It was back during Pat Buchanan's bumptious 1996 primary campaign that my better half glanced up from CNN with a bemused look on her face. "You know what this is about?" she asked. "Little boys in this country used to dream about growing up to run for president. Now they just run for president."
Right she was, and maturity hasn't exactly been on the political upswing since then. That's why one way to get a handle on the 2012 race is by figuring out which movies the candidates' fantasy lives are goading them to privately star in, from Newt Gingrich—the first six-year-old with a super PAC—to long-vamoosed riot grrl Michele Bachmann (c'mon, can't you already picture her watching The Hunger Games with tears in those unnerving baby blues of hers?). The guesses below are provisional and also confined to those still in the running, so feel free to chime in with your own picks for everybody's inner Cinemascope epic.
Movie Ron Paul Thinks He's Starring In: The Old Man and the Sea. He is a very old man who has gone 84 days without taking a fish. If and when he does catch a big marlin and lash it to his skiff, he knows that sharks will attack and gouge great, bloody chunks out of his prize until only its useless skeleton is left by the time he reaches port. Although as poor and economically illiterate as ever, he will take pride in having stayed true to himself.
Movie Ron Paul Is Actually Starring In: The Straight Story. Presumably, at least some of you have fond memories of David Lynch's surprisingly genial tale of an old coot who takes it into his head to travel from Iowa to Wisconsin on a lawnmower—"troubled," as Wikipedia says, "by the massive trucks passing him." What I bet those memories don't include is the trip's purpose, if there was one.
Movie Newt Gingrich Thinks He's Starring In: Young Winston. Whatever prompted Gingrich to throw his belfry into the ring this year, you can be sure Churchill wasn't far from his mind. That's because Sir Winston is the above-mentioned belfry's Head Bat in Charge. During Newt's own political exile after quitting Congress under a cloud in 1999—his equivalent of Churchill's sacking post-Gallipoli, of course—his restless little eyes never stopped dreaming of being summoned back to play his country's savior in its hour of direst peril. As for the "young" part, just remember: When Callista's hubby looks in the mirror, he doesn't see the snow-capped Hefty bag leaking ex-wives, battery acid, and malignant suet the rest of us are familiar with. He sees a dashing young lancer in the Sudan turned eminent part-time historian turned lonesome prophet of disaster turned first-ever prime minister of these United States as Stukas dive-bomb his belfry and the radio crackles with his dauntless eloquence and impressive perspective on events.
Movie Newt Gingrich Is Actually Starring In: Old Yeller. Why can't he bring himself to shoot the damn dog, the Republican establishment wonders? Because he is the dog, you nitwits. It's as plain as the foam on his chins.
Movie Rick Santorum Thinks He's Starring In: It's a Wonderful Life. Earnest, well-liked family man with humdrum roots, a doting wife, a passel of well-scrubbed tykes and a whole cathedral's worth of selfless principles keeps being outpaced by a soulless fink who thinks money changes everything. But having been granted a private peek by the Deity's messenger at the godless, gay, and gynophiliac mess that would exist without him, Rick Bailey knows he can't give up. Saving the idyllic small town of Medved Falls from Moloch's polymorphous embrace will take a miracle, but what if ... ?
Movie Rick Santorum Is Actually Starring In: Psycho, especially if you ask America's millions of "You're Making Me Feel Naked in the Shower, and I Vote" Janet Leighs. Yeek! Yeek! Yeek! Yeek!
Movie Mitt Romney Thinks He's Starring In: Iron Man. Feeling an urge to do good now that he's reaped the obscene profits of trying everything else, a super-rich scion of inherited wealth spends untold millions perfecting a huge, clanking suit of high-tech armor that he can safely conceal himself inside while blasting his opponents to kingdom come. His true identity won't be revealed until a press conference after he's bested them all, but in the meantime, wow—isn't that one heckuva cool house he's got? Wouldn't we all like to live there if we could? Or even in one of his cars?
Movie Mitt Romney Is Actually Starring In: The Man Who Never Was. In which a corpse is outfitted with fake ID papers and pseudo-humanizing paraphernalia, chained to a briefcase stuffed with misleading plans, and dumped into the drink in hopes of deceiving people once the body washes ashore.
Movie Barack Obama Thinks He's Starring In: Star Wars. He is Luke Skywalker, and he's counting on us to remember how the Force was with him back in Episode IV: A New Hope. With cool Princess Leia (Hillary Clinton), impetuous Han Solo (Rahm Emanuel, currently frozen in Chicago ice), and rough-hewn Chewbacca (Joe Biden) by his side—not to mention Yoda's (David Axelrod's) gnomic counsel—his light saber will prevail in Return of the Jedi. Sure, budget constraints have shrunk it to the size of a PowerPoint laser pen and his left hand got chopped off by Darth Vader two years ago in The Empire Strikes Back, but can't we all see that wasn't his fault?
Movie Barack Obama Is Actually Starring In: Star Wars. It's just that, depending on which end of the ideological spectrum tilts your kilt, he's either Darth Maul or (sigh) C-3P0. Deficit hawks think he's Jabba the Hut, the galaxy's racists send out Photoshopped pictures of him looking like Jar Jar Binks even as some Jedi wish he had a bit more Lando Carlrassian in him, and any patriot should hope he grows as wise and wily as Obi-Wan Kenobi in his second term if he gets one. But Luke Skywalker? Forget it, Barry—it's Washington.