The Campaign (2012)

Rated R. Our ratings: V -4; L -8; S/N -5. Running time: 1 hour 25 min.

So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet
before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues
and in the streets, so that they may be praised by
others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward…
And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites;
for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues
and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by
others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward…
Matthew 6:2-5

For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
Matthew 16.26.

Two pols, one crooked, the other inept.

2012 Warner Brothers

“War has rules. Mud wrestling has rules. Politics has no rules.” Ross Perot This political satire begins, appropriately enough, with a quotation from a politician. There are indeed no rules in politics because rules involve limitations, and in the campaigns of today, the soul-killing desire to win is so in tense that the contestants will do anything, cross over any ethical or moral boundary, to destroy the reputation of each other and spread their lies about themselves, as director Jay Roach’s film well shows.

Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) is a sleazy veteran US Congressman up for re-election in a North Carolina district. He appears to be a shoo-in, with no one daring to oppose him. However a pair of super wealthy financiers Glenn and Wade Motch (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd—their fictional last name will bring to mind a real pair of high rollers) want to have a more malleable Congressman to assist them in plans to build a new factory in he district and bring in a cheap labor force from China. They secretly bankroll naïve local tour director Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), so inept that when he comes to the state office to register his candidacy, he cannot open the door when he tries to leave. Brady is at first dumb-founded that he now faces opposition, but not for long.

Thus far the film sounds a little like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but the resemblance stops here, with all the action centring on the campaign in North Carolina, and not on the nation’s capital. Also, the film earns its R rating because of the foul language of the characters, which is too bad, as this will limit its audience. The satire is funny at times, with Brady addressing a host of various groups and pandering to them by declaring that each “is the backbone of our nation.” Brady’s sexual misdemeanors come out when he leaves a salacious message on the wrong machine, that of a very conservative citizen. However, although his ratings take a nose-dive, he soon regains his status by a series of dirty tricks aimed at besmirching the clueless Marty. (In case one thinks this is unrealistic, think of Newt Gingrich’s remarkable comeback.)

The makeover by a political operative of Marty and his family is funny and all too true, as can be seen by the attempt of a current Presidential candidate to redefine himself by denying his past achievements and opinions on issues. Politicians really do contort themselves in order to appeal to ceratin segments of the voting public. Both characters come close to losing their souls in their quest for victory. The decision of one of them is heartening, but is it realistic, or put their mainly to satisfy us viewers? And yet I would love to see a candidate do what one of these does! The script needed the skill of a Paddy Chayefsky—now Network, there is a satire with real bite! It too has some foul language, but only in those places where it counts.

For Reflection/Discussion

1. What do you think of political campaigns? How are they like war, in which the first casualty is truth? What half-truths and lies have you detected in the campaign ads of both parties?

2. What tactics in the film seem outrageous—and yet which you have seen employed?

3. What do you think of the makeover of Marty, his family, and even his house? How is this just an exaggeration of what candidates for office do? How do you think we the public can tell an authentic person from a phoney one in campaigns? Much has been made about revealing a politicians’ tax returns for a period of several years: what is it that they might reveal? How can this help us evaluate a candidates’ actual values and financial practices?

4. What do you think of the influence of money in politics? Do you see any way of balancing the influence of Big Money versus ordinary voters? Do you think that Congress will ever be able to set rules for a political campaign with a level playing field? Why or why not?

5. Watch closely the campaign ads. What do they tell you positively about the candidate: or is it an attack on the opponent. If an attack, is it on the opponent’s character or does it deal with issues? Any facts, or just broad generalities? Why are 30 second TV spots a poor tool for informing the public? Do their words appeal to the intellect or to the emotions? Any touch of racism in the script or images—such hot words as welfare and food stamps or unAmerican?