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Amity Shlaes Sees Very Few Movies

From Shlaes's Bloomberg column:

Every administration has its movie. George W. Bush seemed too often on the wrong side of guerrilla warfare in “The Battle of Algiers.” Bill Clinton mixed business and pleasure with the predictably messy results of “The Apartment.” Now Barack Obama has dropped us all into “The Matrix.”

In the Obama Era, it seems, we all pick our way through anxious lives that have something to do with software. Like Keanu Reeves’s Neo, we realize hour-to-hour that we are being manipulated by a system that has its own larger plan.

If only we keep a cool head, we tell ourselves, our powers of logic will help us escape the web. But each move we make, even the one that feels independent, takes us deeper into the Matrix.... President Obama’s $634 billion, 10-year health-care plan undoubtedly appeals to would-be Neos out there.... As in “The Matrix,” freedom is a mirage.

"Anxious lives that have something to do with software"? By God, the parallel is exact!

The piece continues in this vein for a while, with conservative health-care talking points--some of them false, such as the charge that the Obama administration created the office of “National Coordinator of Health Information Technology”; it didn't, Bush did in 2004--interspersed with what appear to be entirely random name-drops of the Matrix. (My favorite: "Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Obama White House, is a nice, smart man. But Orszag’s facial features took on a resemblance to those of Agent Smith when he said recently: 'There’s a lot of momentum behind health care.' " Cool! Was he wearing the sunglasses? Did he do the voice?)

How in the world did Shlaes come up with this tortured-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life analogy? My guess would be this quote from Thomas Miller of AEI:

“There are parts of the health-care proposal that look like an opportunity to unplug ourselves from the false reality of comfortable and convenient government- directed health care, but they are not real,” Miller said.

Did Schlaes hear "unplug" and "false reality" and think presto! column conceit! or did she share her frame with Miller beforehand and let him tailor his quote accordingly? In either case, it may be the only moment in the entire column where Shlaes's argument and her metaphor come close to intersecting.

As someone who pretty clearly sees many more movies than Schlaes, I'd like to offer a few alternative science-fiction references for her to use in her next round of agitprop:

First, Amity, and most obviously, there's the timely anti-utopianism of Watchmen, which would let you take your pick between comparing Obama to a foppish, idealistic mass-murderer or an above-it-all blue god (naked, too!) who's lost touch with human reality. If you were too busy to make it to the multiplex this weekend, you could instead opt for the "human struggle is necessary and we shouldn't leave all our problems to be solved by a paternalistic government" theme of Wall-E (you'll want to gloss over the ecology, obviously); or, if you'd like to impress the die-hards, you could cite the low-key libertarianism of Joss Whedon's (tragically underseen) Serenity. And don't even get me started on the possiblities of the Star Wars saga (tell me you wouldn't love to toss out the phrase "Evil Empire") or "Battlestar Gallactica" or the infinite permutations of Star Trek. But Peter Orzag as Agent Smith? You really, really need to do better than that.

On a related note, for any who haven't already read it, Jon's review of Shlaes's book, The Forgotten Man, is very much worth your while, and suggests she's not that much more familiar with her area of alleged expertise than she is with recent sci-fi cinema.

--Christopher Orr