Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hollywood Does Politics: A Conclusion

Thanks to everyone who kept up with our fourth series, "Hollywood Does Politics" - we hope you've enjoyed it.

So what did we learn?

For starters, accuracy isn't the first concern Hollywood has when making poltical movies - entertainment is. We also found out that so far political movies tend to lean left more often than right.

The last thing we discovered was exactly what made a good political campaign movie: the right combination of accuracy, entertainment value, and deeper lessons. Movies like "Primary Colors" - which came out as #1 on our Top 5 Political Campaign Movies list yesterday - have just the right amount of each factor.

Thanks again for following the series, and keep reading for more great series in the future!

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Top 5 Political Campaign Movies

Part 5 of our 5-part series: “Hollywood Does Politics”

It’s finally here: our Top 5 fictional movies about political campaigns! Before we tell you all about them, let’s go over how we came up with the list.

First, the movies cannot be a documentary. We already listed our top 5 political campaign documentaries last week.

Second, it has to be about campaigns. While “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is one of the best political films of all time, it only barely involves a campaign (and a machine campaign that’s not quite so relevant today – at least outside of Chicago).

Third, we had to decide what factors were important for the list. The three factors that went into our decisions were:

1) Accuracy
2) Entertainment value
3) Does it make you think?

The following movies had all of the three components, although each stressed some more than others. Then we’ll show you what campaign movies some of our readers most enjoyed.

Here’s our list…

1) “Primary Colors” (1998)

Screenplay by: Elaine May
Produced by: Mike Nichols, Jonathan Krane, Neil Machlis
Directed by: Mike Nichols

Based on the novel by Anonymous (later revealed to be journalist Joe Klein), “Primary Colors” follows the story of a southern governor running for president in the Democratic primary. It is well understood that the novel and film are meant to portray the 1992 Clinton campaign during the presidential primaries.

The film is funny, dramatic, insightful, and accurate about politics and campaigns.

Watch the trailer:

The candidate is Governor Jack Stanton (John Travolta) who very much resembles Bill Clinton. The movie opens with his staff trying to recruit Henry Burton (Adrian Lester) for a high-level position on the campaign. Burton is often thought to represent George Stephanopoulos.

As he gets wrapped into the campaign, Burton meets other colorful characters such as Susan Stanton (Emma Thompson) – Jack’s wife and a good portrayal of the real-life Hilary – Democratic strategist Richard Jemmons (Billy Bob Thorton) – who is a great representation of James Carville – and Libby Holden (Kathy Bates), Jack’s former chief-of-staff with deep-rooted emotional problems.

Throughout the film, the audience is exposed to a large sample of campaign truisms that they might not expect. Volunteers have trouble learning to work with computer voter files, upper-level staff researches both the opposition and their own candidate, and they actively work for support from key Democratic voting blocs. For example, Burton has one Jewish volunteer call up every rabbi in the phone book and start the conversation in Hebrew.

The campaign strategy is also fairly accurate. When Stanton encounters rumors about extramarital affairs, friends of the Stantons suggest that the campaign ignore the rumors as unsubstantiated and malicious attacks. The campaign, in their mind, is about the issues. Jemmons wisely points out that they “can’t ignore” the attacks, knowing that it would only seem to confirm their truth.

One of the most interesting aspects is how the staffers view campaigning – they’re professionals, not activists, and they can’t get emotionally attached to the politics. In one scene, Jemmons points out how a real pro shouldn’t get caught up in “true believerism”:

The movie is also delightfully humorous - at least at the start. As the film goes on, Burton is more and more asked to cross lines into morally grey territory. As Stanton tells him at the end, when he’s concerned about all the ethically challenging parts of campaigning:

“This is the price you pay to lead. You don’t think that Abraham Lincoln was a whore before he was president? He had to tell his little stories and smile his [expletive]-eating back-country grin. And he did it just so he would one day have the opportunity to stand in front of the nation and appeal to the better angels of our nature.”

“Primary Colors” combines it all - political accuracy, entertainment, and watching it forces you to think about what code you must carry as (what Aristotle called) a political animal.

If you haven’t seen it, rent it right away.

2) “The Candidate” (1972)

Screenplay by: Jeremy Larner
Produced by: Walter Coblenz
Directed by: Michael Ritchie

Written by a speechwriter for Sen. Eugene McCarthy during his presidential campaign, “The Candidate” focuses on a California Senate race between Democrat Bill McKay (Robert Redford) and Republican incumbent Crocker Jarmon (Don Porter).

Watch the original trailer:

Political consultant Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle) goes to California to recruit a candidate he figures doesn’t have a chance, but will pay the bills through the election cycle. He convinces McKay to run, with the understanding that he’ll lose, and thus can say whatever he wants. As the race goes on, it becomes clear that he has a shot of winning, and the campaign becomes more and more about toning down McKay’s strong liberalism.

Message is the primary topic of this film. Early on, we see how McKay’s experienced staff tries to frame the message in such a way that it will be appealing to the voters while not undermining the candidate’s beliefs. For example, McKay is pro-choice, but the advisors tell him to say more studies need to be done on the topic (remember in 1972 abortion was still illegal in most parts of the country, and being pro-life was the norm).

Sometimes, they simply had to come up with a line that was catchy and funny because the candidate was so liberal it could damage him. For example, when asked about where the communists should be stopped (in Vietnam or on the shores of California) one staffer suggests he say that he’ll “stop the communists before Santa Monica, because the parking there is bad enough as it is.”

While some of the campaign practices are a bit outdated (the singing, dancing McKay girls come to mind) most of the film is eerily familiar. When McKay asks why his ads aren’t about the issues early in the campaign, Lucas tells him they need to sell his face first. In other words, voters have to know who you are before they hear what exactly you stand for.

Even the day-by-day campaign activities are extremely accurate. McKay frequently has to ignore eccentric voters bothering him (like one man consistently asking “what do you think of my dog?!”), he hardly gets to eat during the day, the office is a makeshift operation with calendars and other hand-made charts all over the walls, and the constant repetition of the stump speech drives him nuts.

In one memorable scene, McKay mocks how overplayed the speech sounds to him:

Even through Election Day, the scene is largely similar to what you can see today. For example, GOTV volunteers rip down Jarmon door hangers and replace them with McKay ones.

The opponent - though seen a lot less - also has some familiar campaign tactics up his sleeves. When McKay visits a forest fire to attack anti-environmental policies, Jarmon comes in by helicopter and tells the press how he spoke to the president and is introducing a bill to provide relief in the wake of the fire. In this way he is taking advantage of his incumbency, which is not exactly unordinary. He also ignores McKay’s calls for a debate until he loses enough traction in the polls.

“The Candidate” is not the most entertaining movie out there (in fact, it’s a bit dry) but it is the #1 political campaign movie in terms of accuracy. To see how campaigns are won and lost, you must see this film.

3) “Swing Vote” (2008)

Screenplay by: Jason Richman, Joshua Michael Stern
Produced by: Kevin Costner, Jim Wilson
Directed by: Joshua Michael Stern

It’s a cheesy movie that’s remarkably more family-friendly than the rest, but “Swing Vote” examines some very interesting patterns in modern political campaigns.

Watch the trailer:

Texico, New Mexico resident Bud Johnson (Kevin Costner) gets laid-off, gets drunk at a bar, and forgets to vote. His democracy-loving daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll) tries to vote for him, but the voting machine doesn’t work. That night, the presidential race comes down to the five electoral votes in New Mexico, and New Mexico comes down to one vote that wasn’t counted: Bud’s.

Before long, the press finds out who the voter is. Bud, a goofy independent who didn’t know who to vote for in the first place, is soon courted by both campaigns.

Celebrities such as NASCAR driver Richard Petty and country legend Willie Nelson are brought in by the respective campaigns to introduce Bud to their candidates. Over the course of the movie, the few political opinions Bud sort-of has are picked up and both candidates try to demonstrate how they are more of that opinion on the issue than their opponent - even if it means upsetting the base.

Take this ad, for example:

While we criticized some of the things the movie gets wrong in our last post in this series, the movie does bring up one aspect of campaigns that has developed a lot over the past several years: micro-targeting.

Micro-targeting has become more and more common with technological developments, and this movie poses the question, “Just how targeted can campaigns really get?”

In “Swing Vote” the race is literally as targeted as it can be. The campaigns no longer have to worry about pleasing the base - they already voted. They no longer have to worry about larger opinion polls - they no longer matter. They only need to win over one man, and they’ll do anything necessary for that achievement. They target Bud and Bud alone with ads, small gifts, plenty of time with the candidates, and much, much more.

Opposing campaign managers Marty Fox (Stanley Tucci) and Art Crumb (Nathan Lane) - whose backgrounds interestingly resemble those of Karl Rove and Bob Shrum, respectively - both make it clear to their candidates that (to put it in Vince Lombardi’s words) winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. Only after an electoral victory can they do the work in Washington they set out to do. In time, both candidates are forced to question that ethos and examine themselves and people.

The movie is interesting, emotional, loaded with cameos, and worth a watch.

4) “The Best Man” (1964)

Screenplay by: Gore Vidal
Produced by: Stuart Miller, Lawrence Turman
Directed by: Franklin J. Schaffner

It’s still yet to be released on DVD, and it’s largely been forgotten by the American public, but “The Best Man” is one of the great political classics. Based on the play by Gore Vidal, the film focuses on an open party convention with two diametrically opposed front-runners.

Watch the original trailer:

Vidal was no ignorant playwright when it came to politics. His grandfather - Thomas Gore (D-OK) - was a senator for several decades, and Vidal was a friend of John F. Kennedy’s. He even ran for Congress in 1960.

In “The Best Man”, the moderate/liberal former Secretary of State William Russell (Henry Fonda) is up against the moderate/conservative Senator Joe Cantwell (Cliff Robertson). The convention gets ugly as they spread rumors of psychological instability and sexual promiscuity against one another.

The film includes some of the political realities that are still alive today. For example, there’s the powerful party activist Sue Ellen Gamadge who - much like a lot of powerful political activists - loves the fact she is known by the candidates and thinks she knows what is best for their campaigns.

Other aspects about the movie are more historical. The southern politicians in the party are the butt of a lot of jokes about regressive attitudes towards desegregation and racial equality. They very much look like the southern Democratic politicians of the 1960s who didn’t see a contrast between being progressive and being a bit racist. And then there are the wonderful, corny campaign slogans that you’d never see today (like “Hustle for Russell!”)

Most importantly, the movie examines what connection - if any - there is between campaigning and governing. Former President Art Hockstader (Lee Tracy) is pulling for Russell, but can’t get over the fact that he is unwilling to get dirty with Cantwell.

As he tells Russell:

“Power is not a toy we give to good children. It is a weapon. And the strong man takes it and uses it. If you don't go down there and beat Joe Cantwell to the floor with this very dirty stick, then you've got no business in the big league. Because if you don't fight, the job is not for you. And it never will be.”

The movie is fun, dramatic, and asks us to examine our collective character as a democratic republic. Every American should try to see this film.

5) “Bulworth” (1998)

Screenplay by: Warren Beatty
Produced by: Warren Beatty, Pieter Jan Brugge
Directed by: Warren Beatty

In this brilliant and irreverent comedy, “Bulworth” follows the re-election campaign of Senator Jay Bullington Bulworth (D-CA) as he faces his 1996 primary. While there are several accuracy problems with the film’s portrayal of campaigns, it is extremely entertaining and full of food-for-thought.

Watch the trailer:

Senator Bulworth (Warren Beatty) began his political life as young progressive in the 1960s, idolizing figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. But as a senator in the 1990s, he is forced to speak against affirmative action to appeal to a more conservative electorate and his legislative career is hindered by powerful lobbyists.

He becomes so tormented by his jaded politics that he doesn’t eat or sleep for three days. Finally, he hires a guy to see to it that he’s killed. He then returns to California from Washington where he meets his campaign staff. Knowing he has nothing to lose, he starts saying whatever he feels like saying, scaring the life out of his staffers.

He decides he is enjoying his life without political pressures, and he tries to call off the assassination. Without sleeping, he continues to campaign drunk and unshaven. He meets a young black girl named Nina (Halle Berry) who he falls for, and tries a new urban edge - which includes saying everything in rap.

During a fundraiser, he decides to rap his speech:

The movie is unapologetically liberal (disclaimer: this is something we said we’d have to be careful about when we chose our movies) and constantly funny.

It also gives campaign people like us a glimpse into how much wrong a candidate can possibly do in a matter of days. Campaign workers often have to worry about their candidates going off-message, but luckily, few have to worry about them going absolutely crazy.

This movie is for anyone who likes a good laugh.

So what movies did our readers like?

There was a lot of overlap between our list and everyone else’s. “Primary Colors” was by far the favorite of the survey, and “The Candidate”, “Swing Vote”, and “Bulworth” were all mentioned as well.

Other favorites included “Wag the Dog” (which we guess is about a campaign of sorts, albeit, not an electoral one, per se), “The American President”, “Election”, “Milk”, and “Man of the Year”. There were also several votes (from one Ron Lecker) for the Chris Farley film, “Black Sheep”.

We hope you enjoyed our Top 5 Political Campaign Movies, and maybe came away with some holiday gift ideas for that special campaign person on your list.

Join us tomorrow for our conclusion to “Hollywood Does Politics!”

Thursday, December 17, 2009

More on the Democratic Base Discontent

There was a good discussion on “Morning Joe” today that provides some food-for-thought regarding our recent post on the unrest in the Democratic base.

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Don’t forget, tomorrow is our final segment of “Hollywood Does Politics!” We’ll be bringing you our Top 5 Political Campaign Movies, but we want to hear from you too.

Email us some of you favorite movies about political campaigns at and we’ll mention them in our post!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Will Progressives Backlash Over Healthcare Reform?

Summary: With Lieberman holding up the Senate healthcare bill, Democrats need to explore their options looking forward to 2010.

Every liberal in the country following the ongoing healthcare debate is furious. Much of this anger is directed at one man in particular: Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT).

After Senate Democrats met to reach a compromise bill that could pass the 60-vote threshold for cloture, they cut the public option and replaced it with a plan to allow 55-64-year-olds to opt-in to Medicare, and give the government power to negotiate non-profit plans with private insurance companies.

For Lieberman, that was not good enough. He continued to threaten a “no” vote on cloture, preventing a final up-or-down vote on the bill. The White House pushed Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to accommodate Lieberman’s concerns and cut the Medicare expansion provision.

Progressives, who have argued that reform without a public option is hardly reform at all, seemed to wake up to the threat Lieberman poses for passage of a bill. Headlines from the Huffington Post this week read along the lines of the Connecticut Senator holding healthcare hostage.

To be sure, the fight over healthcare reform on the part of political activists is still heavy on the conservative end, but as this recent Politico video demonstrates, neither side of the debate is happy with Lieberman.

What other developments have come out of Lieberman’s stubbornness?

• Liberals are becoming as likely to oppose the Senate bill as conservatives. Former DNC Chairman - and a big advocate of healthcare reform - Howard Dean, M.D. told MSNBC last night that “you can’t vote for this bill in good conscience.” The video below includes Dean’s interview, as well as a lot of insight towards how progressives are feeling right now.

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Now, not all liberals are going to necessarily agree. In a late-night post this morning, Nate Silver suggested that progressives were “[expletive] crazy to oppose the Senate bill.”

“I understand that most of the liberal skepticism over the Senate bill is well intentioned. But it has become way, way off the mark. Where do you think the $800 billion goes? It goes to low-income families just like these. Where do you think it comes from? We won't know for sure until the Senate and House produce their conference bill, but it comes substantially from corporations and high-income earners, plus some efficiency gains.”

Silver argues that come 2016 (even after inflation) a family of four earning $54,000 per year will still pay significantly less for coverage.

His only mistake might be that the public option would, in fact, help hold down costs. The data he uses is from a CBO report that took the public option into account. Without the public option, premiums may rise a lot faster than 7.5% per year.

• Politico reports that Lieberman’s Connecticut colleagues are “fed up” with him. U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) even told the news service “No individual should hold health care hostage, including Joe Lieberman, and I’ll say it flat out, I think he ought to be recalled.”

• When asked if he would run as a Republican when his term ends in 2012, Lieberman told CNN it was “a possibility” and that “all options are open.”

• The House Democrats are becoming increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of the Senate. Some went so far as to say “Sometimes I get the feeling that some of those guys [in the Senate] just like to see their names in the paper and see their faces on TV,” and “If you just take a look at the number of bills we’ve sent to the Senate and what they’ve done, I don’t know what they’re doing with their time honestly.”

• Upset that one or two Senators could uphold an entire bill years-in-the-making - like Lieberman and Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) have done with healthcare - Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) recently announced that he was considering introducing a bill that would eliminate the Senate filibuster.

From the Omaha World-Herald:

"It really is an abuse," Harkin said. "It's an abuse of a person's position as a senator to demand, because we need one more vote, just to demand everything. It's really unfair to the rest of the Senate, rest of the caucus."

He said lots of senators, himself included, have to come to terms with disappointments in the health care bill.

"To sort of lay down an ultimatum, 'Well, it's got to be this or nothing and I'm walking away from it,' well that's not the way you do legislation," Harkin said. "If you want to be a legislator, maybe it's not the right place for a person to be that takes a position like that."

Harkin said he's not sure about the level of support among other senators for eliminating the filibuster. He noted that he proposed legislation to do so years ago.

But perhaps Joe Scarborough made the best point this morning on his MSNBC program, “Morning Joe”, where he said that passing a healthcare bill progressives were unhappy with would be worse for the party’s 2010 prospects than they realize. It would keep the base at home come election time in November.

We made a similar assertion a few weeks ago when we listed the Top 5 things Democrats needed to do in 2010:

Make sure the base believes in you. Many moderate Democrats in Congress seem to think that the only way they can win a re-election is by opposing the current healthcare reform bills. But the surest way to be defeated is to fail on healthcare reform. The base believed in you in 2006 and 2008 because you said you would bring change - if you fail them with big margins in Congress and control of the White house they will not help your re-election campaign and they may stay home on Election Day. That would be the surest way for a Democrat to lose. If the base doesn’t show up, you’re finished. If you’re running for re-election, you must fulfill at least some of your basic promises to your supporters.”

Democrats do have some leverage over Lieberman that they still seem reluctant to use: his chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Threatening to strip him of that role if he filibusters a favorable healthcare bill is the only way Senate Democrats can expect to pass a bill and keep the base happy.

In fact, most Americans agree with this course of action. A recent Research 2000 poll found that a plurality of Americans (by a 47%-32% margin) support this punishment. More importantly, 81% of the Democratic base agrees.

The healthcare debate is sure to shape the outcomes of the 2010 midterm elections. The Tea Parties have been strong and they may drive some key GOP victories. But Democrats need to be equally concerned about alienating their own supporters. 2010 will be a backlash year for Democrats, but fail on healthcare reform and the hardest backlash will come from the progressive base.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

When Hollywood Gets It Wrong

Part 4 of our 5-part series: “Hollywood Does Politics”

It would be impossible to watch every political movie ever produced and list every mistake Hollywood has ever made. So we decided to look at three films and show you some common errors that can be seen in fictional political movies.

“Swing Vote” (2008)

In this comedy-drama about a non-political working-class New Mexican, Bud Johnson (Kevin Costner) is given the choice between two presidential candidates when the election comes down to his single vote. While the film explores some incredibly interesting points about modern campaign politics, the producers made some notable - though probably forgivable - mistakes about campaigns.

To begin, incumbent GOP President Andy Boone (Kelsey Grammer) sits in the Oval Office on Election Day, good spirited as he discusses his legacy with his campaign manager, Marty Fox (Stanley Tucci). Fox walks back-and-forth in the office, dictating Election Day strategy over the phone. One experienced in campaigns can’t help but notice that 1) the candidate would not be that calm, and 2) most of the Election Day operations would have been worked out long ahead of time. The entire seen is meant for character development, but lacks a lot of accuracy.

In another early scene, Democratic challenger Don Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper) addresses a crowd of supporters in one of the mountain states. One can’t help but notice that the size of the crowd is easily under 200 people - which is fairly laughable considering a presidential campaign rally should have no fewer than several thousand attendees - even up to 100,000 that close to the end of the race. While this could be blamed on the film’s budget, it was probably more due to a lack of attention to detail.

Later on, Bud meets President Boone on Air Force One, where Fox frequently reminds Bud to address him as “Mr. President” - something Boone apologizes for when they speak alone. If anything, Fox would be much more sensitive to the negatives of formalities than the president. As campaign manager, he would know better. Then Bud attends a dinner held by the Democratic Party where Greenleaf courts the vote. Again, the event is overly formal, which is highly unlikely given how informal of a guy Bud is.

A minor detail that we picked out is how Greenleaf’s campaign manager - Art Crumb (Nathan Lane) - discusses production of a campaign commercial. He instructs his staff to stay away from Madison Avenue outlets and other advertisers. In reality, these ad men probably wouldn’t be getting that work in the first place - most campaign spots are produced by political consultants and not ordinary advertising agencies.

Finally, in order to win his vote, both sides flip-flop on some of their core values. It raises an interesting point about micro-targeting and already winning base support, but it is still unlikely that the Republican would do an ad endorsing gay marriage and the Democrat would blast abortion like they do in the movie. More likely, they would focus on points in which their campaign agrees with Bud, and stress those points as much as possible. Every good campaign worker knows that contradiction is the first mistake in messaging.

We have to believe that the writers for this film had some idea of how campaigns operate when they wrote the script. It seems that inevitably, some producers without any background or knowledge of campaign politics probably made some bad choices in the filming of this movie.

“Power” (1986)

An overall impressive movie about the world of political campaign consulting, “Power” follows Democratic strategist Pete St. John (Richard Gere) and several of his campaigns, including gubernatorial races in New Mexico and Washington, a senatorial race in Ohio, and a presidential race somewhere in South America.

As the film picks up, those who actually work in campaign consulting - like ourselves - can’t help but notice how nice St. John’s office is. It’s a world-class working space, with a bed and shower in one room for when St. John returns from traveling. He also flies across the country - and rather frequently - in a private jet.

Where does he get all this money? Well, it is later explained that his retainer rate for clients is $25,000 per month with a 15% commission on all ad-buys, plus a fee for production. It is mentioned that he has about eight clients. That means his firm is probably making a good $3 million a year, if not more. That’s quite a lot more than what’s realistic, even for the best consultants. Oh, and he has no partners to share it with, something that is pretty uncommon at top-tier consulting firms.

But he does his job well. He gets involved in every detail of all the campaigns that hire him - even directing the campaign ads he is producing. In one scene, he directs an ad in New Mexico where he puts a camera in a helicopter that flies in for a shot. To say the least, it’s excessive.

And then there’s the campaign office for his Senate candidate in Ohio. Not only is it bigger than any campaign office we’ve ever seen, but it’s well organized, classy looking, and every desk has a computer - pretty high-tech for 1986. So much so that it can’t be taken seriously.

In the end, it’s pretty obvious what the filmmakers were going for. The St. John character was supposed to be jaded about politics and more concerned about money than principles. Making the work, life, and environment of this consultant look classier was necessary (perhaps) for the story - but it also made for a widely inaccurate account of campaign consulting.

“State of Play” (2009)

While it’s not a movie about campaigns, “State of Play” is worth mentioning in this post because of some details that political-junkies like ourselves can’t help but shake our heads at.

The film follows journalist Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) as he investigates the death of an aide to his old friend, Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck). Collins is the chairman of a committee that oversees defense contracts. He uses the position to attack a company called PointCorp, which highly resembles the real-life contractor Blackwater.

Ben Affleck is not exactly an old man, and the idea that his character was given a chairmanship of a powerful committee is pretty laughable - especially when you see all the older Congressmen sitting around him during committee hearings. Both houses of Congress work on a seniority system that would not pass over more experienced members for the position.

It soon comes to light that Collins was having an affair with the aide who was killed. He is called to discuss the scandal with the party leadership. Yet the only House leader present at the meeting is the Majority Whip. To say the least, it’s extremely unlikely that the Speaker and Majority Leader would be absent from that meeting, especially considering the fact that Collins was a committee chair.

But one of the worst slip-ups in the production was Collins’s facial hair. The congressman frequently sports a five o’clock shadow, even during committee meetings. Anyone who has worked on Capitol Hill will tell you that five o’clock shadows do not happen with members of Congress - in fact, the male members usually shave twice a day to avoid such an informal look.

The fact that this movie overlooks these details demonstrates a clear lack of experience in Congressional politics on the part of the producers, director, and casting director.

It should be pointed out that none of the films mentioned today were bad movies. In fact, they all bring up some good points and ideas about politics. The mistakes they make are part lack of research, part budget constraints, and part entertainment considerations - for example, sometimes the movies err specifically for the sake of plot development.

In the end, Hollywood can’t produce a perfectly accurate movie involving politics. They need to take pragmatic approaches to these productions, even at the risk of annoying the small portion of the audience who happen to be politicos. And we can live with that.

Coming Friday: The Top 5 Political Campaign Movies! Don’t forget to send us your Top 5 - email the list to, and we’ll mention them in our post!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Splits in the Tea Party Movement

Summary: Will the feuds between Tea Party factions make it a less-effective movement?

An interesting article in the Huffington Post on Friday finds that there appears to be a feud between two or more Tea Party factions.

It all began when a co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots - Amy Kremer - decided to join a group called the Tea Party Express, a project of the Our Country Deserves Better PAC which helps conservative Republican candidates. As the Washington Independent reports, “several leaders in the [Tea Party Patriots]…stressed to Kremer…working with [the Tea Party Express] could imperil the tax status of non-profit Tea Party Patriots.”

Since then there has been a deep and sometimes dirty infighting between factions of the movement. From the Washington Independent article:

Kremer turned down the advice and took the plunge, signing up for the Tea Party Express’s next tour. On September 27 she was removed from the board of Tea Party Patriots. She responded by locking the Tea Party Patriots email account, a problem that the other members of the group quickly solved, but one that rankled.

Since then, several local Tea Party Patriot organizations have been blasting the Tea Party Express. Other groups have been thrown into the mix as well. The Tea Party Patriots have even sued Kremer since the split.

The factions appear to be arguing over two points: partisan funding and astroturfing. It seems that the on-the-ground activists are becoming increasing disillusioned by the true nature of their organizations - namely that they are all funded by big business and are beholden to the strategies implemented by Republican consultants.

And to be sure, there are no less than eight different organizations that make up the Tea Party movement. Among them are the Tea Party Patriots, Tea Party Express, Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks, the American Liberty Alliance, and the Sam Adams Alliance. They all have a lot in common, namely they’re all connected in one way or another and several are heavily funded by Koch Industries, who we mentioned on this topic in a previous post.

A couple of thoughts about this development:

1) This demonstrates a key point we made about what Republican candidates want to do for their 2010 campaigns - steer clear of special interests for a little while.

As we said in a post last month:

PACs bring in a lot of money, which is always valuable, but if there’s one thing that could lose confidence in the Tea Partiers, it’s special interest money. Simply put, the Tea Parties are part of a larger populist backlash to the bailouts and lobbyists who secure grants under the stimulus bill. If your war chest is found to be connected to a banking firm or any other Wall Street group, it could hinder the confidence the base has in you.

This certainly seems to be the case with the on-the-ground Tea Party activists - they won’t even trust their own organizations to steer clear of the Washington beltway elite and special interests. So it’s important that Republican candidates avoid associating with PAC money in order to keep up support from the base.

2) All fringe groups seem to have inner-feuding problems. Infighting is actually a fairly typical phenomenon with all political organizations, but it’s especially contentious within far-right or far-left groups, as we discovered when researching Marxists and Nazis in last year’s “Know Your Third Parties” series.

Granted, the Tea Party folks aren’t quite as extreme as Marxists or Nazis, nor are they as obscure to the larger American politic (at least for now), but this split may very well slow down the anti-Obama backlash they were fostering earlier this summer.