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Sun Jun 12, 2016, 09:27 AM

THE CHOICE Has a Presidential election ever suggested more vividly divergent candidates

Has a Presidential election ever suggested more vividly divergent candidates than Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?

Before the emergence of Barack Obama, the idea of an African-American President was less a matter of political reality than it was the stuff of fantasy. With apologies to anticipatory figures from Frederick Douglass to Jesse Jackson, a black President resided for decades in the realm of popular culture, a figment of the liberal imagination.

There were many such exhibits. Take the stereotype-flecked movie musical, released during the Depression, called “Rufus Jones for President.” Ethel Waters, in the role of the protective mother, urges her little boy, played by seven-year-old Sammy Davis, Jr., to endure the taunts of the local bullies and aspire to greatness. “You’s goin’ to be President!” she tells him. “Me?” Rufus asks, incredulous. The mother falls into a reverie. She sees a crowd carrying placards that read “Down with the Reds, Put in the Blacks,” and the boy is soon dressed in a sharp suit, speaking before the Senate. Such films—all the way to “Head of State,” in which Chris Rock plays a local pol who ends up on Mt. Rushmore—mapped the yawning distance between the wish and its fulfillment.

For most of this nation’s history, the prospect of a woman in the Oval Office had also reposed in the realm of speculative fiction. In 1964, Polly Bergen starred in “Kisses for My President,” in which she played Leslie Harrison McCloud, the first female President. Naturally, her husband, played by Fred MacMurray, is the focus of the movie. The First Man wanders the White House, staring at paintings of Martha Washington and Abigail Adams, and wondering if he, too, will be depicted in such a portrait, wearing a bonnet. He especially resents the many hours during which his wife neglects him for matters of state. The natural order of things is restored only when President McCloud gets pregnant and resigns her office.


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