Last Friday, the Salt Lake Film Society and Salt Lake City Film Center held a screening of Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story at the Tower Theatre. The documentary itself was a pretty solid picture, being independently distributed by the director himself, Stefan Forbes. It did a lot to illuminate me on one of the most fascinatingly amoral figures in recent history, former RNC chairman and H.W. Bush campaign manger (and blues man), largely considered responsible for some of the dirtiest campaign tactics in American history; as well as color in the very vague picture I have in my mind of the presidential politics of my childhood.
After the film, there was a panel discussion. Forbes himself was there, as was former Western Dukakis campaign agent Pat Shea, 2007 Salt Lake City primary mayoral candidate (and recipient of my vote) Jenny Wilson, and most interestingly Senator Orrin Hatch’s campaign manager, David Hansen. Despite the fact that Utah may be one of the most staunchly Republican states in the Union, its capitol city has a strong liberal contingent. So with a trio of Democrats on the stage and an even greater percentage likely in the audience, David Hansen can only be commended for coming into what was virtually guaranteed to be a hostile environment. And it was.
He took a couple hits from the crowd. Asked about some of the tactics employed in this and other campaigns, a very concerned woman stood up and in a damning tone, her voice wavering, begged Mr. Hansen for an answer as to how political strategists could be so plotting and calculating in their campaigns, specifically in reference to the campaign run against Dukakis (watching Shea’s reactions to these questions was entertaining itself).
Hansen–maybe one of four people on Earth who could pull off the boisterous seafoam green sweater he was wearing–knew exactly what she was driving at. He smiled and initiated his reply: “Politics is a game. A–“
“It’s not a game! It’s our lives!” the questioner snapped back.
Part of the crowd was a little rowdy, chiming in with their support. Part of the crowd was like me, with a big grin on my face–of course politics is a game. Absurd, perverse, whatever. As important as politics may be, it is most certainly a game. Just as most everything we do in life is a game: work, love, friendships, finding parking. Politics is a game is life is politics.
Hansen kept his composure, waited for the reaction to subside, and finished his statement. He explained that, for example, Dukakis could very well have won if he had just played the gamem a bit better.