Why is Michael Steele the head of the Republican National Committee? Because Steele is Putney Swope.

In the movie, Putney Swope (the token black) becomes the director of an advertising agency by secret ballot because he’s everyone’s second choice — everyone on the board voted for himself first and put Swope second as the least threatening competitor.

Steele is a highly unrepresentative Republican, he hasn’t done anything constructive or useful during his tenure, he screws up all the time, he does personal work on company time, and no one has any respect for him. But neither of the two factions of the party (the crazy wingers and the crazier wingers) trusts the other, and there’s no middle, so Steele’s the man.  The Republican Party is a wreck.

This (along with the RNC’s financial problems)  would be very good for the Democrats if Obama hadn’t spend his first year demoralizing the Democratic base. As it is, keeping the financial crash and the bankrupt state governments in mind, American politics seems headed for multi-system failure, and we might see President Palin yet. (It’s been an OK life. I feel sorry for young people.)

“Putney Swope” was made by Robert Downey Sr, whose other movies were of the art-house type. It hasn’t even attained cult status, but it should. To like it you have to be willing to accept low comedy, bad taste, and sterotyping, but forty years ago those were all fine with me. The movie has been admired by  Jane Fonda (Hanoi Jane era), Paul Thomas Anderson,  Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Dave Chapelle, and the Coen brothers (who  modeled the board room scene in their flop “The Hudsucker Proxy” on Swope).

The most memorable line for me was the  motivational consultant’s profound $28,000 insight: “On the surface beer may seem like a cool refreshing drink, but in reality it is peepee dicky“. (You had to of been there.)

Buy now

Michael Steele: the Putney Swope of the GP

The Guardian reviews “Putney Swope”

Hal Astell review

Peepee-dicky scene