The Obamamometer
The perfect candidate breaks from script.


You know how people talk in this town. Everybody’s on a first-name basis with Brad and Angelina, especially if they’ve never met them; everyone takes credit for a movie’s success even if he was the exec who passed on the project before that final rewrite turned it into a hit and got him fired; and everybody thinks that his or her opinion about presidential politics really matters. “What I do know?” an executive once sighed to me. “I couldn’t even get my candidate elected.”

So the other day, I was having lunch on the patio at Orso’s with a fellow screenwriter, and as we watched all the suits making deals that didn’t include us, all the actresses who aren’t going to be in our movies, and all the agents who won’t return our phone calls, this writer leaned over to me and whispered, “Have you heard about the Obamamometer?”

I won’t keep you in suspense. Turns out that this writer knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who went to Harvard Law with B. Hussein Obama Jr., and, the story goes, such was Barry’s monumental capacity for sucking up to his professors that the “Obamamometer” was established to calibrate and quantify the most egregious, shameless brown-nosing, and it quickly became the gold standard of Uriah Heep-dom in Cambridge, Mass. “That was a 10 on the Obamamometer,” the Harvard men and women would whisper when someone rose to the unctuous level of Barry at his best. Who knows, maybe they still do.

I laughed in my friend’s face — “you expect me to believe that?” I cried. After all, if you wanted to invent the ideal candidate for a post-9/11 world, you couldn’t do much better than Obama: his parents’ brave interracial marriage, their tragically broken home, the early years experiencing religious and cultural diversity in Indonesia, then on to a fancy private prep school in Hawaii, Harvard Law, and, for good measure, a dollop of good old-fashioned Chicago machine/ward-heeler bare-knuckled politics. No wonder a first-term senator with no particular qualifications or accomplishments realized that he could run for president!

But my friend had even more surprises in store for me. It seems that at Harvard our Barry was widely regarded as a person of overweening arrogance and a gold-plated sense of entitlement; not only did the world owe him a living, it owed him just about everything. I was so upset I made my buddy pick up the check for our two salads, a shared carpaccio, and designer waters, since he’s working at the moment and I’m not.

Then along came San Francisco. Always eager to display his common touch, Barry tootled up the hill to the modest Pacific Heights shack of one of the sons of J. Paul Getty, said something that everybody on our side knows is plainly true and — whoops! — you’d have thought he’d just rolled another gutter ball while pretending to bowl in McKeesport, or something.

Speaking of the folks in flyover country, he said: “You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them . . . it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”