1988. Gary Hart is the
front-running Democratic candidate for President.
He's a Senator from Colorado---handsome, articulate, and ahead in
the polls. He'd lost the
nomination to Walter Mondale in 1984, but now the Party was ready for
change, and the popular incumbent President, Ronald Reagan, had served his
two terms, so the field looked wide open.
This is where the movie picks up, with Hart's campaign steaming on
all cylinders. Campaign
workers are young, sharp, and very dedicated.
The dialogue is fast and furious, peppered with frequent
scatological references. Though
people were overwhelmingly busy, they were also optimistic.
Their candidate's star was on the rise.
And then came the dramatic fall.
Gary Hart decided to go on a vacation, a pleasure cruise to Bimini
offered by a wealthy donor. There
were party girls on that boat, appropriately named “Monkey Business,”
and Mr. Hart becomes very interested in one of them, Donna Rice, a model
and aspiring actress. He then
invites her to his Washington, D.C., townhouse to visit.
This, after Mr. Hart had specifically challenged a reporter who was
asking about his personal life, “Follow me around if you want to.
You won't find anything interesting.”
What Gary Hart didn't realize is that the political landscape had
changed dramatically. No
longer would reporters collectively nod and wink and say nothing, as they
did during John Kennedy's now-infamous dalliance with Marilyn Monroe.
And LBJ had apparently asked reporters for the same consideration
of silence. But that was
before Watergate, when the clay feet of Presidents became all too publicly
apparent. The “big name”
newspapers, like the Washington Post and the New York Times, used to think
it beneath their dignity to publish lurid tabloid stories, but public
appetites dictated otherwise. Reporters
from the “Washington Herald” actually followed Senator Hart, spotted
Donna Rice coming in and out of the Georgetown apartment, and questioned
Mr. Hart about it. His
response was that it was none of their business.
He told them their questions were out of line, and they ought to be
ashamed of themselves. Apparently
it didn't occur to him to be ashamed of himself, except to his wife, Lee
(Vera Farmiga). He apologized
to her, in private, but he never did offer an apology to the public,
claiming that most people didn't care about candidates' personal lives.
If that was true at one time, it wasn't any more.
Gary Hart soon had to drop out of the race, and the nomination went
to Michael Dukakis, who was soundly defeated.
We'll never know what would have happened if....
Hugh Jackman makes a believable Gary Hart.
Director Jason Reitman chooses not to get luridly specific about
the affair, but instead emphasizes the way the event stopped the momentum
of the Hart campaign, and quickly derailed his Presidential aspirations.
We wonder, these days, if the rules have changed yet again about
what, exactly, would constitute political suicide.
And what wouldn't. In
the aftermath of the 2018 mid-terms, we're still waiting for the smoke to
clear to see exactly how the landscape has changed.
And woe to the 2020 candidate who fails to recognize the paradigm