- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 31, 2015

One month before the crucial Iowa caucuses, Sen. Bernard Sanders‘ White House campaign is getting a big boost from Hollywood.

Political analysts say the new film “The Big Short,” a star-studded flick that highlights the greed and incompetence that led to the 2008 financial meltdown, at its core wraps the Democratic 2016 hopeful’s campaign message into a relatively simple two-hour package.

The movie, which has pulled in $22 million in domestic ticket sales so far against a $28 million budget and, as of Thursday, ranks sixth on U.S. charts, makes no bones about its political leanings. Characters on multiple occasions express shock and outrage that virtually no Wall Street figures were jailed in the aftermath of the 2008 crash that led to millions of Americans losing their homes, pensions and savings.

Mr. Sanders, a Vermont senator and self-described socialist seeking the presidency as a Democrat, has put greater regulation of Wall Street, the dismantling of big banks and greater federal regulation of financial markets at the center of his campaign. Specialists say “The Big Short” — which boasts an A-list cast including Brad Pitt, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Christian Bale — can only help get Mr. Sanders‘ message across to the broader American movie-going public.

“‘The Big Short’ is an argument for Sanders,” said Matthew Dallek, an assistant professor of political management at George Washington University, arguing the film encapsulates the anger and resentment many Americans still harbor toward the so-called “1 percent.”

“All good politicians are able to tap into emotional appeals,” Mr. Dallek said. “I think [Mr. Sanders] has tapped into that anger with Wall Street.”


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What’s more, the movie’s director, Adam McKay, is an outspoken Sanders backer and donor. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter earlier this month, Mr. McKay — who also has donated to other Democratic candidates, including President Obama, according to Federal Election Commission records — said the administration made a massive mistake by not looking to radically change the rules of Wall Street.

“They whiffed on that,” he said. “They really made a bad call. There’s this talk in D.C. that if you put these bankers in jail, you’re putting the economy in jeopardy. No, you’re putting the economy in jeopardy by not putting these bankers in jail because it means they’re going to do more of it.”

The film offers a crash course in subprime mortgages, derivatives and a host of other financial instruments central to the crash itself. “The Big Short” blames virtually everyone involved, from big banks to the federal government to ratings agencies such as Standard and Poor’s, arguing regulators were either incompetent or asleep at the switch — or both.

The movie centers around several characters who foresaw the housing market crash and subsequent financial meltdown, including Wall Street trader Steve Eisman.

In the film, Mr. Eisman’s name was changed to Mark Baum.

Baum, portrayed by Mr. Carell, profits greatly from the crash after betting heavily against the housing market, or “shorting” it. Baum is cast a conflicted man who understands that the shaky foundation of the American housing boom of the mid-2000s offered a lucrative financial opportunity, but also is deeply disturbed that so many of his peers are willing to risk a depression merely to line their own pockets.

Baum on several occasions repeats one of Mr. Sanders‘ central campaign themes — that the middle class was left holding the bag after 2008 while the wealthy suffered very little, thanks largely to the federal bailout organized in the final days of the George W. Bush administration and continued under President Obama.

“Average people are the ones who are going to have to pay for all of this, because they always do,” Baum says in a critical scene late in the film.

The Sanders campaign did not respond to requests for comment on its feelings about the film.

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