I recently put a bullet in a long-lingering copy of Sidney Lumet’s Power, from 1986. It’s a not-at-all-bad political-power-broker drama, starring a mustachioed Richard Gere as Pete St. John, a hired-gun, high-billing, ultra-successful political image consultant who’s wrapping up a populist national campaign in South America while also overseeing simultaneous gubernatorial races in New Mexico and Washington, plus a special Ohio senate election to fill the seat of one of his first clients, and perhaps closest friend.
The film’s plot turns mostly on the latter strand, and a potential blackmail/political reorganization scheme that may be afoot in an effort to squash — get this — a comprehensive renewable energies program. Yes, in 1986. Some other forward-reaching, ahead-of-the-curve and/or timeless bits — including eerily appropriate invocations of “straight talk” and not being “able to afford on-the-job-training” — help make the movie look hip, politically knowing and with it, if the fashions certainly don’t. It’s desperately out of step, however, with regards to the mercenary ethic with which it imbues St. John. Money may have ruled in the mid-1980s, but partisans on both sides have since hardened; while party switcheroos are not unusual, either early or late in political life (see James A. Baker, and most recently Arlen Specter), top-shelf campaign gunners could now certainly not move so freely along the ideological spectrum as Gere’s character. They wouldn’t be trusted — kind of like a guy who neither drinks nor knows a single thing about any sport. Information would be withheld, jaws clenched, etcetera; destruction would commence from the inside out, on one brittle campaign or another.
Mostly, though, I was struck by an amusing depiction of technology in Power. There’s a 103-second computer search sequence (think about that) where a number-crunching ally of St. John tries to unearth the business connections, off-shore and otherwise, of a shadowy lobbyist (played by Denzel Washington) who’s hired St. John to oversee the campaign of a well-financed Ohio Democrat. It’s a looong scene, sure, so it’s funny in that regard. But it’s also notable because the character even leaves the room, assuming, I guess, that it will take his supercomputer all night to complete the task. Watching this, you can’t convince me that Google and other search engines, for all their advantages, aren’t going to (even further) massively effect the gratification impulses of today’s kids. This partially relates, I believe, to the Bush administration’s (political) success in playing so fast and loose with facts about the Iraq War, torture, et al. Why? Because information seemingly means less when, over and over, it’s gained without consistent, focused mental effort.