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It’s the Movies, Stupid!

George W. Bush won for a simpler reason than all political pundits would like to admit. It has nothing to do with the economy, security, Iraq , gay marriage or moral values – all highly sophisticated issues for the average uninformed and a

pathetic American voter.

Bush won because Kerry has an emotionless, expressionless face that did not seem to be capable of getting fired up by either anger or jubilation, no matter how hard he tried.

It is as simple as that. Bush won because Kerry is too much of a nice person who does not possess the qualities – nor the looks – of a macho American hero to whom the American people and culture are so incurably addicted.

Such a perceived icon must be able to skillfully and convincingly conjure up a whole spectrum of facial expressions and emotions, the most essential of which John Kerry’s face proved to be fundamentally incapable of displaying.

The average American voter needs a President who can act up a euphoric much-a-do-about-nothing every now and then by sending false hopes of salvation while Rome is burning, exactly like the current redneck in office. On the other extreme, in the present atmosphere of war created by the Republican neo-conservatives, it is that angry and crossed look of a sly George Bush that John Kerry especially suffered for lacking, because the American people – who have not yet recovered from 9/11 – are experiencing these very emotions of anger right now and need a President who shares their fury. It does not matter for them whose policies made them feel such indignation as long as they can identify with a President who can spit fire when he shouts his avenging war cries, all while smiling at the same time.

Howard dean and John Edwards certainly had that primal man-of-the-street instinct (especially Dean, I would say, in the vocal department). However, Kerry’s soft eyes, baby smile and monotonous tone simply didn’t do it.

Unfortunately, that is all it boils down to these days in American elections. Not whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, whether you’re on the right or the left, whether you voted for something before you voted against it. All these labeling and pontificating jargons are the intellectual fodder of TV networks searching for content to fill the airwaves and newspapers looking for words to print. The reality about the mindset of the voting masses is very, very different.

The average American is looking for the candidate closest to his typical kick-ass cowboy idol who shoots first and asks questions later, the gung ho lad who talks in short sentences (even if he minces or mispronounces half of them), gets off the fighter jet in full gear to announce victory, and rides into the sunset oozing with testosterone.

It is not Kerry’s fault that he did not live up to the American people’s obsession with this notion of the male Caucasian hero. It is the fault of those who pitted him against Bush, totally underestimating the impact of this mental fixation and its significance in the American psyche after a whole century of living so closely under the shadow of the big and the small screens. Why else do you think a liberal stronghold such as California would ever elect a Republican governor with a heavy German accent who is dogged by persistent charges of sexual harassment?

It’s all about the movies, stupid. Not that former-alcoholic-junkie Bush is exactly Wayne , Bogart, or Gable material. But it is Kerry’s complete lack of that special Hollywood brand of masculine charisma or any other movie star qualities that really cost him the elections. Nothing else could explain how a total fiasco like George W. Bush could even win a single vote, let alone achieve a historic landslide.

Unfortunately, this is what always mattered in America . At the end of the day, it is not your economic or foreign policies, record in office, mental capacity, or any of these trivial details that put you in the White House. It is how cool or mean you look and sound if you try to impersonate, say, Clint Eastwood in “Dirty Harry.” This is why John Kennedy beat Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush beat Dukakis, and Clinton beat George H. W. Bush.

To make the point more bluntly, here is a useful criterion to predict which candidate will win in any future elections. Simply picture a Hollywood action box office hit and ask yourself this question: Which one of the candidates is more likely to be cast and chosen for the leading role (whether that of the good or the bad guy)?

Can you imagine John Kerry in any leading role in any film?

On the other hand, I have no problem imagining W. starring in a major thriller, probably about a corrupt and insane President (people would trust him because his evil madness will be the twist that will only be revealed at the end of the movie).

But John Kerry? A street smart New York Detective? A womanizing villain? A Mafia Don? The President of the United States of America ? Not really. A nice father? A caring gentleman? A soft-spoken critic? A non-confrontational advocate? Maybe, but that’s not the stuff of movies, and that’s why he lost.

So the next time round, Republicans and Democrats, forget about campaign managers, spin doctors and fund raising gurus. Bring in Hollywood . Outsource the whole thing to the movie business, from casting your candidates to directing your TV ads. Once in office, ask them to throw in a war here and an invasion there, orchestrate a cinematic victory a la Wag the Dog, and you’ve got yourselves an enduring President – and perhaps an Oscar too. Meanwhile, and until you can restore a true democratic system that can produce candidates not absolutely dominated by moneyed interests and an electorate not deliberately misinformed by corporate media, I hope you will enjoy the show. I know Bin Laden will.


Zaid Nabulsi

Zaid Nabulsi is a lawyer. He spent many years working for the United Nations in Geneva. He has a passion for (glorious) Harley Davidson bikes.