Hillary throws a mud ball at Obama, Anna Nicole Smith declines to sign a no-tax pledge, Rudy Giuliani vows to "go to Korea," John McCain promises to build a fence on the Canadian border, and Britney Spears boasts that only she can shave the cost of the war in Iraq.
Who do you have to pay to get out of this movie?
We've merged politics and entertainment, and it's impossible to keep the flashing images straight. Someone's dead and someone else is famous for going out without her panties, but who can remember who does that? The presidential campaign has become the longest-running production since "The Mousetrap," and it mostly resembles "Nightmare on Elm Street." By Election Day, not next November but the November after that, who will remember who's running for what?
"Two years of this?" screams the front page of the New York Daily News. "They promised to play nice, but already they're at each other's throats."
"They," of course, are what the tabloids are calling "Hil" and "Bam," and the spectacle this week in Gotham and in South Carolina was great theater, and maybe even clever politics. Both the tabloids and the broadsheets love it, but we have to pretend to be high-minded and pose as offended.
The one-time "wife of" a president, having decided that Barack Obama, the former state senator from Illinois, is more than merely the flavor of the month and may even be the American idol, thinks it's time to throw him off the island if she can.
The thing to remember is we're playing primary politics now, not election politics, and the candidates are marking territory, like dogs preparing for a fight. Hil (like her mentor Bill) regards Hollywood as her territory. She thought it was already marked, but David Geffen, the movie mogul out where seasonal loyalty was invented, no longer likes Hil, and has transferred his undying affections to Bam. "Everybody in politics lies," says the man from the Land of the Lies, "but the Clintons do it with such ease it's troubling."
Well, Arkansas is a small state, but the folks there were ahead of Hollywood. Mr. Geffen is just now learning about the Clintons. If only Hil were as smart, as clever, as versed in politics and foreign policy, as principled and peace-loving as a Hollywood mogul. Or as eager to concede mistakes. "It's not a very big thing to say, 'I made a mistake' on the war [in Iraq], and typical of Hillary Clinton that she can't," he told the New York Times' Maureen Dowd, the dowager queen of mean, of Manhattan melodrama. "I think America was better served when the candidates were chosen in smoke-filled rooms." (No argument here.)
The slanging match moved to unlikely South Carolina because that's where Bam was, the American idol basking in the thoughtful attention once reserved for Michael Jackson, moving through the crowds and using up the entire state's winter allotment of exclamation marks.
"Yo, South Carolina! Let's get busy! Let's go to work! Let's organize! How are you doing South Carolina! Look at this! Look at this! Goodness gracious!"
This is about as close to Churchillian oratory as the crowds at modern presidential rallies can tolerate. A movie mogul might advise throwing in a few F words and blasphemous curses, just to keep the eloquence familiar, but Bam was getting the adulation that even Hil might envy, armed only with the exclamation marks.
Bam's best applause lines were his retorts to the taunt from the Hil camp that a black man at the top of the ticket would inevitably drag down Democratic candidates for lesser offices. "Everybody's entitled to their opinion," he said. "But I know this: That when folks were saying, 'We're going to march for our freedom,' somebody said, 'You can't do that.' And when somebody said, 'Don't sit at our lunch counter, don't share our table.' We can't do that! We can't!"
The man who brought up the unremarkable unmentionable was a black man himself, and he was only saying what a lot of Democrats black and white are saying privately, just as they're speculating both publicly and privately that a woman with a reputation as a shrew might sink the ticket, too.
Nobody expects either Hil or Bam to actually carry South Carolina on that distant November day. But it's never too soon to make noise. We'll need a lot of it if we're going to stay up for the fourth act.