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The Movie That Predicted Birtherism 11 Years Ago

A minority candidate forced to combat a ridiculous lie lorded over them by conservative zealots? Sad art becomes sad life.

A Democratic minority politician gunning for higher office who is beset upon by right-wing conservatives, all of whom caterwaul about a secret past. Is it today's biggest headline? Nope, it's The Contender, an underappreciated Rod Lurie film from 2000 that should be on the Netflix queue of anyone interested in birtherism.

Starring Gary Oldman, Joan Allen, and Jeff Bridges, The Contender centers around the nomination of a woman for vice president, and the chaos that ensues because of it. When President Jackson Evans (Bridges) suddenly loses his second in command, he nominates Senator Laine Hanson (Allen) for vice president. A talented former Republican from Ohio, Hanson seems like a perfect choice who should glide into office. But when a Republican Congressman named Shelly Runyon (Oldman), who was wary of Hanson from the outset, finds a tape of an orgy Hanson supposedly participated in back in college, a dogfight ensues over what's factual and what the public deserves to know.

It's not a perfect comparison to birtherism. For one, an orgy isn't illegal, while having a foreigner as president is. Also, in the film, Hanson never caves to the demands that she address the charges against her, believing that answering them gives them dignity. But most of what The Contender deals with is the pure bigotry at the root of Runyon's orgy accusation. What it comes down to is that Americans and the politicians who represent them simply don't want a woman, especially not a "slutty" one, in a position of major power.

Below is the final scene of The Contender. It gives away the ending, but, if you can mentally replace all the references to gender with references to race, you'll probably agree that this is the speech somebody should be giving on Obama's behalf today, especially had he not succumbed to the demands of a negligible fringe and showed his birth certificate.


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