Weekend Film Recommendation: A Perfect Candidate

I am busy getting ready for the Cannabis Science and Policy Summit that Mark Kleiman has organized, so I will not be making a new film recommendation this week. But here’s one from a few years back that is perfect viewing for the primary season.

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As we are in the thick of election season, it’s a great time to recommend R.J. Cutler and David Van Taylor’s revealing 1996 documentary “A Perfect Candidate“. The scene is the 1994 Virginia Senate race between incumbent Chuck Robb and challenger Oliver North, which one voter likens to a choice between “the flu and the mumps”. The principal players in the movie are Washington Post report Don Baker and North’s campaign manager Mark Goodin (a Lee Atwater mentee). Their candor and insight are nothing less than disturbing, as this set of clips with Goodin shows.

As the movie unfolds, both campaigns lurch from the trivial to the ugly, and no one comes out looking very good at the end. The fact that the outcome of the election is known in advance by the audience does nothing to limit the fascination this movie generates as it documents how campaigns operate. There is nothing inspiring here about the electoral process, unless it is to inspire us to change it. But that’s why “A Perfect Candidate” is a great documentary: It shows life unvarnished and in an emotionally compelling way. It’s a raw, remarkable must-see film for political junkies and for anyone who wonders why we get the candidates we do in our elections.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.