Focusing on a Democratic primary campaign, The Ides of March is a nuts and bolts examination of the essential compromises that comes with political ambitions. Whatever your principles, they must be sold off piece by piece until who you are does not exist, supplanted by the interests of others. This is a secret to nobody at this point, and frankly no politician should ever represent their own interests because the office is meant to represent others. Ideally, this representation is of voting constituents, but in reality is solely of interest groups that can raise money. We all know this, and we are already fucking sick of the endless campaign sloganeering. Actually, that isn’t true. Some do follow politics, but either as ideologues/fanatics who already know politics is utterly compromised and no longer give a shit, or as cynics with a morbid curiosity but who no longer give a shit. The candidates say what they think people want to hear, and adhere closely to the orders given them by the lobbyists who hold the campaign money. The Ides of March covers no new territory, but it does so in a fitfully interesting fashion before it crashes and burns with little consequence.
Ryan Gosling plays a press secretary, surely the lowest rung on the political ladder as the official liar who also gets the first blame for the decisions of their candidate. He truly believes in his boss as the real deal, and someone who truly can make the world a better place, or at least bringing honesty back to politics. The Real Deal is played by Clooney, using his charisma to great effect as a liberal Democrat who sounds like an agnostic that makes the job for his press secretary that much harder. He refuses to play the same political games as his opponent, and this appears to work in the early going. The campaign is shown in the correct fashion, in the thousands of tiny moments like handshakes, babies held, and glad-handling that define the outcome as a grand sum, rather illustrating the campaign with singular slam dunks. The Ides of March does get across that only people who would want this shitty job would either be a sociopath or a parasite. Idealists will become one of the two eventually. The pressure is high and the stakes are absolute, even though the identity of the players probably changes nothing about the game in the long run. As I said, none of the ground broken is novel, but it is important to reiterate the nature of politics as one of complete compromise, lest true believers make things even worse for the rest of us.
Gosling’s press secretary has absolute faith in his candidate, and naturally his dance through the clouds is rent asunder by a terrible revelation that shows Clooney’s political savior has a chink in his armor. His naivete comes back to haunt him until he becomes as ruthless as those who surround him – the campaign managers, the press, even the candidate. This sounds good in theory, but the lead character is poorly written to a devastating degree. An idealistic key campaign figure with a great deal of experience and a, as someone stated “master at managing the press”… is a naif? Really? His character idolizes his boss so much that there is actually a scene where he is doing some heavy pumping on an intern while watching Clooney on the telly. He makes a mistake that gives his campaign the impression that he is disloyal, and he is fired, and his reaction is one of utter horrified shock. He discovers a secret about Clooney that threatens the entire campaign, and he appears to be ready to vomit his viscera entirely, even though we have seen far worse in the last couple of decades. A reporter blackmails him for information, and he actually says to her “But you were my friend…”. No, he actually says that. A press secretary to a member of said press, a discipline which he is said to be masterful at manipulating. When he is fired, he acts like a jilted girlfriend and threatens to sink the entire show like he is a teenager being fired from Burger King. I’ve been fired. You take your hits and learn from them unless you are a gaping vagina. Finally, he plays the rest using a trump card to get back his job in a third act that will surprise nobody except naifs like Gosling’s character. In the final shot, his face is half in shadow, as if he has come to understand what the soil of imperfection finally tastes like. At the risk of sounding disrespectful, get the fuck out of here. There are true idealists in this world, though few of them are toilet trained. But this guy’s character has a wholly unnecessary arc that is more like a plummet.
The lesson, children, is that integrity does not matter in politics. The real lesson for those who care is that there should not be integrity in politics. Not a shred, because that is what voters want. Those votes are not friendly suggestions – they are a desire to win. All voters care about is winning, and they either think they are idealists who gloss over their candidates’ flaws or are unethical and don’t give a giggling fuck. We as a voting body politic care only about results, and quell any misgivings we have about methods with the thrill of victory. We will be a great deal happier when we come to terms with this so we no longer pretend that honor has a place in warfare of any type, and the players will no longer be forced to do their ridiculous dance. When Clooney’s character is forced to compromise more and more of his ideals to achieve victory, it is seen as a rotten affair. In reality, his constituents would applaud this since they want their guy to throw some jobs their way pronto. Compromise is the way democracies work, and the collision of interests can create opportunities for all as long as the parties make no mistake about what they are after. Uncompromising people can be admirable – but they can also be frightening. The world is truly better without them. As a liberal, I would vastly prefer Lyndon Johnson’s corrupt but powerful senator who gets shit done for the middle class over a babe in the woods candidate with a nice smile who would only feed his enemies. We all make this choice, every time we vote, and we need not feel guilty about it.