The question was, “Should I laugh or be bitter?” while I watched this past Saturday Robin Williams new movie, Man of the Year, in which he plays a Jon Stewart-type character who runs for president. During one telling scene, two of Williams’ aides are found talking about why he’s done so well with the electorate. One aide responds by saying that candidates usually can’t be heard during campaigns because they all sound the same; Williams, he said was heard by people because he genuinely sounded different.
But what did he say?
Williams’ character spoke the truth about big money, special interests, silly ideas, and misleading rhetoric. He came clean with himself about his own motivations to run and ran because he was willing to lose. Compare this to our current election cycle. Oh yes, I know, many of you are delighted the Democrats might win big on Election Day, while others are concerned about just what that victory might bring.
But Williams’ movie is clear and compelling satire on our current state of public affairs regardless of who ultimately wins next week. Candidates from both parties have brought political conduct to new lows of ugliness and vacuous ideas. Their ads and debates are devoid of substance – and hope.
Just this morning on the radio, when driving into work, I heard one political consultant say that the only way a candidate can break through these days is to “go to the extremes.” To me, she was saying, “Go ahead and make a mockery out of the process in order to win!”
But as I’ve traveled the country and talked about the possibilities for a different kind of politics and public life, the response has been overwhelming. People want someone to stand up and engage people on a notion of the public good, not just their own good. They are longing to be brought together on their basic concerns such as education, safety, good neighborhoods – maybe even the war in Iraq. There is a deep desire within people to focus on authentic hope, and to put an end to the peddling of false hope.
Our political leaders and their handlers seem convinced that the only way to win is to sure up their base and then strike fear in enough other voters about their opponents to squeak out a victory.
But in Man of the Year they got the message just right: people want something more. And in this way our entertainment world is reflecting back to us our most basic aspirations for what we want in reality but cannot yet seem to create.
Before Election Day I urge you to go see Man of the Year. Maybe it will help all of us collectively articulate what is now missing from everyday life -- a politics and public life that matters. Then maybe next Tuesday in our momentary euphoria of victory, or despair in defeat, we will keep our eye on the need for real change and maintain our vigilance in seeking it.