Former Sen. Christopher J. Dodd wanted to be president. He fell short, but now has what is widely regarded as the best job in Washington as head of the Motion Picture Association of America. And he seems to be having a blast.
At a recent reception at the MPAA feting Stewart Lyons, the producer of “Breaking Bad,” the Connecticut Democrat said he first met Lyons years earlier in New Mexico, where the much-lauded show was filmed. “I was talking, of all things, about financial reform,” the partial namesake of the Dodd-Frank Act said. “In a previous life, I used to be involved in such matters.” Dodd was being archly modest. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street overhaul measure was the capstone of a 36-year congressional career, five terms in the Senate and three in the House.
The passage of that legislation ended Dodd’s tenure on a high note, particularly after his 2008 presidential bid failed to get off the ground. Shortly after leaving office in January 2011, he was hired as the MPAA chairman and chief executive officer. He’s only the fifth head of the storied association, a position once held by the legendary Jack Valenti and former Rep. Dan Glickman, D-Kan.
As the “An Evening With” program got underway, Lyons made a nod to Dodd and his recent contract extension. “First thing, let’s congratulate Sen. Dodd on his new contract. He’ll be working another three years,” the producer said.
That news set people to wondering if that meant Dodd was off the market for a position in, say, a Hillary Rodham Clinton administration starting in 2017.
But taking a position in the White House would entail giving up nights like the one with Lyons, where Dodd basked in the MPAA’s in-house theater in an easy chair and reeled off one-liners — relaxed, but firmly on message about the MPAA’s mission on intellectual property rights and the economic effect the industry has on places such as, say, the Land of Enchantment.
It was a pleasant night, despite several absent members of Congress who had RSVP’d. A common theme, Dodd joked. “It’s like a conspiracy,” he said, all too aware of being a hostage to floor proceedings. “You schedule an event and they schedule votes.”
They missed Dodd and Lyons settling into a pleasant banter about the stimulus effects of a series such as “Breaking Bad,” the fine art of constructing a scene, creativity and the “weird stuff” as Lyons referred to it, that one learns.
Like what? “For instance, there are no indigenous tortoises in New Mexico,” Lyon said, recalling behind-the-camera maneuvers of one of the show’s most iconic scenes, which features a tortoise, a severed head and a bomb.
Dodd and Lyons went back and forth in a way that recalled good late-night television. As they prepared to show “clip No. 3,” neither could remember what it was, leading Dodd to quip, “Maybe one of my first campaign speeches.”
Without missing a beat, Lyons retorted, “We couldn’t sell that in syndication.”
Dodd, the son of a senator, best friend to the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and current high-profile advocate, is perhaps the quintessential creature of Washington. That doesn’t mean he can’t gently rib his former colleagues. Quoting former Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., Dodd said his long-time pal would often say, “‘Let’s think about that.’ And then he would. … I say that knowing there’s not a lot of colleagues who do.”
When the event wrapped and guests herded out to coffee and dessert — the evening’s planners having worn their arms out gesturing to Dodd that he really, seriously, needed to stop taking questions — Dodd said he could have happily kept going. “I could do this all night,” he said.
Referring to the poor souls marooned at the Capitol for late night votes, unable to hang out and shoot the breeze about Walter White’s transformation to the dark side, Dodd asked, “What were they voting on anyway?”
It was a packed legislative day, June 9. And one of the scheduled votes that detained members of the House, at least, was passage of the Commodity End-User Relief Act, which would scale back regulatory provisions of Dodd-Frank. It faces an uncertain path in the Senate and even past that, a likely veto from the White House.
Dodd would rather talk about Heisenberg. And who could blame him.
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