Relax, That Scene’s Not Literally Going To Be In The Movie
August 8, 2012 2 Comments
One of the pre-election rituals that makes my eyes glaze over is when pundits break out their slide rules and green eyeshades and analyze the candidates’ budget/tax/spending plans.
One guy’s “plan” will be ‘unworkable’. The other guy’s “plan” will be ‘dishonest’. Or vice versa. That makes the one guy a ‘liar’, you see. Meanwhile the other guy is ‘dumb’. Or is it the other way around? Under the first guy, 10% of the top 20% will pay 30%, while the other guy wants 20% of the top 30% to pay 10%. Or something. And one of those set of numbers is bad while the other is good, or maybe they’re both bad. You made a bar chart about it. See the bar chart? Anyway, the upshot is you can’t vote for that one guy’s “plan” and also you can’t vote for the other guy’s “plan” either.
Or, if you’re a partisan-hacky enough pundit, you actually like your guy’s “plan”. It’s a great “plan”! you say. Just get a load of all its features! You’ve kicked its tires and taken it around the block and checked under the hood of the “plan”, and you’re back to report, in a two-page column in the Washington Post or the National Review (with a bar chart), that your guy’s “plan” is totally rad, so vote for him, everybody.
People, this is all so dumb. None of these “plans” mean diddly-squat. Presidents may propose budgets, but do not dictate and certainly do not have absolute control over the process of horse-trading, voting on and finalizing budgets for Congress – let alone revisions to the tax code (which are always part of these “plans”) and the like. I guarantee these candidates did not even write these “plans” that their campaigns release and promote as “their plans”. You really think Mitt Romney or President Obama sat down in front of a blank page in Microsoft Word, typed My Budget Plan in the Heading, and then cooked up 20? 50? 100? pages of details? These guys don’t even know what their “plans” are, that you’re taking as ironclad rock-solid descriptions of how money would flow amongst 300 million people, if they were elected. Yes, I’m sure both candidates have been pretty well briefed on what their “plans” are, but do you really think if you grilled them on the details they wouldn’t falter? “I’d have to check…”
I find it’s best to think of these “plans” as part of their PR campaigns like everything else. And really, isn’t this obvious? When a campaign releases a TV commercial showing a soccer mom slicing carrots in her kitchen and talking to the camera about how much she likes her candidate, you don’t react based on whether you like carrots. “Gee, under that guy, there’d be lots of carrots! That’s great!” or “I hate carrots, he wants to force feed us carrots!” The carrots are not the thing, they are a prop. This is the case even though it’s actually quite likely some thought went into them (there’s probably a conscious reason she wasn’t shown frying bacon, rolling meatballs, making hummus…), and you can learn something about what the candidate would do and be like if you’re good enough at reading those cues. I’m just saying please, don’t take it all so literally. As I wrote in a post making practically this same point four years ago, while it’s fair to treat these budget plans as indicators of what their actual budgets will be like, and the direction they’ll try to move in, it is beyond senseless to take them fully at face value and imagine they will somehow be grafted whole, lock stock & barrel, onto our country upon the guy’s swearing-in. That’s just not how things work.
When the great comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with Michael Caine & Steve Martin was about to come out, there was a very funny short trailer showing the two casually strolling along a boardwalk, and then Martin nonchalantly reaches out and pushes an old lady passerby into the water. So, I assumed this scene would be in the movie somewhere. This was a mistake because when I finally went to see it, I kept waiting for the scene where he pushes an old lady into the water. No such scene**. That trailer certainly gave a hint of what the movie would be like – it’s a commercial for the actual movie after all – but the scene it portrayed was not literally in the movie anywhere.
What I’m saying is that it’d be healthier if everyone interpreted these candidates’ “plans” in much the same way.
**Speaking of trailers showing scenes that (for whatever reason) aren’t in the movie, which usually is just because scenes got shuffled around/clipped in the final editing process: Another (even more unique) example that comes to mind is The Minus Man, probably my favorite trailer ever. If you know other good examples (and are bored by the main subject of this post) leave them in comments.
UPDATE: And don’t even get me started on these calculators or apps people are always coding up to ‘see how much you’d pay/received under his/my plan!’ The thought that anyone anywhere out there could actually play with one of those things, and as a result think ‘oh! Based on these numbers I guess I’ll vote for him/the other guy!’ makes me nauseous.