The Candidate charts the compromises, concessions and outright betrayals that social democratic politics has made as it has travelled down its reformist road to its supposed 'kinder and gentler' world. But while director Michael Ritchie's film is a biting satirical take on the machinations of liberal politics it also. in some ways, foreshadows the ultimate demise of social democratic parties throughout the west.
The 1972 movie follows the rise to political power of a young progressive activist Bill McKay, played by Robert Redford.
At the beginning of the movie he is lawyer for liberal causes and critical of mainstream politics. By the end of the movie he has become the Senator for California and a rising star within the Democrat Party.
What makes this movie fascinating is that it grimly depicts how McKay, against his own political instincts, allows the Democrat Party to trade away his principles and beliefs in the pursuit of political power.
He goes from being a passionate liberal defender of ordinary Americans to just another politician hiding behind rhetoric and soundbites.
As a lawyer McKay campaigned against big business, poverty and environmental degradation but as an aspiring politician he ends up with a slogan: 'For a better way: Bill McKay!'
As he travels down the 'reformist' road his principles are, one by one, tossed into the ditch. After attacking the oil industry and big business he is rebuked by his campaign manager for not building 'broad support'.
McKay beats his Republican candidate but, starkly aware that political power has become an end in itself, he asks his campaign manager what he is supposed to do next.
A decade or so after The Candidate was released social democratic parties around the world meekly surrendered to the forces of neoliberalism.
It was again dressed up as 'compromise' and 'adaptation' but it was the historic end of the social democratic project.
We were left with former social democratic parties advocating the policies of neoliberalism, the politics of greed and division. In New Zealand the stake was driven into Labour's social democratic heart by Roger Douglas and the parliamentary cabal that backed him. That cabal included its present leader, Phil Goff.
Today, the 'great liberal hope', Barack Obama, has proven to be just another defender of corporate America. The socialist left never had any illusions about him but our warnings were drowned out by the hype of 'Obamania'.
Here in New Zealand corporate media commentators still nonsensically describe Labour as 'centre left' but Labour remains a committed defender of the status quo and of neoliberalism. It offers no new vision for New Zealand. It is bereft of passion, of inspiration, of imagination.
One commentator thinks Labour should dress itself up in the garb of 'proletarianism' as opposed to 'social liberalism'. It's little more than cosmetic surgery. You can roll a turd in glitter but it remains a turd.
Today a politician like Bill McKay would never even be accepted as a suitable candidate for any 'social democratic' party in the world, never mind the Democrats. He would be regarded as 'too radical', 'too left wing'. His commitment to his beliefs would be regarded as a sign of 'inflexibility' and an 'inability to take a broad view.'
Our Labour Party would be showing Bill McKay the door marked 'Exit' about five minutes after he walked in.
Don't call us, we'll call you...