Boycott the Election: Rent "Election"

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The
battle of the dwarves: Creepy versus Dopey. Blind ambition versus
bland ignorance. The grasping, vicious mercenary who would pimp
out his own family to put himself in power, versus the amiable
dunce who's not really sure why he's running or whether he can
get to the end of a sentence without a committing a syntactical
hate crime. Do you ever get the feeling you've seen all this before?

Well
if you've seen "Election," the 1999 comedy starring
Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick – you have. And if you haven't
seen "Election," rent it tonight instead of watching
the debate. Everything that's going on in the current, national
race – right down to the candidates – is encapsulated in this brilliant
little film. And believe me, it plays better as farce than as
tragedy.

This
crass but hilarious movie might have been subtitled "Everything
I Really Needed to Know About Politics and Human Nature I Learned
in High School." In it, Matthew Broderick plays Jim McAllister,
an earnest high-school history teacher who genuinely believes
the good-government nostrums he imparts to his students. Reese
Witherspoon plays Tracy Flick, a junior at Carver High, and just
the sort of grotesquely ambitious student-council type that most
of us knew and hated in high school. Tracy's Machiavellian brownnosing
and ravenous lust for power appalls McCallister. When she stands
unopposed in the election for student body president, McAllister
decides that he has to stop her. He recruits junior Paul Metzler
(Chris Klein), Carver High's first-string quarterback, who's sitting
out the season with a broken leg. A gregarious, good-hearted dope
beloved by jocks and dorks alike, Paul never knew he had political
ambitions and aptitude until Mr. McAllister so informed him. Despite
his intellectual limitations, Paul decides he's game to give politics
a try.

If
the parallels to our current, unappetizing menu of electoral choices
aren't obvious by now, they certainly will be when you watch the
scene where the candidates give their campaign speeches in the
school gymnasium. Paul is pure Dubya. Awkward, innocent, and dumb
as a brick, he grins endearingly after he finishes sounding out
the speech that his girlfriend has written for him. And Tracy
Flick's speech is vintage Al Gore: condescending, pedantic, prissy,
and insincere. Like Gore, Tracy makes a point of singling out
individual voters by name, to exemplify the kind of hapless schmucks
her administration will benefit. "During this campaign,"
she declares, "I've spoken with many of you about your many
concerns. I spoke with Eliza Ramirez, a freshman, who said she
feels alienated from her own homeroom. I spoke with sophomore
Reggie Banks, who says his mother works in the cafeteria and can't
afford to buy him enough spiral notebooks for his classes."
This last prompts shouts of derision from a troublemaker in the
bleachers: "Eat me! Eat me raw!!" (Is there any way
to sneak that kid into tonight's town-hall-style debate?)

The
election in "Election" is better than the real thing
in many ways, not the least of which is that in the movie, there's
no chance of Tracy Flick ending up with access to nuclear weapons.
So stay away from reality programming tonight. If you watch the
presidential debate, you can look forward to a series of harrowing,
white-knuckle moments every time Dubya opens his mouth and begins
talking. (Have you ever seen another candidate that makes normal
human conversation seem so much like a high-wire act?) But if
you watch "Election," you'll get the perverse joy of
watching Mr. McAllister's life unravel as he slowly comes to the
realization that the Tracy Flicks of the world just might be unstoppable.
Watch the debate, and you'll find yourself confused and unsettled
by Al Gore's attempts to approximate the behavior of a carbon-based
life-form. But watch "Election," and you'll get to see
the lovely Reese Witherspoon, who as Tracy Flick, is a major improvement
over Gore, in that she manages to be adorable as well as contemptible.

But
in one significant respect, the parallel to the Gore-Bush race
breaks down. In the election in "Election," there's
an authentic and highly visible protest candidate with the ability
to animate the libertarian portion of the electorate. Sophomore
Tammy Metzler, Paul Metzler's lesbian sister, enters the race
in a fit of pique, and threatens to unite the disaffected and
bring the whole edifice of student government crashing to the
ground. Tammy's speech is good enough to quote at length:

"Who
cares about this stupid election? Do you really think it's
gonna change anything around here? Make one single person smarter,
or happier, or nicer? The only person it does matter to is the
one who gets elected. The same pathetic charade happens
every year. And everyone makes the same pathetic promises
so they can get elected and put it on their transcripts to get
into college. So vote for me. Because I don't even want
to go to college. And I don't care. And as president, I won't
do anything. The only promise I will make is that if elected,
I will immediately dismantle the student government so that none
of us will ever have to sit through one of these stupid
assemblies again!" (Loud cheers)

"Or
don't vote for me! Who cares? Don't vote at all!!" (Louder
cheers, shouts of "Tamm-ee! Tamm-ee!")

Amen,
sister. If only you were in this race.

October
17, 2000

Gene
Healy is an attorney practicing in Northern Virginia.

Gene
Healy Archives

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