The American President is among the most entertaining rom-coms I’ve ever seen. A big part of it is the fact that the rom works (Michael Douglas and Annette Bening simply click), and the com is fantastic. Michael Douglas has practically created a sub-genre of movies where he starts off suave and ends up disheveled with a pickaxe in his hand. In this one, he stays suave throughout, and mixes it with genuine warmth to create a rom-com hero worth remembering.
But the reason I have been reminded of this movie often in recent times is that it features, right at the end, a speech that says some very interesting and important things:
America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the “land of the free”.
I’ve known Bob Rumson for years, and I’ve been operating under the assumption that the reason Bob devotes so much time and energy to shouting at the rain was that he simply didn’t get it. Well, I was wrong. Bob’s problem isn’t that he doesn’t get it. Bob’s problem is that he can’t sell it! We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family and American values and character. And wave an old photo of the President’s girlfriend and you scream about patriotism and you tell them, she’s to blame for their lot in life, and you go on television and you call her a whore.
If you ignore the plot and country-specific references, there’s a lot here that applies to us right now. Now, I know it’s a movie, and America probably has its own share of problems in the free speech arena. But that’s the sort of citizenship I want.
The flag-burning thing especially stunned me. I am not even sure I would ever want to burn my flag, but think about this: Naveen Jindal had to go to the Supreme Court just to be able to fly our flag outside his factory as a symbol of national pride. And this ruling came in 2002, 55 years after independence.