Classic Film Pick of the Weekend: The Candidate

Now that Obama has sewn up the Democratic nomination for Presidential candidate, he will begin to face the problem that all principled politicians have faced at one point or another. Stick to the idealistic viewpoints and policies in which they truly believe, though they may alienate a large portion of the electorate, or slide closer to the middle of the political spectrum for maximum voter appeal, but in the process abandon some of their cherished beliefs. Considering the fact that he's a Democrat, it's hard not to assume that he will begin to undercut all of his progressive views tout suite in an effort to prove that he's not a socialist bomb-throwing terrorist, as so many of his predecessors have done, generally to their disservice. Let's just hope that this time around, the Democratic party understands the purpose of presenting a truly alternative platform rather than just adopting their opponents' and adding in a few kind words about the environment. But it truly is a difficult dilemma. One of the drawbacks of the democratic process is that it frequently requires politicians to compromise and pander in an effort to earn the votes of frequently poorly informed or (let's not split hairs) willfully ignorant voters. After all, what good is having vision if you can't be elected to a position in which you can enact it. Whoever wrote “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” obviously never got to have his feet massaged in Air Force One.

Michael Ritchie's 1972 film The Candidate presents the story of attractive, young, politically progressive California politician Bill McKay. The son of a former governor, McKay is drafted into running for the office of senator against a popular Republican incumbent. Initially, no one believes McKay has a chance, including his own campaign staff, so he feels free to speak his mind, believing that no matter what he says, he will be unable to win. Deciding instead to merely stand up for his principles and forget about electability, McKay travels the state presenting his populist message to the voters. However, much to everyone's surprise, McKay begins to develop a following and as the gap between incumbent and challenger grows increasingly narrower, McKay begins to feel the pressure to compromise in order to win. Will Obama . . . er, McKay give in, make concessions to politics and become everything he always disliked?

Featuring tremendous performances by Robert Redford as McKay and Peter Boyle as the head of his campaign, The Candidate won Best Screenplay at the Academy Awards. With its proto-Aaron Sorkin plot line and its Altman-esque vibe, The Candidate is recommended viewing for anyone who wishes to understand more fully the realities of pragmatic politics.

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