In 1931 the most popular musical in America was George Gershwin's "Of
Thee I Sing." And the song on everyone's lips was "WINTERGREEN FOR
PRESIDENT." In 1931 we could laugh at ourselves and our politics. We
had to. We were in the middle of the great depression and Herbert
Hoover was President. And you think we have problems now!
John P. Wintergreen started his campaign for President as a bachelor and
he had no idea what to use for a platform . The political bosses
decided that he would run on a platform of love, love, love, and that he
would marry the partner chosen for him at an Atlantic City Beauty
pageant. Instead, he fell in love with a campaign secretary who made
sublime corn muffins. When the beautiful southern belle who won the
contest protested, the Supreme Court decreed that anyone who could bake
corn muffins like Mary was a fit wife for the President.
Wintergreen and his veep candidate, Alexander Throttlebottom, were
elected, of course. Throttlebottom was such a nonentity that nobody
ever recognized him, so they married him off to the beautiful southern
belle who won the beauty contest. Everybody lived happily ever after,
including the American people. Well, according to the musical they did.
Making fun of presidents is not a new hobby for Americans. Deep inside
ourselves we honor the office and so far as possible the person in it,
but on the surface we have to laugh to survive sometimes. Presidential
humor has always been with us. I suspect this is a gift the forefathers
arranged for in their deliberations. Before television and radio , it
often came in the form of the theater.
In 1938 George Kauffman and Moss Hart took a shot at politics and
presidents in their musical, "I'd Rather Be Right" with George M. Cohan.
I was lucky enough to see it when it arrived in Chicago. I still have
the single page playbill printed on newsprint, and now a bit yellowed
and shabby. For the record, the cost of a main floor ticket was $3.30,
and the second gallery was .55. We probably sat in the .55 seats.
The locale for this depression satire is New York's Central Park on the
4th of July. Peggy and Phil want to get married but they can't afford it
unless Phil gets a raise, and his boss won't give him a raise until
Roosevelt balances the budget. Phil falls asleep and who should come
strolling by but F. D. R. himself. When Phil explains the couple's
dilemma, Roosevelt promises to help.
Before the happy ending - all musicals in those days had happy endings -
the entire cabinet, the supreme court, the question of a third term and
the president's mother all get involved. I wish I could remember all
the words, but I do remember George M. Cohan singing, "I'd Rather Be
Right Than President."
Moving forward 60 years to television, I think we could do a lot worse
than elect --- BARTLET FOR PRESIDENT.
In my opinion "West Wing" is the best program on television today.
Josiah Bartlet is fictional president who is very real and very good at
his job. It is not a comedy, although it has its clever moments, and
there is are no catchy songs, but it is a very intelligent look at a
mythical White House and the people in it. Considering all that has
been going on in Florida and Washington this week, I think all the
politicians should start watching it
The characters in West Wing are idealistic, intelligent, committed and
believe deeply in our government. President Bartlet generally handles
three or four major crises a week and solves some of them. He is human
and sincere and has a sense of humor. As my friend the philosopher
says, here is a Democrat that even the Republicans can love.
West Wing is not laughing at the presidency, but honoring it. If we
don't have a president by the time this is printed, let's elect Jed
Bartlet by acclimation. Or maybe we should go back to WINTERGREEN FOR