in what you wrote.

    You mentioned that this speech was written 40 years ago and is salient today but it’s a good example that the more things change the more they stay the same. I think our generation looks at our grandparents’ generation and says they were tough and better people. But really they were dealing with EXACTLY the same issues we deal with today. The difference is they lacked the ability (curse) to have every local and world problem blown up into some sort of “Gate” by the national news.

    I think where we fail today is that we have the wealth and leisure time to make the changes Bill McKay spoke about. Instead we spend most of our time bitching about poor cell phone reception and which celebrity should go to jail. If we used our time and wealth to live our own little lives and spent more time connecting with each other face to face, we would likely make greater strides. And I dare say we would be much happier.

  31. Human Head says:

    (way late to this party…)

    “…how often am I being manipulated by the other side–my own side? The answer, I suspect, is often.”

    This. Pursue This.

    Recommending Jacques Ellul to this end if you’re inclined, specifically The Technological Society and Propaganda (in that order). Difficult books but worth the effort.