The Koch Brothers Go To Hollywood
Don’t be fooled: what looks like Hollywood’s latest comedic romp with Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis duking it out for a congressional seat in “The Campaign” isn’t just political satire but something much more daring. The film is a thinly veiled story about how the Koch Brothers—America’s fifth and sixth richest men, Charles and David, worth $25 billion each—are buying the nation’s political system through their purchase of Tea Party candidates (a certain Paul Ryan with mega-Koch donations springs to mind). Grossly funny, “The Campaign” delivers a craven, pussy-whipped, intellectually stunted landscape of U.S. politics that Americans will instantly recognize, but with a subversive subtext we’re not quite used to.
Credit that to the movie’s co-star and co-producer, Galifianakis, one of the most popular actor-comedians working today who can therefore pretty much do what he likes. Dowdy, with a pot belly and handle-bar moustache, Galifianakis plays a small-town family man named Marty Huggins who gets tapped by the powerful “Motch Brothers” (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) to unseat the four-term, unchallenged, sex-enthralled Democrat Cam Brady (Ferrell) in North Carolina’s 14th congressional district.
But there’s something Huggins doesn’t realize. The million dollars that the Motch Brothers dropped into his Super PAC is little more than a down-payment on the real prize they’re after once he wins: the sale of the state’s entire 14th district to China, which will build three polluting factories there, hire Chinese workers at 50 cents an hour and generate $1 billion revenues in the latest free market trick known as “In-sourcing.”
Like the fictional Motch Brothers in "The Campaign," the real Koch Brothers effectively run today’s Kansas, where Koch Industries is headquartered, as a private fiefdom controlling its media, laws, politics, business regulations and the rest. For blue state-affiliate Americans who read and understand the news, Charles and David Koch are perhaps the country’s most reviled individuals for their titanic roles as industrial polluters who spend lavishly to gut emissions regulations, fund climate change denial, eviscerate labor laws and empower ultra-right front groups like Americans for Prosperity, which essentially manufactured the Tea Party political madness that has paralyzed our government. According to Forbes magazine, each of the Koch brothers is a tenth-of-a-billion dollars richer still than the Romney-Ryan ticket’s corpse-like casino sugardaddy, now under federal investigation for all manners of criminal charges in China, Mr. Sheldon Adelson.
Which returns us to our storyline: rich immoral businessmen creating candidates and purchasing elections to ensure that laws and legislation enable them to keep reaping record profits—a job made easier by the sexual buffoonery of candidates they’re up against. “The Campaign” opens with a swaggering Congressman Brady who steps into scandal when he wrongly dials and leaves a message at the home of a devout Christian family as they’re sitting down to dinner. “I wish I were eating Shayna pussy,” he pants into the receiver while proposing that he and his campaign mistress meet next time to “lick each other’s buttholes in a Denny’s bathroom.” It’s August, Brady’s poll numbers drop overnight from 62% to 46%, and the Motch Brothers see an opening. “We are job creators," they boast at a DC cocktail party, "and because of that we are candidate creators."
After signing up Huggins on the Republican ticket, the Brothers travel to Mera-Kai, China, where a factory boss leads them past children stirring bubbling green acidic vats as machines spit out dolls boxed for shipments marked “USA.” The Motch Brothers tell the Chinese boss they’re buying real estate under a shell corporation in North Carolina’s 14th district and invite him to establish his slave-wage, profit-soaring business on U.S. soil. The boss doubts that American laws will let him do that.
“We own the most willing resource of all,” the Brothers assure him, “a candidate.”
The boss replies skeptically, “American politics is very unpredictable.”
The Motch response: “There is something you need to know about American politics: when you’ve got the money, nothing is unpredictable.”
From there the plot moves at formidable speed with lowbrow, slapstick humor appearing to take over. In their first debate, Brady and Huggins get locked in a minute-long handshake whispering trash-talk to each other on stage (“You know the difference between your mama and a washing machine?” hisses Brady. “After I dump a load in her the washer doesn’t follow me around for three weeks”). The campaign turns uglier and the insults mount, like when Brady accuses Huggins of links to Al Qaeda and the Taliban based on his bushy moustache. Meanwhile, we see the democrat meet for lunch with Goldman Sachs executives who promise $500K to his Super PAC if he’ll pick up the phone when they call. At a town hall debate, a man in flannel sleeves stands up and asks Brady point-blank: “Why have you consistently voted against campaign finance reform? We all know big money runs this country—does it run you?” Brady adroitly shifts the conversation, leading to a hilarious episode on the role religiosity plays in politics.
Surprisingly, the mainstream media emerge from “The Campaign” looking rather innocent and less complicit in electoral charades than we normally give them credit for. An impressive cast of journalist celebrities have been brought in to report on the Brady-Huggins slug-fest, including cameos by Piers Morgan, Lawrence O’Donnell, Bill Maher, Wolf Blitzer, Chris Matthews, the Ed Show and Morning Joe’s Top Talkers.
Then, as Election Day looms, Huggins learns to play dirty Tea Party-style. At a demagogic Town Hall debate, he holds up a coloring book that Brady made in the 2nd grade entitled “Rainbow Land,” calling it “a 13 page communist doctrine” that reveals his opponent's early ideas about wealth redistribution in a world “where everything is free.” The coloring book sparks outrage; the audience becomes a screaming mob—“I don’t want to live in Rainbow Land!”—and a brawl finally erupts. The comparison to Tea Party rally fervor is unmistakable.
But things get worse. After Huggins runs a TV ad where he gets Brady’s own son to endorse him after asking him to call him Dad, an infuriated Brady retaliates: “I’m going to fuck his wife and put it on television.” And amazingly he does just that, seducing and secretly recording the episode with Huggins’s chubby wife, Mancy, which he releases as a porn-ad with the deep-voiced narration: “Marty Huggins can’t even take care of his own wife. So I did.” The ad gets 65 million hits on Youtube, catapulting Brady in the polls. But Huggins responds, showing up at Brady’s hunting photo op and blasting a rifle shot through Brady’s leg—an event the media quickly dubs a “hunting accident,” which in turn sends Huggins's poll ratings soaring.
It's at this point that the Motch Brothers invite Huggins in for a pre-celebratory whiskey and cigar and there unveil their China plan. Huggins balks. Realizing what it will mean if he gets elected, he decides finally to stand up. “I’m not going to be known as the congressman that sold out his district to the Chinese. What you’re doing is wrong," he says with a fearsome, cocked brow, "dead wrong.” And he walks off the campaign.
The Motch Brothers, though, have a simple answer: they just switch teams and pay Brady to be their man. But on Election Day, Huggins buys last minute TV airtime and makes a final plea to voters. He reveals that “billionaires and corporations are giving me money to say what they want me to say,” and promises the citizens of North Carolina that “I will never take another dime from another billionaire or corporation.” The speech reads like a direct challenge to our American political establishment today: calling on candidates to denounce, and renounce, corporate campaign financing as a prerequisite for their election.
The vote goes down to the wire, with voting machines manufactured by Motch Worldwide Global playing a decisive role. But there is, of course, a twist because this is Hollywood, not reality, and even hopeless sex-and-power addicted sleazes like Brady suffer from moments of self-realization. In the film’s closing shot, crowds raise brooms into the air as a signal that it’s cleaning time in Washington—a reference, it seems, to the brooms that became a symbol at Occupy Wall Street last October when hundreds swept and successfully defended Zuccotti Park, keeping the encampment alive for one more month.
When you see this film, stay for the credits. There, the Motch Brothers face a congressional hearing where they're accused of spending millions to buy off politicians and spread misinformation for personal gain. They claim protection under the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. But they haven’t covered all their personal tracks, and jail time appears imminent. It may not be the most poetic ending. But it feels something like justice.