A lot of movie lists tied to the election have been floating around: great fictional presidents, great election movies, or political movies generally. I've been thinking a little more narrowly, about movies and TV that the next president should give a look. I mean, he will have some free time between now and the inauguration, and pure escapism may wear thin. I mean, how many times can you re-watch "Die Hard."
OK, bad example. Since I'm now thinking about re-watching "Die Hard."
But let me get back to my point. Art illuminates life. Art guides. Art inspires. And when you're about to sit behind the big desk in the Oval Office, it doesn't hurt to have turned to art for inspiration. So here's my viewing guide:
"The Candidate." Robert Redford is the title character, a principled activist who gradually puts aside everything he believes in to get elected. He wins, but then is faced with the haunting question that makes this movie work: "What do we do now?" Not everyone who has gotten in the White House has had a clear answer. The next guy had better.
"The Best Man." Gore Vidal's script is a time capsule, with a wide-open political convention pitting an Adlai Stevenson-like candidate (Henry Fonda) against a Nixonian Cliff Robertson. Still, it's a riveting tale of what people will do to get elected -- and what some people won't, in order to ensure the progress of the country. The same question has to be considered by the next president: What's expedient, what's convenient but above all else, what is right?
"Dave" (pictured above). Kevin Kline plays a man whose resemblance to the president gets him cast as a temporary stand-in -- only the president is taken ill, and Dave has to fill in a lot longer than planned. Soon enough, Dave begins to share his own ideas about policy, and budgets, and just being better to people. It's a lovely movie, and it says a great deal about where political considerations should be put aside in favor of ethics and decency.
"Idiocracy." I'm not crazy about this movie but it does try to make a big point about what can happen when a culture declines into self-indulgence, immediate gratification, anti-intellectualism and debased entertainment. "Idiocracy" plays it for laughs, but underneath the laughs is a political and social nightmare. The campaign and all its viciousness is over. It's time to lift people up.
"The West Wing." Some may prefer "The American President," also by Aaron Sorkin and also dealing with some of the tough things that a president faces in office, and the unfairness of the world beyond the White House. But "The West Wing," even with its many flaws, was a far grander contemplation of America and politics, and one that deserves repeated viewing. It also says that you can make a lot of mistakes along the way and still find your way to greatness, success and a sense that your life was well-lived.
"12 Angry Men." Not a political movie per se. But in its many incarnations, it is about jumping to conclusions, going along with the crowd and the way one person can make people see the light -- if he is willing to talk things through with people, and they are open to reason. Which is a lot of what any president has to do.