“America. Jesus. Freedom.”
That’s the platform for incumbent congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) in The Campaign, an outrageously crude, blisteringly funny satire about modern American politics. Asked what this phrase actually means, he candidly admits that he doesn’t know, but that "the people love it when I say it."
Sound familiar? It should. Pandering to the religious leanings of voters has been going on since the earliest of elections – and criticized for almost as long – yet rarely has the practice been excoriated with as much comic venom as it is here. In an election year when politically active believers are stumbling all over each other to find the most Christian candidate (remember Rick Perry?), The Campaign makes the argument that the religious status of a politician shouldn’t be our foremost concern.
Watching various, election-related fiascos unfold in the real world these past months, I tend to agree. At best, choosing a candidate based on their declared religion ignores many more important factors regarding whether or not the person is right for the job. At worst, voting only for declared Christians risks being duped by a charlatan who is only telling you what you want to hear.
The latter is certainly the case with Cam Brady, who professes his faith and traditional family values with his chest proudly puffed. In actuality, he’s leading the life of an irresponsible hedonist. He rarely shows up to vote on Capitol Hill, preferring instead to pursue a sordid sexual affair. An explicit voicemail message Cam leaves for his mistress goes public, opening the door for a challenger: small-town rube Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis). Awkward and uncomfortably cheery – his own father describes him as a cross between Richard Simmons and a hobbit - Marty doesn’t seem to be much of a foe. Propping him up, however, are the Motch brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow), billionaire political puppeteers modeled after the real-world Koch family. And so a vicious campaign ensues in which both candidates do their best to make the other man look moronic. (Scott Hoezee offered a stark contrast to this contemporary “indignity” earlier this week on The Twelve, where he looks back at the 1880 presidential election.)
Proving one’s Christian faith becomes an inevitable part of the dueling strategies in The Campaign. During one debate, Marty challenges Cam to recite the Lord’s Prayer. The result is a classic bit of Ferrell improvisation, in which the familiar prayer devolves into a ludicrous piece of absurdist theater. (So bad, in fact, that Cam at one point stops himself and says, “That’s not part of it. I know that.”)
Eventually, all of The Campaign gives way to nonsense, albeit nonsense that’s treated by voters as if it actually has implications for a democracy’s governance. My favorite bit in the movie, for instance, involves a debate over whether or not Jesus had a mustache. Yes, it sounds ridiculous, and it is. But I guarantee you that if Barack Obama was asked whether or not Jesus had a mustache, the answer would make headlines for weeks - and votes would change as a result.
What Do You Think?
- Have you seen The Campaign?
- How much weight do you give to professions of faith from political candidates?
- Would you vote for a non-Christian candidate if you agreed with most of his or her policies?