Episode 103

( 4 Feb, 2011)

Jeff Greenfield: Political Movies

Transcript for Jeff Greenfield: Political Movies

IGNATIY:
OKAY.  NEXT UP, JEFF GREENFIELD, THE POLITICAL ANALYST FOR CBS NEWS, IS ONE OF OUR CONTRIBUTORS, AND HE SAYS THAT MOST POLITICAL MOVIES HAVE ONE BIG SCENE THAT'S TOTALLY IMPOSSIBLE.

JEFF GREENFIELD:
I COVER POLITICS FOR A LIVING, AND I LOVE THE MOVIES, SO I SEE JUST ABOUT EVERY POLITICAL MOVIE THAT COMES ALONG, AND THERE'S ONE PLOT DEVICE THAT NEVER CEASES TO AMAZE ME. THAT'S WHEN A MOVIE PRESIDENT, FACED WITH AN IMPOSSIBLE POLITICAL CRISIS, GIVES ONE SPEECH THAT INSTANTLY WINS EVERYBODY OVER TO HIS SIDE.

JEFF:
HERE IS ONE OF THE ODDEST POLITICAL MOVIES EVER MADE, "GABRIEL OVER THE WHITE HOUSE."

IN THIS 1933 FILM, FINANCED BY PUBLISHING TYCOON, WILLIAM RANDOLPH HEARST, WALTER HOUSTON PLAYS A CORRUPT, NEER-DO-WELL PRESIDENT WHO BECOMES POSSESSED BY THE ANGEL GABRIEL.

WHEN HE SEEKS GREATER POWERS, THE CONGRESS DEMANDS IMPEACHMENT.

WHAT HAPPENS THEN?  THE PRESIDENT STALKS INTO THE MIDDLE OF A CONGRESSIONAL SESSION AND MAKES AN ASSERTION OF PRESIDENTIAL POWER THAT WOULD MAKE DICK CHENEY SOUND LIKE A SISSY.

CLIP FROM “GABRIEL OVER THE WHITE HOUSE”

>> IT IS WITHIN THE RIGHTS OF THE PRESIDENT TO DECLARE THE COUNTRY UNDER MARTIAL LAW. [CHEERING]

JEFF:
WHAT HAPPENS THEN? THE CONGRESS SAYS, HEY, OKAY BY US, AND THE PRESIDENT BECOMES A DICTATOR, ENDS THE DEPRESSION, AND ACHIEVES WORLD PEACE IN, OH, A FEW WEEKS.

NOW CONSIDER “THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT” WITH MICHAEL DOUGLAS AS PRESIDENT ANDREW SHEPHERD. GET IT? SHEPHERD?

HE'S A WIDOWER WHO FINDS HIMSELF IN HOT WATER WHEN HE IS FOUND TO HAVE SPENT THE NIGHT WITH A WOMAN.

CLIP FROM “THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT”
>> HI.

JEFF:
THE VILLIANOUS SENATOR, BOB RUMSON, BELIEVES THIS WILL PROVE POLITICALLY FATAL.

CLIP FROM “THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT”
>> THE PRESIDENT HAS GOT A GIRLFRIEND.

JEFF:
WHEN THE PRESIDENT'S GIRLFRIEND POLITICAL ACTIVISM IS REVEALED, THE WHITEHOUSE IS THROWN INTO TURMOIL UNTIL THE PRESIDENT SHOWS UP IN THE BREACHING ROOM AND ISSUES A CHALLENGE.

CLIP FROM “THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT”
>> YES, I AM A CARDCARRYING MEMBER OF THE ACLU BUT THE MORE IMPORTANT QUESTION IS, WHY AREN'T YOU, BOB?

JEFF:
THEN THE PRESIDENT EMBRACES FLAG BURNING AS A CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT, ANNOUNCES AN ENERGY BILL TO CUT BACK ON FOSSIL FUELS, AND PROMISES TO GET RID OF, NOT ONLY ASSAULT WEAPONS, BUT HAND GUNS, THE IMPLICATION IS IF ONLY A LIBERAL PRESIDENT WOULD THROW CAUTION TO THE WINDS FOR ONCE, HE WOULD WIN OVER THE COUNTRY.

JUST FIVE YEARS AFTER "THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT" WAS RELEASED, AL GORE LOST AT LEAST THREE STATES, INCLUDING HIS HOME STATE OF TENNESSEE, SIMPLY FOR ADVOCATING FAR MORE MODERATE IDEAS ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT AND GUNS.  OF COURSE, MICHAEL DOUGLAS WAS BETTERLOOKING.

FOR SHEER UNADULTERATED “WHAT PLANET IS THIS” STORYTELLING, YOU CAN'T TOP “THE CONTENDER”, WHERE A CLINTONIAN PRESIDENT NOMINATES A WOMAN SENATOR TO FILL THE VICE PRESIDENTIAL VACANCY.

HER NOMINATION IS JEOPARDIZED WHEN STORIES OF AN OLD SCANDAL FINDS THEIR WAY TO A POWERFUL CONGRESSIONAL CHAIRMAN PLAYED BY GARY OLDHAM.

BOY, IS HE A BAD GUY. HOW DO I KNOW? HE'S MEAN TO HIS WIFE, HE SMOKES, HE EATS MEAT AND HE CHEWS WITH HIS MOUTH OPEN. SO WHAT DOES THE PRESIDENT DO?

WELL, OF COURSE, HE GIVES A SPEECH – TO A CONGRESS WHICH IS CONTROLLED BY THE OPPOSITION PARTY, REMEMBER – AND HE INSULTS THEM.

CLIP FROM “THE CONTENDER”

>> SO LADIES AND GENTLEMEN OF THIS CONGRESS, IT PAINS MY SOUL TO TELL YOU THAT YOU HAVE BROUGHT BLOOD AND SHAME UNDER THIS GREAT DOME.

JEFF:
AND WHAT DO THESE POLITICAL OPPONENTS, WHO HAVE JUST BEEN TOLD THEY HAVE BEHAVED SHAMEFULLY, DO?  THEY GIVE HIM A STANDING OVATION. OF COURSE THEY DO.

NO ONE YELLS, “YOU LIE”, BECAUSE THE SPEECH HAS CONVINCED THEM ALL.

NOW, IN THE REAL WORLD, EVEN THE MOST ELOQUENT OF PRESIDENTS, FDR, REGAN, OBAMA, HAVE FACED STRONG POLITICAL OPPOSITION.  WHY DOES THAT OPPOSITION MELT IN THE MOVIES?  WELL, HERE IS ONE THEORY.

IN HOLLYWOOD THE WRITER LIVES IN RODNEY DANGERFIELD WORLD, HE DON'T GET NO RESPECT, NO RESPECT AT ALL.  STUDIO EXECUTIVES WHO MOVE THEIR LIPS WHEN THEY READ MENUS TRASH THE BEST WORDS, SO WHEN A WRITER DOES A POLITICAL MOVIE, HE KNOWS IT'S THE ONE PLACE WHERE WORDS WILL WIN.

AND THAT'S WHY I'M CONFIDENT THAT RIGHT NOW OUT THERE EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU, ON YOUR FEET, CHEERING EVERY WORD I'VE JUST SAID.

THANK YOU.  THANK YOU.