The Ides of March might be the first post-Obama movie, and as such it’s an important film — not for what it thinks it is saying but for what it is actually says about the neverending disillusionment of liberals who, despite heroic efforts, can never quite escape reality.
The movie is entirely a far-left project, based on a play by a former Howard Dean aide, produced in part by Leonardo DiCaprio, and starring George Clooney, who also co-wrote and directed it. Watching it is like being a fly on the wall in a room full of ardent liberals who don’t realize they’re being watched, or how ridiculous they look — especially when they believe they are being very mature, deep, and serious.
The Ides of March takes place on the eve of an Ohio Democratic primary in which two contenders are neck and neck. One of them, a liberal Arkansas senator, we barely meet. The other is the handsome, charming Gov. Mark Morris (George Clooney), who incessantly defends liberal social issues (there is scarcely a word about economics in the entire film). Despite the extremism of this character (who disavows any religious beliefs and believes gay marriage is a basic civil right, in both cases placing him well to the left of the 2008 Obama campaign), we are led to believe that he will easily win the general election if he can defeat his Democratic rival. To stop this from happening, Rush Limbaugh and other conservatives launch “Operation Chaos,” in which they exhort the right wing to vote for Morris’s rival in the open Ohio primary.
Morris’s chief tacticians are his crusty, cynical campaign manager (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and a young, idealistic deputy (Ryan Gosling) who is only 30 but is already a political superstar due to his skill at spinning reporters such as Ida (Marisa Tomei), a New York Times writer who is constantly trying to leverage gossip to force the players involved to give her bigger scoops.
Spoilers lie ahead, but it wouldn’t be proper to write about the film without mentioning how idiotic its plot is. For all of the “insidery” goings on and the air of knowingness that accompanies the scenes inside the campaign office, we are obliged to believe that it constitutes a major scoop when Ida finds out the Gosling character had a beer with the chief (Paul Giamatti) of the rival campaign. There are all sorts of innocent reasons why these men might meet (they are, after all, both liberal Democrats), and even in the Times it would hardly constitute a major story. What would the headline be: “Political Operatives Have Conversation in Bar”? Yet this paltry item of micro-trivia sets off a chain reaction that could have historic consequences.
The other unbelievably moronic plot element involves a slutty intern (Evan Rachel Wood) who, after a one-night stand with Gov. Morris, gets pregnant — and is unable to come up with $900 for an abortion. Her dad is a Catholic ex-senator and the head of the DNC whom she dare not ask for the money (even though, back in reality, virtually all Catholic Democrats are vehement defenders of abortion). But a girl who grew up in the upper reaches of Washington must have hundreds of rich friends she could ask to loan her $900. Instead, she goes directly to Gov. Morris to ask him for the money, which threatens to derail his campaign.
Clooney lacks the guts to run for office (the idea of all of his old girlfriends suddenly having the power to break him makes him queasy), but this movie must have been the next best thing. Can you imagine what a kick he got out of standing at a podium while paid extras playing devoted followers held up Shepard Fairey-style signs showing his face gazing manfully into the future above the legend, “BELIEVE”? Picture how dazed by his own greatness Clooney must have been when he pretended to be at a town hall meeting where he patiently explained to young voters that Americans would enthusiastically back gay marriage if only you compared the plight of gays to that of blacks under Jim Crow. Think about how dearly Clooney would love to hear President Obama step up in front of a crowd of cheering throngs and confess to being an atheist (as Gov. Morris sort of does, in an odd speech in which he declares he’s not a Christian or a Jew or an atheist but simply a believer in the Constitution — even the Second and Tenth Amendments, Governor?).
The pitiful state of the national economy doesn’t get mentioned in this movie because Clooney and the others behind The Ides of March honestly think that social issues (including the apocalyptic religion of global warming alarmism) are all that matter, or at least all that should matter. Moreover, Clooney thinks that a candidate who honestly and non-defensively laid out far-left positions on all of these issues would actually be hugely popular, all evidence to the contrary. Gov. Morris — to huge cheers — announces that, on day one as president, he will simply order a ban on the internal combustion engine in automobiles, to take effect in ten years. Because to liberals, solving global warming is just that easy: Diktats shall be handed down, and if the person giving them is charismatic and handsome, hoi polloi will gratefully comply.
So why is it that, back in reality, liberal presidents invariably get cut down in the polls according to how many liberal schemes they promote? Maybe it isn’t because people think ideas like ordering all gasoline-powered cars off the road are silly, expensive, and impractical. It’s because of corruption in the system (a powerful Ohio politician played by Jeffrey Wright offers to put Morris over the top by delivering the delegates he controls, asking to be made secretary of state in return, but Morris refuses to compromise on principle) and it’s because of flaws in the voters. In what is meant to be the movie’s big applause line and a damning indictment of American mores, we are told that a president can start wars, lie, cheat, drive the country into bankruptcy, and in general do anything he wants — but he can’t enjoy a casual romp with an intern.
In other words: Even a presidential candidate must placate voting blocs as represented by powerful politicos and the voters may exercise their right to reject a candidate on moral grounds. The problem with this country is, according to The Ides of March, simple: There’s too much damn democracy.