Will “Greatness” Elude Yet Another President?

by James M. Wallimages-1

Will McAlvoy (Jeff Daniels), (right), played a newscaster working for a fictional cable news network on The Newsroom, a program which ran on HBO (2012-2014).

The writer of The Newsroom series is Aaron Sorkin, creator and lead author of the earlier television political series, The West Wing.

The Newsroom is The West Wing on steroids, same rapid-fire dialogue, same personal interaction carried out by a cast which talks and walks rapidly in their search for greatness.

Sorkin has honed this style in a career that began with A Few Good Men (Jack Nicholson, “You can’t handle the truth”) and includes Michael Douglas as The American President.

In 2011, at the time The Newsroom was unveiling its first season, the Republican party was attempting to absorb know-nothing political candidates from the Tea Party, a rebellious crowd which has now morphed into a “brand movement” called Donald Trump.

In episode one of The Newsroom’s first season. a college student asks panel members, “Can you say why America is the greatest country in the world?”

Two panelists offer the usual platitudes, “diversity and opportunity”, and “freedom and freedom, and let’s keep it that way.”

Will McAvoy fumes a moment, and then responds: “It’s NOT the greatest country in the world. That’s my answer.”

His expanded answer has become a television classic. Click here for a clip from that episode:

It is increasingly apparent that in this era of racial discord at home and perpetual wars abroad, we are not “the greatest country in the world”. In this summer of our discontent, from Mosul to Dallas, we struggle with conflicts as we gather to nominate two presidential candidates.

A battle between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is generally believed to be a contest between the least popular presidential candidates in modern times (or, more accurately, in the time of polling.)

Two vice-presidential candidates will soon be selected as running mates, first, the Republican, who Donald Trump has promised will be an experienced office-holder, an obvious attempt to add to his complete lack of experience in electoral office.

The Washington Post reports three names which appear to be in contention, all elected leaders: Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.).

On Tuesday, Senator Bernie Sanders delivered his long-delayed Clinton endorsement in New Hampshire. It may be presumed Sanders got as much as he could from Clinton in the party platform on matters related to his domestic views on college tuition and minimum wage.

Clinton, however, held on tightly to her woefully outdated stubborn obeisance to the Jewish Lobby on both Israeli occupation and settlements.

Which raises the question: How can a nation, no matter how advanced and strong, even possibly consider itself “great” when its foreign policy is run by a lobby for a foreign power?

Clinton’s eventual vice-presidential selection will almost certainly be someone who is not offensive to Sanders. If not, a vice-presidential vote during the Democratic convention could be just the contentious affair the Clinton operation wants to avoid.

In his script for the 1964 film, The Best Man, adapted from his 1960 play, Gore Vidal demonstrates just how large a role personal character plays in the selection of presidential nominees. The two leading candidates in Vidal’s script for the (unnamed) party’s nomination are Secretary of State William Russell (Henry Fonda), and Senator Joe Cantrell (Cliff Robertson).

Their fictional struggle sets up a conservative anti-communist candidate (Cantrell), against a liberal Luther-quoting intellectual (Russell). Each candidate has “mud from the past” to throw against the other. What they choose to do with the “mud” reveals much about their character.

Both candidates are eager to gain the endorsement of the outgoing popular President, Art Hockstader (Lee Tracy), a self-styled “political hick” who thrives on infighting. Tracy received a 1964 Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for this performance.

In the film, President Hockstader is prescient when (in 1964) he suggests to a banquet audience, with a smile of disbelief, that some day the American people could even elect an African American (he says “Negro”) or a woman president.

Vidal’s 1960 play has been revived on regional stages. Vidal says he has not seen any reason to revise the political machinations of The Best Man..

The short clip below, made to promote the (still available) DVD, includes dialogue which continues to feel fresh in 2016.

If any of the nights during the two upcoming conventions become tiresome, The Best Man offers some fast-paced and tense moments from the 1960s.

Of course, one thing that has changed since then, is that “the best man” is an outmoded title, a reality Hillary Clinton will most certainly exploit during the coming months.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall writings.me, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
This entry was posted in -Movies and politics, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Will “Greatness” Elude Yet Another President?

  1. Sami Joseph says:

    To become great again, all that the Americans need to do is to rid themselves of the “lobby for a foreign power” and its patrons whose greed knows no bounds.

  2. Your usual good post, Jim. “Which raises the question: How can a nation, no matter how advanced and strong, even possibly consider itself “great” when its foreign policy is run by a lobby for a foreign power?” The answer to your rhetorical question is blindingly obvious, but I’ll answer it anyway: “It can’t.” “Greatness” has slipped away from America like the tide ebbing, and I can’t see it flowing back…a (perhaps ultimate) victory for Zionism. Pity the collateral-damage Palestinians, caught in the maw of the USrael “entangling alliance”…as replicated in other nations that are still playing the tired colonialism card. May we and they pay the price anon.

  3. mgm says:

    Bernie Sanders betrayed his supporters, and gave in to Aipac

  4. oldkahuna says:

    This week I received an envelope full of bumper stickers for Bernie. Many months ago these were offered to supporters who contributed to the campaign. So why did I just now receive these bumper stickers? Was the staff this late in mailing them out? Or did they get “delayed” by some part of the USPS??? Whatever the case, I think (during the conventions and afterwards) I’ll not watch “The Best Man.” I think I’ll watch “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” It’s a classic Western and it shows how politicians are elected. (sic)

  5. Patricia says:

    I am supporting Jill Stein, Green Party. She has integrity and a better perspective on foreign policy.Dr. Cornell West is making the switch, too. It’s not too late!

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