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.”
What’s wrong with that? Not that I personally know anybody in flyover country; as the movie mogul, Jack Lipnik, says to the eponymous Barton Fink in the Coen brothers’ best movie: “I’m from New York myself — well, Minsk if you wanna go way back.” But out here in Hollywood, we’ve had their number for years. In fact, we love making movies about them: beetle-browed, Bible-thumping hillbillies who sleep with their guns and their sisters. Chronically unemployed superstitious malcontents, helplessly buffeted by the winds of change or the Chinese, whichever comes first. Racist losers. You know, like the local yokels who made poor Ned Beatty squeal like pig in Deliverance before Burt Reynolds put an arrow through one of them. We liberals are just trying to help.
But maybe Barry’s private remarks didn’t come off as helpful. (Have they tracked down the Bushitler operative who recorded his chat and leaked it to Arianna yet? Where’s Alberto Gonzales when we need him?) Maybe they really did sound arrogant, aloof, and condescending — quintessentially Harvard, as it were. Hey, give the guy a break: One of the hardest things about being a liberal Democrat is that, when you’re talking to the resentful yahoos whose votes you unfortunately need, you have to pretend to care about them. When you’re trying to sell Hope and Change, you need to give the rubes Hope that the Change is going to be Change they want. Even when you know there’s no Hope of that.
Just ask Mrs. Obama. Quoth Michelle: “Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.”
You hear that, people — we’re talking to you!
So I guess now the cat’s out of the carpetbag. But you know what? It won’t matter. Hillary can show up in St. Patrick’s Cathedral with the New Testament in one hand and an Uzi in the other and it still won’t help her. We have the media — half of whom went to Harvard themselves — on our side. We have Hope and Change. We have Bush. We have the Obamamometer, on which our guy always scores a glorious, perfect 10.
This time, we can’t lose. Can we?
– David Kahane is the nom de cyber of a Hollywood screenwriter. You can write to him at email@example.com. Just don’t ask him to read your scripts.