Every four years the naive half who vote are encouraged to believe that if we can elect a really nice man or woman President everything will be all right. But it won’t be. Any individual who is able to raise $25 million to be considered presidential is not going to be much use to the people at large. He will represent oil, or aerospace, or banking, or whatever moneyed entities are paying for him. Certainly he will never represent the people of the country, and they know it. Hence, the sense of despair throughout the land as incomes fall, businesses fail and there is no redress. (Gore Vidal, The Decline and Fall of the American Empire, 1992 as quoted in Wikipedia)
In The Best Man (1960), Gore Vidal (New York, 1925), describes the ugly fight taking place between two political candidates – William Russell and Joe Cantwell – disputing the party´s nomination, in order to run for the Presidency of the United States of America.
William Russell is an intellectual – a rare species to be found in politics -, but he is criticized by the ex-president Hockstader, from whom he seeks support, for being too brainy and taking little action, on the contrary to his opponent Joe Cantwell. Russell refuses to accept Hockstader´s critic, for in his view “one should not use bombs in order to kill” a bug like Joe does. Russell argues he is not undecided but responsable.
Joe Cantwell, his opponent, for whom the end always justify the means, is an appeaser, who will always take action according to what the polls tell him to be more popular in people´s minds at the moment. On the contrary, Russell, believes a president shouldn´t follow popular opinion but try to educate the people and explain why his way is the best. Two different visions of the world clash here, making the struggle for power, one without limits and not restrained to the truth. When Joe Cantwell, just moments before the voting takes place, makes Russell´s clinic history public to all delegates, he opens the door to being subjected to the same treatment. Russell is then left with the moral decision to fight back with the same weapons, for he is also in the possession of material which is „political nitroglicerine“ to stop Cantwell or, stick to his principles and fight him solely for his public political ideas.
The plot is exactly about Russell´s moral dilemma on either to leave the other candidate´s private life aside or not, even if mud and lies are being thrown at him. This piece shows how image, bluff and resourcefulness are what counts in politics, and how people who worked their way up have done it at the expense of others, without looking back nor caring for anything except themselves.
Given the context, Russell´s mud on Cantwell is far more devastating that Cantwell´s trash on Russell, for Russell is exposed for a previous breakdown and Cantwell could be expose as an homosexual. But in the end and without descending to the same level, Russell finds a creative solution to stop Cantwell from being nominated. And even if, neither the dark nor the light angel win, truth is the best man wins! indeed!