Elections in Popular Culture

The Campaign and The Manchurian Candidate are among the films that can help us understand the comic-but-grotesque character of American politics.

By Neal Meyer, et. al.

From the fictional portrayal of Huey Long in All the King’s Men to Election with Reese Witherspoon or Bulworth with Warren Beatty or The Candidate with Robert Redford, U.S. culture has plenty to say about elections. Here are some favorites from DSA activists:

The Campaign is the funniest satire of our recent electoral politics I’ve seen outside of Saturday Night Live. Two candidates compete for a congressional seat: a Democrat going for his fifth term (Will Ferrell) and a Republican naif (Zach Galifianakis), but you soon forget the party affiliations, as both speak in the same patriotic clichés and sling outrageous personal attacks at each other with not one mention of any actual policy issue except, briefly, “jobs.” The evil Moch (!) brothers manipulate both candidates and—look for it—supply the voting machines. Well acted.Barbara Joye  

The Manchurian Candidate A still-enthralling cold-war-era melodrama, it centers on a plot by combined Soviet-Chinese Secret Service operatives to influence the upcoming presidential selection process by “brainwashing” a returning soldier into an assassin. From the 1959 book by Richard Condon, the film stars Frank Sinatra, Lawrence Harvey, Angela Lansbury, and Janet Leigh. Complete with such staples as military police derring-do, Asian conspirators, a stunning Lansbury (Newsweek in 2007 named her character one of the ten greatest villains in film), and a national convention at Madison Square Garden, the production is masterly, better than its 2004 remake featuring Denzel Washington. —Michael Hirsch

To understand U.S. politics you need to watch three television shows: (1) The West Wing to understand the idealistic aspirations of D.C.’s army of staffers. They imagine they are C.J. Cregg or Sam Seaborn, running between cubicles and changing the world; (2) House of Cards to understand the Machiavellian character of our political leaders. The ruthless rise of Kevin Spacey’s character, Frank Underwood, is a reflection of the career trajectories of Dick Cheney and Bill Clinton; and (3) the most important, Veep. U.S. politics is defined by its clownishness. Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s character is a carbon copy of Joe Biden.

What is truly radical about Bernie Sanders? He is the first candidate to run for president who isn’t a character out of one of these three shows.

This article originally appeared in the winter 2015 issue of the Democratic Left magazine.

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.



Introduction to Socialist Feminism Call

November 03, 2016 · 3 rsvps
Introduction to Socialist Feminism

Join DSA activist Michele Rossi to explore “socialist feminism.” How does it differ from other forms of feminism? How and when did it develop? What does it mean for our activism? 8-9pm ET, 7-8pm CT, 6-7pm MT, 5-6pm PT.


Feminist Working Group

November 15, 2016 · 4 rsvps
Feminist Working Group Call

People of all genders are welcome to join this call to discuss DSA's work on women's issues. We will discuss election results and their implications for DSA's work (30 minutes). Business will include reports on screenings of She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, preparation for April Abortion Access Bowl-A-Thon fundraising, and leadership development (up to 1 hour). 9 pm ET; 8 pm CT; 7 pm MT; 6 pm PT.