Springtime For Clinton

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by J. Neil Schulman

Remember Mel Brooks's classic comedy, The Producers? A deranged ex-stormtrooper living in New York in the 1960's finds that his play glorifying Hitler is produced on Broadway by a corrupt producer who needs a sure failure so he can sell more than 100% of the royalties. The play begins with a musical number: "Germany was having trouble, what a sad, sad story. Needed a new leader to restore its former glory. Where oh where is he? Where can that man be? We looked around and then we found the man for you and me. And now it's springtime for Hitler and Germany ..."

Catchy tune. It was dancing through my head as I walked out of seeing the current movie The American President.

Here we have a romantic comedy where a handsome, youngish, liberal, and blessedly widowed American president played by Michael Douglas starts dating an attractive, liberal environmental lobbyist played by Annette Bening. It's a year before the 1996 elections at the time of the story, the Democratic president's popularity is at an all-time high, the Democratic party controls Congress, and the Republican Senate minority leader, a Republican from Kansas named Bob, is making his run for the White House with nothing more of a political program than platitudes about family values. This leaves the liberals in power with a monopoly on serious ideological agendas -- you know, let's ban the internal combustion engine to stop global warming and ban private gun ownership to stop street crime.

At the top of the American president's political agenda is his "Crime Bill" with "crime control" measures such as banning "assault weapons"; but for political expediency, the handgun provisions are being dropped from the bill.

The president's speechwriter is complaining that the president delivered a speech where he declares that America is no longer a great society, but cut out the paragraph which explained that we're no longer great because we still own guns. Meanwhile, the president is supplying advanced missile-defense systems to the Israelis and bombing a Libyan intelligence headquarters which masterminded an attack on American operatives in Israel.

In other words, we'll bomb foreigners so other foreigners can have our missiles to defend themselves with, but the American people can't have small arms to defend themselves from their local gangbangers.

Then, in the final moments of the movie, the American president realizes that he's just been compromising his principles too damn much -- that's why his popularity is down twenty points from the beginning of the movie. So no more waffling! Get rid of those bad cars! Ban those bad guns! Join an ACLU that defends the entire Bill of Rights except for that embarrassing Second Amendment!

So far, this could be an episode of the recent TV series, Sliders, where our heroes slide into alternate universes where the British won the American Revolution or the Atom Bomb was never invented. The American President takes place in an alternate universe where some far-seeing Democrat eliminated Hillary before Bill ran for the White House; consequently, the president wisely decided to hold off on the Brady Bill and Crime Bill until after the 1994 Congressional elections, which left the Democrats in power.

It takes a few years to make a movie; this one was evidently in production before Clinton amazingly managed to blow away forty years of Democratic control of Congress by royally pissing off millions of Americans who don't want their guns banned. But given how our real history seems to have veered off in a direction the movie's writers and producers couldn't predict, The American President comes across instead as "Springtime for Clinton." If only the Democratic Party had a charismatic, Hillary-less, and politically astute president who waited a while before trying to sell the American people on ACLU membership, flag-burning, junk environmental science, and banning guns, the Democrats could still be in power.

Instead, the Democrats got stuck with a true-believing liberal president who made allowing gays in the military the first priority of his administration, told his wife to go forth and sell socialized medicine to the American people, and spent the remaining political capital of his first two years in office alienating America's 70 million gun owners by pushing through anti-gun legislation.

And all Hollywood's liberals, led by Jane Fonda's husband Ted Turner, who produced this film, can figure is that they must have hired the wrong salesman. If only Bill Clinton didn't "waffle" about his liberal agenda. If only Hillary wasn't so Machiavellian. It couldn't possibly be that after sixty years of increasing taxes and leviathan bureaucracy, the American people were finally sick and tired of so-called liberalism.

But this weariness regarding liberalism just doesn't penetrate into Hollywood, even if it would make a movie more in tune with the actual feelings of the American people who buy movie tickets. It would be easy, with a slight rewrite, to tell the same romantic story, with a widowed Republican president dating the chief lobbyist of the NRA -- if the model for Annette Bening's character was the NRA's Tanya Metaksa. But is there a single Hollywood producer who will seriously assert that Hollywood is so in love with the First Amendment that such a movie could actually be produced?

I'm waiting, Ted, but not holding my breath.

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