Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

‘Swing Vote’ shows that hearing unfiltered from Americans can make a difference

leave a comment »

Originally published on on Mon, 08/04/2008 – 9:57am

I realize you have been waiting all weekend for the stirring conclusion of my take on “Swing Vote.” As you remember from last Friday, I took a look at the prominent political movie of the summer (okay, it’s been a slow summer) to see if something might come from it. Well, $10.50 and close to 2 hours later, there are some fragments to take out of this.

(Needless to say, there are SPOILERS to come, so you have been warned.)

The scenario of the movie is captivating: what if it came down to one vote for president and what would happen. The question the movie tries to answer is “What if this happened and the person left to decide was extremely clueless about the life around him?”

Kevin Costner plays Earnest “Bud” Johnson, a man who is an alcoholic, single father living in a trailer and working in an egg factory in the middle of a small town in New Mexico. His life has been sliding, hence the extensive drinking he does. Early in the movie, he is concerned about what might happen if his daughter gets sick since they don’t have health insurance. Yet that doesn’t seem to be a reason for him to think about how politics can relate.

The question I had from Friday is that while his vote was in dispute, who would he have voted for in the vote that didn’t count. Turns out his daughter tried to vote for him, but there was a snafu with the machine. And we never learn who she would have voted for. She does say early in the movie that she registered him as an Independent since the two-party system failed to help poor people. He seemed clueless to why he would be an Independent, then again, the movie acts as if he doesn’t know there are Republicans and Democrats.

There was one moment with Larry King where they mention the possibility of a tie, and how the race would get thrown into the House of Representatives, an intriguing potential subplot. There ends up being no threat of him voting for a third party, which would throw the race into the House. Johnson would have had huge political power if he threatened to vote for neither one, and considering that his daughter might have done just that, the moviemakers walk away from this point without notice.

Costner’s character reminds us not of any classic political movie, but Chance “Gardener” the gardener from “Being There.” Johnson has no opinion on anything (other than the choice in beer, usually being Bud since he’s named Bud). Yet, since he is in the position of determining who the next president will be, has people focusing on his every word, similar in vein to Chance. The subsequent moves by the two frontrunners (the Republican discovers the environment and becomes pro-gay, the Democrat renounces abortion and wants fences at the border) aren’t based on Johnson’s actual thoughts but his dimwitted answers that are misinterpreted.

But Johnson seems as clueless to the outside world as Chance Gardener. Chance had an excuse, he’s lived a quiet life focused on television. But once Johnson becomes famous, he is absorbed by television: as the reporters are outside his house, he watches the TV to see what is outside his own window. In one scene, he is riding in a presidential limo and sticks his arm out the window; he watches the TV to see his arm as the camera from the helicopter is above the limo, filming his every move.

He has a 10-day period where he enjoys being a celebrity and being courted by the Republican incumbent (Kelsey Grammar) and Democratic challenger (Dennis Hopper). Grammar takes him on Air Force One and gives him a bag with the nuclear codes, using a football analogy to try and get through to Johnson. Hopper throws a big party with fancy food and plenty of Bud to drink, and get his two best friends at the party, and oh yeah, gets his rhythm section out of jail for the Willie Nelson tribute band. Richard Petty (Republican) shows up to let Johnson drive his racing car, and Nelson (Democratic) asks Johnson to show up at the party.

So Johnson behaves like someone not used to the spotlight reacts, in the words of Bill Maher in the movie, “a dumbass.”

Meanwhile, his daughter is going through the hundreds and thousands of letters written in by ordinary Americans who need his help. Johnson is clueless to the fact that he has been receiving these letters. Finally, in the big dramatic scene, he starts reading the letters from Americans with real problems (as if the alcoholic single father who lives in a trailer and oh yeah, loses his job on Election Day doesn’t have problems) the night before a final presidential debate.

In the climatic scene, Costner launches into a soliloquy on how he has behaved badly, and the importance of addressing real problems from Americans (and I’m paraphrasing), “If America is the richest country in the world, how come so many people can’t afford to live here?” He is one of those Americans, and it takes letters from fellow sufferers for him to see there is suffering? Seems difficult to believe, but Americans feel like they are doing better economically than they actually are doing.

Despite his complete cluelessness, any potential undecided voter could look at Johnson and say, “I’m way smarter than him.” And maybe that is the point of the movie. But in real life, undecided voters aren’t clueless; they have an idea of how they feel about the economy, taxes, and gay marriage. They just don’t know how to translate that into politics.

The one idea to truly take out of this film is to read real letters from real Americans at presidential debates, and have the candidates really address those concerns. Yes, the YouTube debate dealt a little with this idea, but the problem was that the MSM decided which questions to use. As clueless as Earnest “Bud” Johnson was in this movie, I still would pick him over the MSM to find the letters from real Americans with real problems to have addressed by the candidates.


Written by democracysoup

August 4, 2008 at 9:57 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: