For most Montanans, the 2008 political season has played out like televised drama—captivating events occurring somewhere else, unraveling like an elaborate Hollywood script. This weekend, however, with the arrival of Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama at the Democrat’s Mansfield-Metcalf dinner in Butte, it becomes live theater—part of an enormous, ongoing road show finally touring in our neck of the woods. And there are no more transcendent stars for this blockbuster than Clinton and Obama.
Politics as entertainment is not a new concept, but there’s something different with this campaign—something that elevates Barack and Hillary and bumps them to the same stratosphere as, say, Elton John’s glittery showmanship or the Rolling Stones’ slithery maneuverings.
Consider that Us Weekly, one of those rags typically consumed by Lindsay’s latest rehab boy toy, has turned its tabloid gaze to Hillary and Barack. “You go to dinner with friends and the conversation goes from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to Britney,” editor Janice Min recently told The New Yorker, explaining her mag’s coverage. “They are a legitimate part of—for better or worse—the celebrity orbit.”
When the two candidates staged a debate in Los Angeles—at the Kodak Theatre, no less, home of the Academy Awards—the L.A. Times sent its theater critic, Charles McNulty, to “review” the proceedings as if it were Shakespeare in the park. “Obama is the far better Method actor of the two,” he wrote. “Which is to say there’s less of a visible gap between the role he’s playing and the self he has freely exposed since he became a marquee draw…Clinton you can imagine rehearsing her lines in front of the bathroom mirror. Her advantage is that she knows her text inside out. She’s like one of those actors—Maggie Smith is reported to be one—who are always studying backstage, underlining and dog-earing their script.”
Maggie Smith? You mean Minerva from the Harry Potter flicks? Gotcha.
Which is to say, the whole lens by which we watch events like this weekend’s Mansfield-Metcalf dinner has dramatically changed. As we sit in attendance, waiting for some percipient words on universal healthcare, we’ll also attune our senses to Obama’s Method-ness and Clinton’s Minerva-ness. Afterwards, we’ll probably be as inclined to opine on each candidate’s wardrobe and exit soundtracks as we are to rehash vital remarks pertaining to economic policy.
And when it’s over, we’ll go back to channel flipping from Comedy Central to CNN to see if our little part of the road show made any difference at all.