To Understand Modern Politics, You Must Understand Roger Stone
‘Get Me Roger Stone’ shines a light on a dark-money electoral manipulator
The old political operative is at ease in the back of a limo. He looks ridiculous, like an old man cosplaying as Cesar Romero’s Joker. A plum-color bowler hat rests on his white hair, dark circular sunglasses out of the 1970s guard his eyes. A gaudy tailored pinstripe suit disguises his bodybuilder physique.
“Those who say I have no soul, those who say I have no principles, are losers,” the dandy says. “Those are bitter losers. Everything I have done, everything I have worked for is to propel ideas and a political philosophy that I want to see dominant in government. Donald Trump has now elevated the issues that I believe in.”
This is Roger Stone, the dark heart of U.S. politics and the man who invented the game all politicians now play. This is a man so vile and widely hated that even Karl Rove balks when discussing his strategies.
Stone is — depending on how much you believe him — the man who not only created Trump as a political force, but spent decades rigging the game so the tycoon would win.
To understand how fucked American democracy has become, you must understand Roger Stone.
Enter the new Netflix Get Me Roger Stone, a candid look at America’s most fascinating and terrible political figure. Stone helped Pres. Richard Nixon during Watergate, created the modern political action committee, bilked foreign dictators of their cash and, as his pièce de résistance, helped elect Trump.
The story of American politics since Nixon is one that Stone helped write. At least, that’s what he’d like you to believe. Some of his stories are true, some are myth-making and some are outright lies. With Stone, there’s no easy way to tell the difference. That’s by design.
No matter what you believe, Stone is a proven political genius. At the start of the documentary, he tells a story about swaying his elementary school mock election with a whisper campaign in the lunchroom. He was 10 years old.
“For the first time ever, I understood the value of disinformation,” an adult Stone tells the camera. “Of course, I’ve never practiced it since then,” he adds with a straight face.
This is a man so used to lying that doing so is second nature. More than that, he’s able to make you believe a lie even when you know it’s false. He’s that charming.
Stone went to his first Republican National Convention in 1964 at the age of 12. He devoured Barry Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative and made it his bible. By the age of 19, he was working for the Nixon administration in the Office of Economic Opportunity. Off the books, however, he was one of Nixon’s dirtiest political operatives.
He was also the youngest member of the Nixon administration to be tainted by the Watergate scandal.
After Watergate, Congress reformed campaign finance law. Shortly thereafter, the Republicans created political action committees in order to circumvent the new rules. Stone and some of his friends founded the National Conservative Political Action Committee in 1975. This was the moment when dark money began flowing into U.S. politics.
“We really pioneered negative campaign advertisement in massive doses to win elections,” Stone says. “We could only give a Senate campaign … $5,000. But the loophole was, we could advertise on behalf of a candidate, without their cooperation or coordination an unlimited amount. That’s why NCPAC was successful.”
Stone was just getting started. In the 1980s, he helped elect Ronald Reagan, and then founded a lobbying firm with Paul Manafort and Charles Black, Jr. The company helped elect politicians, then turned around and charged outside investors for access to the same pols. It peddled influence.
Throughout the Reagan years, Stone and his buddies used their ties to Washington’s insiders to get filthy, stinking rich. Worse, they also applied their considerable talents lobbying for dictators such as Ferdinand Marcos, Mohamed Siad Barre and Mobutu Sese Seko.
Stone and company created the modern lobbyist’s playbook. They filled the very swamp Trump promised to drain and rigged the electoral game in all the ways Trump complained about on the campaign trail.
These tidbits barely scratch the surface of the Machiavellian madness that is Stone’s life. This is the guy who claims he stopped the recount of the 2000 election on the ground in Florida. He’s got a collection of “rules” he lives by that sound like an abridged version of The 48 Laws of Power. He tattooed Nixon’s face between his shoulder blades. He never missed an opportunity to call Bill Clinton a rapist — and Hillary Clinton, a rape apologist.
Watch Get Me Roger Stone. It drags the man into the light and exposes him. Unfortunately for America, the light just makes Stone seem more powerful. The filmmakers had incredible access to Stone and a front-row seat to the 2016 presidential election. Viewers get to watch Trump’s ascension through the eyes of the man who created him as a political force.
The filmmakers interview Stone, Manafort and even Trump. They’re all willing to talk — and unashamed of what they’ve done. That lack of shame speaks more to how awful and empty American politics has become than do any of the individual stories in the documentary.
“I can’t think of anything I did that was either illegal or immoral,” Stone says of his time as a lobbyist to torturers, dictators and scumbags. “You play the game by the rules, as they’re written. When they change the rules, you change the way you play the game.”
That’s true, but Stone leaves out that he was instrumental in changing the rules of the game. No one else in American political history has dragged the bar as low as Roger Stone has done.
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