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April 23, 2008

The State of the Union Is--The Same

State_of_the_union I just watched a 1948 Frank Capra film called State of the Union, starring Spencer Tracy as a dark-horse presidential candidate, Katharine Hepburn as his wife, and Angela Lansbury as a power-mad newspaper publisher who is determined to make Tracy--with whom she is romantically involved--the next American president.

The film contains a line that will amuse viewers in a year when the first serious woman candidate for President has a shot at winning: Katharine Hepburn notes that no woman will ever become president--because no woman will ever admit to being over 35 (the youngest age at which an American is allowed to become President). Thank heavens we've gotten beyond that! (writes the blogger who is--ahem--over a certain age herself).

There's also a scene that will strike a chord with those familiar with Ronald Reagan's history. As Spencer Tracy is about to tell the truth about himself and his candidacy on a nationwide radio hookup, his aides frantically try to cut off his microphone. "Don't you shut me off! I'm paying for this broadcast!"  Tracy shouts.

Like most Capra films, this one is charming, but sixty years after it hit the box office, State of the Union is also a bit depressing to watch because so little has changed. Presidential candidates still scramble for delegates, still have affairs, make one promise to Labor and a contradictory one to Big Business, still tell lies and still make deals with grubby people who promise votes in exchange for, say a cabinet position.

But this is a Frank Capra film, which means that in the end, Spencer Tracy gives up his quest for the presidency--not because he's being forced to compromise his principles, but when he realizes that his campaign team is forcing his wife to compromise HER principles--in a most humiliating manner.

Rent State of the Union one evening when you get tired of the current campaign circus act....One laughing-out-loud moment: When Spencer Tracy talks of providing health care to every child in America without having to raise taxes.

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