LIBERTY, Missouri (CNN)– “In the end, the country runs itself,” said Mike Roush, 43, of Lewis Center, Ohio.
He’s a businessman on the road. We’ve been talking with people, as we cross the country, about “The Candidate.”
Not the candidate– not Barack Obama or John McCain.
But “The Candidate”– the riveting 1972 political movie starring Robert Redford as a handsome and telegenic novice who runs for the United States Senate and wins. The cynicism of the movie, bordering on bitterness, is what makes its message lasting.
Some of the people with whom we’ve spoken remember “The Candidate” well; some have never seen it. But everyone– including Mike Roush– understands the power of its much-discussed closing scene.
In that scene Redford, who has just been elected after using every trick at his disposal and at the disposal of his campaign adviser (played by the late Peter Boyle), pulls Boyle aside and, with the victory cheers still sounding, says:
“What do we do now?”
It’s the ultimate election-night quandary: with triumph fresh and the office finally won, what comes next?
And even though we’ve been talking with people about “The Candidate,” they are quick to see the connection with the candidates: Obama and McCain, one of whom, in less than a week, will realize that the contest is at last over and that he is victorious.
“Regardless of who goes into office, there’s only so much than he can do," Mike Roush told us. That, he said, is why Americans should take comfort in the thought that, in the ways that really count, the country runs itself.
“It’s true everywhere," he said. “I’ve worked for several large business operations. I’ve worked for a gas company– it didn’t matter who the CEO was, the gas kept flowing through the pipes. I’ve worked for a hospital corporation– it didn’t matter who the president of the hospital was, the patients continued to be cared for."
That’s not exactly the kind of analysis designed to stroke the egos of Obama and McCain as their long campaign nears its end. For a citizen to say to them, and of them: We always get by no matter who’s in charge. . . .
That is a potentially deflating thought, for the two men who have invested everything they have and everything they are into the proposition that the specific identity of next Tuesday’s winner is absolutely vital to the nation.
But, according to Mike Roush, Obama and McCain should cherish the knowledge that we always seem to manage to find our way.
“No one can solve all the things that need solving,” he said. “We’re all responsible.”
So that startling climactic line from the winning candidate in “The Candidate” is not quite as bleak as it sounds?
“The country is polarized now," said John Meyers, 33, of Phoenix, Arizona. “But I’m absolutely certain that the nation will come together and bond after the election."
Really? Despite all the heat and anger of the presidential campaign?
“When it comes down to what’s important for America, we always do,” Meyers said. “Hard times always bring people together.”
He’s not a politician– just, like Mike Roush, a business traveler in the middle of a weary week– but he sounded as hopeful as any candidate on a campaign stage when he said:
“I have a lot of faith in the people of this country. No one man, even when he’s elected to the White House, can solve our problems on his own. It takes a lot of people. It takes the nation."
So that half-giddy, half-despairing movie line as it was delivered by Redford:
“What do we do now?”. . . .
It sounds somewhat different, and less troubling, when considered in the context to which Mike Roush and John Meyers alluded: when the “we” is made larger.
Jessica Brucker, 21, of Kansas City, Missouri, said: “It would take longer than a single term for whoever is elected next week to accomplish what he has promised during the campaign."
What do we do now?
“I would like it if the country could be nice and happy," she said. “I think that would be enough."