Pappas enters the church the congregation is seething with hostility.
Physical violence is a distinct possibility. Pappas knows the
risk he is running simply by showing up. One photo op gone awry
could sink his bid for the White House. But Pappas is accustomed
to playing for high stakes and supremely confident of his skill
at damage control.
Pappas performs his magic act before our very eyes. He defuses
the crowd's anger by frankly acknowledging the legitimacy of their
grievances and his own administration's culpability. By siding
with the community against his own administration, Pappas deftly
turns the crowd around. Before they or we realize what has happened,
he has transformed himself from the target of their anger into
a conduit for its expression and catharsis.
Invoking the ghosts of famous mayors, from Pericles of Athens
to Fiorello LaGuardia, the Greek-American Pappas thunders, "I
will not go down that way [defeatism and despair]. I choose to
fight back. I choose to live and not die. I know that what's in
me is in you. I ask you to join me, join me, rise up with me,
rise up on the wings of this fallen angel [laying his hands on
the child's coffin.] I am with you, little James. I am you."
gets a good response from the congregation" Ebert writes,
"but the mayor knows, and his deputy knows, that it was phony,
and the way they carefully avoid discussing it, in the limousine
taking them away, is a delicate use of silence and evasion."
The usually articulate Ebert fails to do justice to the talents
of screenwriters Ken Lipper, Nicholas Pileggi, Paul Schrader,
and Bo Goldman and leading man Al Pacino. Pappa's spin control
is masterly. By the time he is finished, the congregation is eating
out of his hand. As Pappas strides back down the aisle they strain
to touch him, as if he were Christ come down from the cross. All
in a day's work for a master manipulator of populist sentiment.
In "City Hall" John Pappas, the fictional Mayor of "Noo
Yawk Ciddy," set out on his political odyssey motivated by
genuine idealism, but somewhere along the way lost sight of his
original destination. To get things done, he had to get elected.
To stay elected he did what it took to stay elected. Once the
means to a higher end, the power of the office became an end in
RONALD REAGAN PLAYS RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
Notwithstanding his all too human
failings, Ronald Reagan, the only professional actor ever to occupy
the White House, was one of America's better modern leaders. Unfairly
dismissed as "merely a B-actor," the Gipper was a talented
actor in the best sense of the word. Reagan was a political leader
who could act, meaning not only could he "perform in front
of the public," but also that he could "take action"
when the need arose.
Reagan's detractors liked to snicker that when ol' Ron nudged
Jimmy Carter out of the White House, he landed the role of a lifetime
in an otherwise undistinguished acting career. The joke would
be on them. Reagan's detractors would soon be scratching their
heads straining to to explain Reagan's "teflon" presidency,
to which scandal simply refused to stick.
In fact Reagan's Teflon was no mystery at all. Reagan's Teflon
was his sincerity, which was not, and could not be faked, not
on nightly television, not to American audiences. The American
public, as critics of Reagan's most widely viewed public performances,
gave him two thumbs up. "Let Reagan be Reagan," his
"handlers" exclaimed, and we agreed. We forgave the
Great Communicator a multitude of sins, including Iran Contra,
which would have rung the curtains down on any other administration.
LEE TENG-HUI OF THE ROC DOES HIS IMPRESSION OF JIMMY SWAGGERT
This brings us to ROC President Lee
Teng-hui. Lee, like the fictional John Pappas was once the mayor
of a large metropolis, Taipei. Lee, like Pappas, finds his administration
threatened by political fallout from the tragic death of an innocent
child. It is at this point however that the similarities end.
To paraphrase the now famous putdown from Dan Quayle's Vice-presidential
campaign, "Mr. Lee, you're no Al Pacino."
On Monday, October 11, during a memorial service organized by
the Ministry of the Interior, seven thousand people gathered inside
Linkou National Sports College Stadium in suburban Taipei to mourn
the victims of Taiwan's 921 Great Earthquake. After laying a wreath
of carnations before a 12-meter-tall monument situated on a stage
bathed in pale blue light, Lee Teng-hui bowed three times.
heart is filled with profound sadness" Lee intoned, "[but]
as long as there is life, there is hope. I hope that during our
suffering we don't lose confidence, and that when we face obstacles
we become more courageous... I hope the prayers and introspection
can help the victims rest in peace and that those who lost their
loved ones can transform their sadness to strength and love for
their homeland... I encourage all fellow citizens to work together
and join hands to build an even brighter tomorrow for future generations."
Lee sat down, covered his eyes with his hands, pulled out his
hanky, and blotted away tears. Vice-president Lien Chan, who spoke
after him, did likewise.
you ever heard such a crock of s**t from someone who isn't even
the President?" Chevy Chase, in an uncredited cameo
as a cynical New York media mogul in the 1992 political comedy
AND LIEN CHAN'S AMATEUR HOUR PRODUCTION: TWO THUMBS DOWN
I am not speaking metaphorically
when I assure you I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Now it
is a cliche in Taiwan that "ren min shi jen wang di"
or "the public has amnesia," and that sleazy politicians
guilty of wrongdoing need only lay low for the storm to blow over
before resuming business as usual.
But did Lee really imagine the public had forgotten that just
seventeen days ago Lee's personal helicopter demolished a cluster
of quake victims' tents? That Mr. Democracy, rather than apologize,
chose to get into a shouting match with an old woman made homeless
for the second time in three days, this time by her "public
Did Lee really imagine the public had forgotten that just fifteen
days ago, having learned nothing from his first mistake, Lee's
four helicopter entourage ripped a heavy limb from a tree and
bashed in the skull of a five year old homeless quake victim?
That Mr. Democracy, rather than apologize, simply bugged out,
leaving his flakcatcher behind to mollify the dead girl's grief-stricken
mother and father with a piddling US$10,000 compensation?
Forget Al Pacino's "City Hall." Forget Ronald Reagan's
"City on a Hill." I've seen more believable tears from
Jimmy Swaggert. Acting standards on Taiwan are abysmally low,
and local audiences are lamentably undemanding, as any American
expatriate who has ever lived in Taiwan and watched a local soap
opera can testify.
The megalomaniacal Lee Teng-hui may just be sufficiently out of
touch with reality to believe that his patently phony performance
an insult to the intelligence of millions of ROC television
viewers actually merited a John Pappas Lifetime Achievement
Award for Best Spin Control. But the John Pappas' of the world
have only been able to work their magic because once upon a time
they actually believed in something, and could draw on the fading
memories of their forsaken ideals.
But what does this have to do with Lee Teng-hui? Apart from believing
that he was or is Japanese, what exactly has the opportunistic
chameleon Lee Teng-hui ever really believed in?
ROC presidential election is scheduled for March, 2000. Mr. Democracy's
"da shou" or "flunkies" have been floating
trial balloons attempting to gauge public reaction to a one year
"postponement" using the earthquake as the flimsiest
of pretexts. Lee has already "served" twelve years.
Lee Teng-hui wants to be Mr. Democracy. Lee Teng-hui wants to
be "President for Life." Lee Teng-hui wants to have
his cake and eat it too. Decisions, decisions.
Like Fox Mulder in the X-Files, "I want to believe."
I want to believe "The president never lies." I want
to believe in "Truth, Justice and the American Way."
But like film critic Leslie Rigoulot, I'm too much of a cynic
to believe completely. When Lee Teng-hui weeps ostentatiously,
on cue, over Taiwan's quake victims, I too feel that all politicians
are essentially actors. The only difference is that some are a
hell of a lot better than others.