I was out on a walk after dinner today and found myself strolling in the National Mall. It was a hot and muggy evening – typical for DC in July. There was a huge crowd sitting on the lawn facing the US Capitol. A huge white screen was setup on the greens between 4th and 9th streets. It was getting dark and I found out that they were going to screen a movie on that giant white screen. I found a nice patch of green for myself and settled down.

The movie being showed tonight was the 1972 Robert Redford movie “The Candidate“. I had not seen it and thought would stick around. There could not have been a better movie in that setting in this political climate. Here goes the plot – spoilers ahead.

The race for the Senator in California is dominated by a sixty something running Republican Senator Jarmon. There is no Democratic nominee who will run against him and his victory is almost certain. Luke, a campaign manager (played by Peter Boyle – the foul mouthed Frank Barone from Raymond) persuades a handsome, dashing, liberal activist -Bill McKay (a brilliant Redford) to join the race. McKay hates politics and politicians (he is the son of the ex-governor and has fallen out with his father for these very reasons). He is happy fighting for the issues that he believes in. Luke promises him that this race will give him an audience for his cause and he can say what he wants to say, after all he is going to loose anyway. McKay falls for it and announces his nomination. Things take a positive turn because of his outspoken and frank speeches, people see a “Change” in him and his numbers start catching up with Jarmons.

The rest of the plot is about how McKay falls prey to the media branding and his voice changes to to a political mush and hollow-speak that he despised to begin with. For example McKay brands himself with the cheesy campaign line “For a Better Way, Bill McKay”!! (it could very well have been “Change”). The movie just goes on to impress the fact that little has changed in 36 years.

The movie is a direct jab at the political machinery prior to any big election. It is all the more relevant today – there are obvious comparisons between Jarmon and Senator McCain : He is old, is experienced and is a Republican. On the other hand McKay is Obama: He is young, inexperienced, handsome, charming and a Democrat. But the movie is not about Republicans or Democrats it’s about how individuals loose their individuality in this system of political campaigning. They become the puppets at the hand of the media and the campaigners that surround them.

McKay makes a brilliant inspiring speech in the movie, which has the crowd up on its feet cheering him – he is loving it…he is enjoying every bit of it…he is drunk on the adulation. The speech is played repeatedly on different occasions. On his way to one such campaign event he recites the speech in the car mocking at it…Redford is absolutely brilliant in this bit. Watch it to believe it. That one scene pretty much sums up the entire point of the movie.

In the end when Mckay is declared the winner he pulls Luke in a room and asks him bewildered – “Luke! What do we do now?”.

A gibbous moon had risen behind the Capitol dome and the air was filled with the cheers from the crowd. Ironically, in the coming months on these very lawns we will probably witness a “Bill McKay” being sworn in as the Nation’s first Black President. “Change” as they say is coming….or is it?

More information on the “Screen on the green” series here.
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