Saturday, October 22, 2005

Assessing the Imperial Presidency

I’ve refused to watch TV’s The West Wing for almost a decade. Likewise, I’ve so far avoided ABC’s new Commander in Chief, the dramatic series starring Geena Davis as the first female (and most adorable ever) U.S. president. But Gene Healy has both caught the show and written a great piece about it for Reason. He confirms my suspicions — Commander in Chief, like The West Wing before it, is just another contemporary Hollywood liberal descent into state-worship. Writes Gene:

“Perhaps it’s a mistake to try to glean political messages from prime-time television, but Geena Davis’s turn as a distaff Richard Nixon suggests that if there’s anything the left and the right can agree on, it’s the glory of the Imperial Presidency.”

For my money, the best Hollywood critique of the presidency was Oliver Stone’s 1995 masterpiece Nixon. Sure, Stone is usually a Left loony and Nixon was a box office dud, but this film is still a well-honed attack on Executive Power and a brilliant analysis of the workings and inevitable destructiveness of government. The movie’s only real fault is in rerunning the tired myth that a “watchdog” press brought Nixon down, when what really clobbered him were the counter-powers existing within the heart of what Stone calls The Beast (aka The State). The “Director’s Cut” DVD is essential. It includes two feature-length commentaries by Oliver Stone, a separate interview with Stone, and 28 minutes of originally deleted footage that’s been seamlessly reinserted into the film. One of the new scenes, a fictional but entirely plausible meeting between Nixon (played by the magnificent Anthony Hopkins) and CIA Director Richard Helms (an effectively oily portrayal by Sam Waterston), is one of the most chilling bits of cinema I’ve ever seen.

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At 4:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I wanted to watch Geena Davis in a "government job" perhaps The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) would be a good choice.

At 2:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Wretched Nixon disdained the CIA, regarding it as a little more than a work relief program for excessively well bred Ivy League graduates. He was correct. The CIA should have been abolished after the Kennedy fiasco at the Bay Of Pigs, and the responsibility for foreign intelligence should have been returned to the Armed Forces. The CIA was a bureaucratic solution to a problem of national culture, much like the abomination called the Department Of Homeland Security. The proliferation of U.S. Government Agencies and Departments is part of the process of encroachment whereby the (rent-seeking) Credentialed Magnates contrive to live well at the expense of the Productive Contributors.

At 8:34 PM, Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Stone's take on Watergate as an inside coup was right on the money, as it turns out. Deep Throat was a disgruntled Hoover crony upset over the de-Stalinization of the FBI.

Of course, Nixon's mistake was going after the "left" wing of the bipartisan state capitalist establishment. If he'd stuck with burgling headquarters of outfits like the PLP and harassing the underground press, like LBJ, there'd have been nary a peep from anyone who counted.


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