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For Hollywood, All Politics Is National

Courtesy Sony Pictures
"Ides of March," starring Ryan Gosling and George Clooney, focuses on a presidential campaign.

“The rebel conservative. Ha ha. That is deviant brilliance,” says the frustrated host of “Good Morning Philadelphia” after her interview of Roberts.

“Vote for me, and I will bring the values of the common man to bear in Washington, D.C.,” Roberts, the multimillionaire candidate, says during his debate with the tired establishment incumbent, Sen. Brickley Paiste. 

Paiste, played spot-on by Gore Vidal, rather helplessly protests that politics is about “reality, not image.”

Like any good satire, “Bob Roberts” holds up over the years. 

Before the film, Robbins was active as a political commentator, working frequently with then-partner Susan Sarandon. Sarandon makes an appearance in “Bob Roberts” as a news anchor, as does Spader.

“Bulworth” opens with Beatty’s Sen. Jay Billington Bulworth, a one-time liberal crusader, having a breakdown in the middle of the 1996 California Senate primary. Bulworth, the longtime incumbent, is disgusted with the compromises that make up his career, including his own rightward lurch to try to win renomination.

He cracks up, takes out a hefty life insurance policy and a contract on his own life, then heads out on the campaign trail, liberated from the demands to woo voters and donors.

The best moments in the film are of the Senator, filters off, discarding a saccharine stump speech and taking questions off the cuff.

“Are you sayin’ the Democratic Party don’t care about the African-American community?” a woman asks.

“Isn’t it obvious? ... What are you going to do? Vote Republican?” Bulworth gleefully answers, as his nervous chief of staff, played by Oliver Platt, trips the church’s fire alarm.

Beatty has long been associated with liberal causes and even served as an adviser to George McGovern during his 1972 presidential run and to Gary Hart during his 1984 and 1988 presidential runs. In the wake of “Bulworth,” he even flirted with his own presidential run in 2000, ultimately deciding to take a pass.

One thing these films have in common is their focus on the candidates. Worth mentioning is another film, similar to “The Ides of March,” that focuses on campaign professionals rather than candidates.

Sidney Lumet’s “Power” is a hoot of ’80s go-go glitz. The plot focuses on an Ohio Senate campaign that Richard Gere’s Pete St. John is running, along with several other campaigns, notably gubernatorial races in New Mexico and Washington state and a presidential race in an unidentified South American country. 

At one point, St. John explains to a client how goals and positions, while laudable, have nothing to do with getting elected. 

“I’m sure they’re great, but they’re not important. My job is to get you in. Once you’re there, you do whatever your conscience tells you to do,” he says.

His amoral approach is tested in the Ohio Senate race as he takes on a client, Jerome Cade, played by J.T. Walsh, who is seeking to replace one of St. John’s oldest friends, Sen. Sam Hastings.  

St. John tells Hastings, played by E.G. Marshall, about his misgivings when he finds out that Cade is opposed to one of Hastings’ touchstone issues, solar power development.

“I don’t understand, Pete. You were never much interested in how your clients stood on the issues before,” Hastings says.

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