‘Get Out the Vote…Stay Off the Hard Stuff’

“The Candidate” Pokes Fun at All the Guilty Parties


Published: Febrary 14, 2008

As I sit with my 2008 iPod earphones, plugged into a 1990 VHS player, watching the 1972 movie “The Candidate,” I can’t help but notice that as technology changes, politics are still the same.

In the film, Robert Redford plays U.S. Senate hopeful Bill McKay.  The Oscar-winning movie was deemed a “devastatingly accurate depiction of [1972] politics” by The Washington Post. To me, it is also a devastating accurate reflection of current politics.

In the film, McKay is a liberal lawyer before he is coerced into running as the Democratic candidate in the Senate election. He begins his campaign keeping it real, saying what he believes in his heart. On the trail, McKay lays out his plans for a better America, highlighting his passions like global warming and poverty prevention. Sure enough, a push for voter support drives McKay to generalize his stances on national issues. (Sound familiar?)

Going against his initial intuition to exclude his father, former California governor John McKay, from his campaign, McKay eventually decides to invite the man to hit the campaign trail. After one particularly disastrous speech, McKay says, “I wonder if anyone realized what I was trying to do.” His father responds, “Don’t worry son, it doesn’t make a difference.”

As McKay becomes more influenced by his staff and the politics of being a candidate, his popularity grows but his credibility shrinks. He transforms into the break and bake cookie candidate—clean cut, well dressed and equipped with a delicious message urging change. Mmm, smells just like the perfect political candidate. (Now this is definitely familiar territory, right?)

As perhaps you guessed, McKay, the underdog, sweeps in to snatch up the seat in the U.S. Senate. The movie closes with McKay asking his chief advisor, “Marvin, what do we do now?”

That’s right Bill McKay, what do we do now? After months of posing as a person he wasn’t, McKay is formally voted Senator but also is formally a stand-up guy.

Even though “The Candidate” is only a movie, it heavily parallels today’s politics. Just like in the movie, any regular Joe can be made over by political aids and the media to gain credibility. And just like in the movie, it is you who votes these masquerading Joes into office.

A mechanic in “The Candidate” says, “This stuff you call politics, politics are bullshit.” Well, the presidential primary bullshit culminated on Feb. 5, Super Tuesday. Twenty-four states, including Fordham’s home, New York, voted for the 2008 Democratic and Republican presidential candidates.

In New York, John McCain (R) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) reigned victorious. After Super Tuesday, overall, McCain is the Republican front-runner, while Clinton and Barack Obama remain neck and neck.  Next time you vote, your candidate could end up running this country—politics are not bullshit, so get to know your candidate.

Politics today may be the same as in the ’70s, but the voters today are different. Voters today have all the necessary resources at their fingertips to follow political candidates throughout the campaign trail. It is important that voters take advantage of these luxuries.  McKay became Senator because news groups and media sources take his words out of context.  One satirical facet of this film is that the people voted McKay into office knowing little about his stance on the issues.  Had the people heard the full statements, perhaps the outcome of the election would have come out differently.

Voters today have the power to dig through media distortions by watching speeches, debates and by reading personal statements. Hopefully today’s advantages will help Americans not elect into office just another Bill McKay, but rather a politically qualified candidate.