Thought people on this list might be interested in how a classic film
can be (quite oddly) picked up as a touchstone for political debates.
Anybody like to play some cards?


Finally, a little mud
Before Congress even starts the day, a card-carrying member of the
right-wing fringe labels McCain a "Manchurian Candidate."

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Jake Tapper

March 20, 2001 | WASHINGTON -- Barely one day into the debate over the
campaign finance reform bill introduced by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz.,
and Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and the mudslinging has already begun.

An e-mail sent out to "many, many" citizens and media organizations on
Tuesday morning by Larry Farrell, a board member of Gun Owners of New
Jersey, the state affiliate of national gun rights organization Gun
Owners of America, accuses McCain, who was a POW in Vietnam for
years, of having "collaborated with the enemy." The e-mail calls McCain
"the Manchurian Candidate come to life," a reference to the 1962 film in
a brainwashed Korean War POW returns to the United States and is thrust
into the middle of a presidential campaign.

"McCain's secure enough not to worry about whatever slime crawls out to
attack him during this debate," said McCain's Senate chief of staff,
Salter. "The people who know or were witnesses to his service know how
well he served his country, and that's the only opinion that matters to

Farrell said that attacks against McCain's character and war record were
justified, since McCain's actions on campaign finance reform, as well as
support for closing the gun show loophole, indicate that "McCain wants
to destroy the First and Second Amendments."

"He has taken an oath more than once to support and defend the
Constitution from enemies both domestic and abroad," Farrell said. "It
is our opinion
that he is acting in a manner similar to the actions of the character in
the movie because the man is violating the oath of office."

Members of the McCain-Feingold brigade had anticipated all sorts of
attacks against their bill, which would ban the unregulated, unlimited
party cash known as "soft money," among other campaign reform measures.
Some groups, of course, like the American Civil Liberties Union, oppose
the measure on philosophical grounds, as a limit on free speech. For
others, it's a more personal matter; since interest groups and
individuals wield
power through the dissemination of this money, reformers say, it's just
common sense that the interests would want to protect the tools through
they exert influence.

But until this morning, in this debate, opponents kept their
disagreements relatively aboveboard. The Gun Owners of New Jersey e-mail
-- however
minor an effort -- is still the first iota of slime, wherein a player in
this debate is being attacked personally.

Asked how he justified referring to McCain by the name of a brainwashed,
Communist movie character, Farrell referred a reporter to a fringe
group Web site whose statements have been refuted elsewhere. Farrell
said that his charge that McCain had "collaborated with the enemy"
from the fact that, after being tortured in the POW camp, McCain signed
a confession to war crimes.

A number of political observers have wondered how far the attacks
against McCain would go during this debate. Not only is the very means
by which
lobbyists, unions and corporations exert influence in politics being
threatened by McCain-Feingold's proposed ban on "soft money" -- not to
mention a
constitutionally questionable ban on third-party "issue" ads around
election time -- but the odd dynamic between McCain and President Bush
is at play
as well.

McCain's power and influence in the Senate will surely increase if his
campaign finance reform bill passes; they will surely decrease if it
does not. Bush
wants the latter to happen. He wants McCain to be marginalized, to the
point that his White House instructed his Senate liaison, Sen. Bill
R-Tenn., to make an end run around McCain and try to work with
Democratic senators on an HMO patients bill of rights, even though it's
bill. And, as we all recall from the South Carolina primary, Bush is
capable of allowing -- if not ordering -- any manner of personal attack
against an
opponent by his allies.

Is Bush willing to play the game again? It's early in the game yet.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

About the writer
Jake Tapper is Salon's Washington correspondent.
His upcoming book is "Down and Dirty: The Plot
to Steal the Presidency."

Jason Mittell, Asst. Professor of Film/Video and Moving Image Studies
Department of Communication
Georgia State University
1040 One Park Place South
Atlanta, GA  30303
[log in to unmask]
(404) 463-9524 / fax: (404) 651-1409
In person: 740 One Park Place South

Screen-L is sponsored by the Telecommunication & Film Dept., the
University of Alabama: