‘Our Brand Is Crisis’ is a story on political strategists’ elaborate schemes behind electoral candidates’ efforts to win votes. But of course, they are paid by the candidates themselves, to do their work to help them win, and they have to be agreeable to their suggested tactics. Jane the strategist tries to rationalise her ‘professional’ work as righteous, while Pat her opposing strategist tells her that, ‘You like to pretend you’re not one of us. If you fight with monsters for too long you become a monster.’ Thus was Nietzsche’s warning rephrased. To extend it, he also said that ‘when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.’ In the bid to win, it is easy to forget morals, what more about whether what or who one is fighting for is moral in the first place.
In a cunning planned move, Jane utters this quote ‘supposedly’ by Goethe while holding his book ‘Faust’ – ‘It may be possible to hold power based on guns, letting it be clearly heard. It is far better to win the heart of a nation.’ Pat steals what seemed to be a gem of a quote, advising his candidate to use it in a speech. It turns out that it was no Goethe liner, but by Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda guru. Thus was it a ploy to mar the opposition’s name. This episode also reminds us of how double-edged seemingly ‘good’ advice can seem, when it can be used for both good and evil. Bad history repeats when it is not learnt well. Goebbels’ negative example was obviously missed by Pat’s side. And Jane’s too, in terms of personal application with integrity.
The film questions whether non-dirty politics exists, with many, if not all(?) politicians over-promising and under-delivering. Are politicians then liars to varying extents? Do we simply have to vote for who seems the least morally ‘corrupt’? There is the saying that ‘Politicians and diapers should both be changed regularly, for the same reason.’ Is there tendency for this to be true? If so, should we not listen more to the opposing underdogs, to hear why they oppose the ‘top dogs’? But what happens after the underdogs become the top dogs? Again, if the diapers liner holds some truth, we again should listen to the new underdogs to see if their opposition makes sense, to keep one another in check. Unless a non-democracy, all at the top were once underdogs too.
In the end, Jane realised she had ‘half-unwittingly’ helped a promising political leader to win, who turned out to be a liar ready to betray trust of the poor. At first, she tried to absolve herself of responsibility, claiming that she could not guarantee that a politician aided would turn out clean or not. Later, she utters the following as she joins a street protest – ‘If you don’t like the road you’re on, start paving another one.’ What is the Dharma perspective? The best political rulers are ‘Dharma Wheel-Turning Sage Kings’ or Universal Monarchs who rule with the Dharma. Cosmically rare, our world nearly had one more than 2,500 years ago, when the Buddha-to-be renounced the possibility of becoming one, by choosing to become a Buddha instead. Perhaps this is a grave reminder, that worldly politicking and spiritual perfection cannot mix? Or perhaps, really good leaders are actually Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in disguise? But there are Pure Lands, where Buddhas truly lead in creating and sustaining. Then again, they are void of politiking as they are totally pure!
Please Be Mindful Of Your Speech, Namo Amituofo!