It’s not unusual for politicians to incorporate famous movie lines into their speeches. Arnold Schwarzenegger frequently peppered his campaign speeches with his well-known quips, particularly “Hasta la vista, baby.” Ronald Reagan often invoked his famous role as George Gipp in “Knute Rockne, All American,” perhaps most memorably at the 1988 Republican Convention when he told Vice-President (and then presidential candidate) George H.W. Bush to “go out there and win one for the Gipper.”
Then there are less iconic moments, like this one.
Today, White House press secretary Jay Carney dropped a new one on us. During a discussion with reporters on a proposal to drill horizontally in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), Carney stated that he had not yet discussed “the milkshake principle” with the president.
Fans of P.T. Anderson and great movie moustaches will immediately recognize Carney’s statement as an allusion to 2007’s “There Will Be Blood.” In the movie’s penultimate scene, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) toys with his young rival Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), before vengefully confessing that he has already tapped the oil reserves under Sunday’s land through drainage, something similar to though not quite as advanced as today’s horizontal drilling. Here is how Plainview quite calmly and sanely describing it to the young man.
Given that “Blood” was based on Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel “Oil!,” inspired by the Teapot Dome Scandal, it is not an allusion that should roll off of Carney’s tongue so easily. Prior to Watergate, the Teapot Dome Scandal was the most famous example of government corruption in America. In fact, P.T. Anderson claimed that he found the “milkshake” reference in transcripts of congressional hearings on the matter. According to Anderson, Sen. Albert Fall, who was accused of taking bribes to allow drilling on public lands in Wyoming and California, used the term to explain the concept of drainage to his inquisitors.
It’s disconcerting to see the White House so casually reference one of the biggest corruption scandals in American history, as well as a violent and brutal film whose protagonist is a ruthless, murderous oil tycoon. In a 24-hour news cycle, politicians have become accustomed to explaining complex issues in sound bytes. As Schwarzenneger and Reagan will tell you, movie references are an efficient means of communicating. “The milkshake principle” must have been too easy for Carney to resist.