Saturday, October 04, 2008

Countdown to Election '08 - The American President

I wrote about this film a few years ago as part of my first series of movie posts, and I've always been reluctant to do repeats. But this movie, and especially the clip embedded below, has never been more poignant to me than it has become during this election cycle.

The American President

Essentially, this film is a romantic comedy - a great one - and one of the reasons it's great is that is has a secondary story that keeps it from getting bogged down in the mush. Politics makes for a great distraction, and shows us how hard and soul-destroying it can be to get legislation through Congress (which we all learned in a very real way just this week). Politics is entwined with the romance plot, too, as the President's private life is very much the focus of attention for the media, his staff, and his political rivals (especially that nasty Bob Rumson).

I'm intrigued by the idea of electing a President that doesn't have the traditional family background. We're told that Shepard's wife died before the election, so the opposition didn't feel they could launch a character attack on him. As much as we might like elections to be about the issues - especially when the issues are literally life and death, like they seem to be are this go-round - character does play an important role. I despise the idea of voting for someone or supporting them for high office because they're someone you feel you could have a beer with, but that doesn't mean that character is unimportant. Leaders should be intelligent and accomplished, to be sure, but they also need to be the kind of people you'd be willing to follow onto a battlefield.

A lot of people are fond of Shepard's final speech in the press room, and of course it's been brought up in the course of discussing a couple of Obama's recent speeches, because they have a couple of cadences in common - even if they're not quotes (which they absolutely are not). But I'm rather partial to the exchange between Shepard and his speechwriter (played by Michael J. Fox) about leadership and America's thirst for it. Video below, and transcript below that, in case you can't see it for some reason.

Lewis: You have a deeper love of this country than any man I've ever known. And I want to know what it says to you that in the past seven weeks, 59% of Americans have begun to question your patriotism.
President: Look, if the people want to listen to--
Lewis: They don't have a choice! Bob Rumson is the only one doing the talking! People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they'll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They're so thirsty for it they'll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there's no water, they'll drink the sand.
President: Lewis, we've had presidents who were beloved, who couldn't find a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight. People don't drink the sand because they're thirsty. They drink the sand because they don't know the difference.

Please, please, America - know this difference this November.

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