Political Fictions

I had some skepticism about The Ides of March and how it would handle the campaign staff, rather than the politicians, which is, of course, the key to making a movie that’s actually about Washington as opposed to a movie that thinks it’s about Washington. It looks like it’s got at least that focus right:

And that scene with the tie’s got a little snap to it, reminiscent as it is of the famous coffee scene in Brassed Off.

I suppose my concern is that it’s going to be a naive movie dressed up in handsome and skeptical clothes. Ryan Gosling’s character, it seems, starts out as a fixer, develops what Primary Colors would call a “galloping case of TB” (or true believerism), loses faith in his specific candidate, but continues to believe in a pure ideal. Primary Colors, on the other hand, has a character who starts out as a fixer, develops a similar case of TB, but essentially gets inoculated and accepts that a flawed vehicle for progress is better than none — while another character literally can’t survive the disappointment of her idealism. I don’t think politics is an inherently corrupt business, because there are clearly candidates who manage to make it into office without breaking campaign finance laws or accepting bribes. But I think that in our current state of affairs, it’s almost impossible to be politically effective by behaving in an entirely attractive fashion.

Does that mean that to create change you have to work for someone who solicits prostitutes, or is accused of sexual assault, or even if they don’t do anything illegal, is manifestly icky in his personal life? Of course not. But I do think our politics could probably benefit from an acknowledgement that there’s an unviable gap between how we want politicians to behave on the campaign trail and in office. The noble candidate who will bind up our wounds, love his wife and children, behave with perfect dignity on all occasions except those where he’s forced by circumstance to display a rapier wit, and usher in a new age of peace and prosperity, is an insufferable fiction.