David Stokes

Thirty-eight years ago a film called The Candidate was playing in theaters around the country. It told the story of a young politician named Bill McKay (played by Robert Redford) and his quixotic campaign to win a seat in the United States Senate from California. That, of course, was the year of George McGovern’s run for the presidency against President Richard Nixon. It was also the first year 18-year old Americans could vote. So the movie tapped into the whole young-rock-star-charisma-change-the-world zeitgeist.

It was a “Yes, we can” political prologue.

In the final scene of the movie, McKay and his campaign manager, Marvin Lucas (played by the late Peter Boyle), enter a small room. It is election night and they have emerged victorious, surprising everybody—especially themselves. You can hear the noise of celebration piercing the walls as the candidate and his mentor take a moment to process it all. Then Bill McKay asks:

“Marvin…what do we do now?”

Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo has said: “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” Running for office and effectively managing the office once elected are two very different things. What we are witnessing these days is verification that some poets have a hard time with prose. They tend to spend way too much time trying to make the words rhyme rather than solving problems.

While the country was being “community organized” a couple of years ago, with passionate people intuitively tapping into the various national frustrations, many who were caught up in that surreal moment didn’t ask tough questions. In fact, some didn’t ask any at all. It was all about hope and change and a new day and what not.

Now, as we move toward another national election in two months, many who loved the poetry have been disillusioned by what has passed for governing prose. The man who campaigned against laissez faire economics has repeatedly demonstrated laissez faire leadership. When inconvenient problems (and aren’t they all?) come along, the predictable pattern has been to make a speech or two, drop a few expert names, point a finger, and then move on.


David Stokes

David R. Stokes is a best-selling author, pastor, columnist, and broadcaster. His latest book is a novel: CAPITOL LIMITED: A Story about John Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Based on a true story, it's about a unique moment in 1947, when Kennedy and Nixon shared