This article was originally published on January 27, 1998 and was re-printed on February 18, 2014 as part of the Maroon’s historical issue.
While it’s certainly trite to say that “life imitates art,” the parallels between a recently released movie and the latest White House scandal are almost eerie to ignore.
Wag the Dog is the story of a sitting president who is accused of having an affair in the Oval Office with a Girl Scout. With the election only a few weeks away, the President hires a team of spin doctors led by Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman in a desperate attempt to find some way to divert attention from the incident.
The savvy DeNiro determines that the only event with enough shock value to push the scandal off the front page is a war. Lacking the ability to instigate an actual global crisis, DeNiro recruits flambovant movie mogul Hoffman to help him to produce a war by spreading false rumors and bogus video clips amongst the gullible press corps. In spite of some wild and zany sitcomesque complications, the operation proves to be a success.
The enemy country targeted by DeNiro and Hoffman? Albania. Poor, hapless, but vaguely seedy, Albania is an ideal choice precisely because nobody could make up something as dumb as a war with Albania.
Come to think of it, President Clinton could use an Albania right about now. Despite the President’s attempts to pretend that everything is going just swimmingly, it’s quite obvious that the White House is preoccupied with the allegations made by Beverly Hills sweetheart Monica Lewinski that the [sic] Mr. Clinton had an affair with he while she was an intern two summers ago.
The rest of the country is equally obsessed with Monicagate. For the first time in my five quarters at this school, a critical mass of University of Chicago students seem to be paying attention to an event taking place in the outside world, providing for some abnormally exciting lunch time conversation. The press loves Monicagate, too; Rush Limbaugh hasn’t been so happy since Ted Kennedy had one too many martinis on Chappaquiddick Island, and Geraldo Rivera hasn’t been so happy since Andre Paul had one too many glasses of chardonnay at the Pans Ritz-Carlton.
Unfortunately for Clinton, Wag the Dog is doing well at the box office, so staging a war with Albania would be kind of stupid. Iraq would seem like a logical alternative since we’re apparently on the brink of some new crisis with them but we’ve been on the brink of some new crisis with Iraq for like five years now, and nobody seems to care. There are plenty of other slimy countries out there to have fake wars with, of course, but none of them can match Albania’s perfect blend of menacing obscurity and alarming irrelevance.
Faking a war seems to be out of the question. Clinton could stage a major earthquake, instead, I suppose, or a plane crash, or a terrorist bombing, or an alien invasion, but all of those things would seem too commonplace to the average American. What is needed is something unprecedented, something shocking, something extraordinary.
Something like the AFC winning the Super Bowl.
Now, it might not seem very plausible that President Clinton, sitting in Washington, could influence the outcome of a professional football game taking place in San Diego. But stranger things have happened. For example, the AFC just won the Super Bowl.
As any self-respecting Cheesehead will tell you, the Packers have been the best team in football for the past two seasons. The Pack haven’t lost many games at all, and they certainly haven’t lost very many games to teams with defenses as bad as Denver’s. The Packers are so good, the Cheeseheads have told me, that from time to time they’ll intentionally lose to teams like the Colts, just to prevent themselves from getting too cocky.
I know when I was watching the game that it didn’t seem staged. Everybody looked like they were hitting pretty hard, and Elway never had an opportunity to pull off one of his patented comebacks; I know that if I were scripting the Super Bowl, it would include at least three Elways comebacks, as well as two immaculate receptions, and one missed Scott Norwood field goal.
Still, I just don’t buy it. There are times in every man’s life when his common sense must take precedence over his five senses, and this is one of those times. The AFC winning the Super Bowl? Gimme a break. That’s about as plausible as, well, a war with Albania. Somewhere in San Diego, at an obscure high school football stadium heavily guarded by a team of Navy SeALs [sic], the Real Packers played the Real Broncos in the Real Super Bowl, and Green Bay won by seventy-three points, just like they were supposed to.
Now that I think about it, I’m sure I saw Dustin Hoffman’s face in the crowd at QualComm Stadium. And doesn’t John Elway’s toothy grimace look just a little bit too much like Monica Lewinsky’s toothy grimace?
The rest of you can go ahead and believe that the Broncos won, if it makes you feel better about yourselves, but this columnist won’t be so easily fooled.
Nate Silver is a second-year in the College concentrating in economics.