Write-in Michael Douglas for President

by Laura Zachman | 11/20/95 6:00am

I am voting for Michael Douglas. No doubt about it. Sure, he doesn't have the military record or objectivity of Colin Powell. But thank God he's not Bob Dole, who is still figuring out why he wants to be coronated, or, excuse me, why he wants to run. Michael Douglas if rather perfect. His "American President" is the dream President of that Democratic majority. He is the man Clinton was supposed to be but clearly is not.

In 1992, the Democratic majority, desperate for leadership, elected Clinton, a man full of energy and ideas. Soon after they realized he couldn't dramatically change their lives in less than two years, they chose to elect the freshman conservatives, effectively tying Clinton's hands domestically. But they didn't get what they bargained for with the Republicans, who are dramatically changing their lives, but not in the ways they imagined.

Current polls show that Americans think the Republicans have gone too far with their cuts. But they need not worry; Dole isn't stupid enough to actually have an agenda as drastic as Gingrich's. And Clinton, despite his overt show of will in the recent budget battle, is perhaps a better politician than Dole. From now until November, he will veto every piece of legislation that comes across his desk, denying the Republicans any credit for their revolution. He will rally the elderly vote by sly little comments on Medicare. And maybe, if he is really clever, he will pass a balanced budget and convince the country that it was his brilliant idea in the first place.

In other words, neither Dole nor Clinton has an agenda that stands for anything other than the best responses to the most current polls. But not Michael Douglas. At the start of the movie, Douglas flaunts his 63 percent approval rating and takes pleasure in his political savvy. That is before he meets Annette Benning's character, the environmental lobbyist who reminds him about the important things in life -- namely love, the environment and automatic assault rifles.

As the movie progresses we see the President's ratings fall. Smelling blood, Richard Dreyfuss's character (Phil Gramm) challenges Douglas' family values when he starts dating Benning, but Douglas will not enter a character debate. Douglas figures after he passes his crime bill, all will be well. Then he has to chose between the crime bill (imminent reelection) and his girlfriend's environmental bill (dignity/love). Michael J. Fox (George Steph-anopoulos) advises him to pass the crime bill and save his ratings. After a period of angst and introspection, Douglas makes the "courageous" move of killing his pork crime bill and passing his girlfriend's environment bill.

It wasn't what he did but how he did it that is important. He goes before the man-eating press corps and gives a speech chastising the press, and, by extension, the American people, for vicariously feeding on his personal life. He calls for "serious" American leadership. He underwrites the freedom to burn the flag. He promises true change in environmental policy and a ban on assault rifles. By the end of his speech he would have turned off the gun lobby, the conservatives, the religious right and every industrial state, while turning on every disenchanted voter in the United States.

Douglas is the candidate everyone would support in conversation and in theory, but one who, by definition, cannot win in our political system. Funding demands in campaigning require compromise. Plurality requires compromise.

Yet most Americans are pro-choice, pro-environmental regulation and pro-gun control. What happened to consensus? "The American President" reminds us to ask why we should settle for a Dole or a Clinton who will not commit to any real agenda, much less any real change. Fox's character challenges Douglas to be a strong leader because the people are thirsty for true leadership and are forced to drink the sand by leaders who will not provide them with the water they so desperately need. Douglas replies that the people drink the sand, not because there is no water, but because they don't know the difference. Maybe this year I'll write-in.