Preston Sturges wrote and directed The Great McGinty, 1940, a political satire that, seen today, is astonishingly accurate in its depiction of big city politics and the corruption and self-interest of politicians who claim to serve the interests of “the little people.”
Though the film is carefully non-partisan, depicting all politicians as crooked, one can’t help but notice that the movie deftly comments on the irreconcilable tension between the machinery of an impersonal government bureaucracy towards non-bureaucratic ends, namely improving the lives of citizens.
Early in the film, Catherine, the luminous Muriel Angelus in her last role before retiring, a decent, hard working secretary and the movie’s touchstone for morality, has an illuminating conversation with a politician, played by the great character actor William Demarest.
Catherine explains, with impeccable logic, why politicians who steal from citizens via graft, taxes, and useless government programs, aren’t really criminals.
Catherine: Especially since you can’t rob the people anyway.
The Politician: (with a double take) Sure… how was that?
Catherine: “Because what you rob you spend, and what you spend goes right back to the people, so where’s the robbery?”
The Politician: “Say, where’d you get that?”
Catherine: “In a book on politico something-or-other… it’s what you call sophistry.”
The Politician: “That book should be in every home.”
Whenever I hear Obama or his surrogates talk about “investing in our future” I imagine that politico something-or-other book in their hip pockets.