Monday, July 14, 2008

The Obamessiah ain't got nothin' on Judson C. Hammond

I'm reading through Gene Healy's The Cult of the Presidency. It's a fascinating examination of how the office of the Presidency has transformed from its original role of a simple Chief Magistrate, to one of a more enlightened, benevolent deity figure. As the book jacket quotes (haven't gotten to it yet, I think), "Very few Americans seem to think it odd, says Healy, 'when presidential candidates talk as if they're running for a job that's a combination of guardian angel, shaman, and supreme warlord of the earth.'"

Anyway, turns out this encroachment is nothing new. At the end of the chapter, "'Progress' and the Presidency," which is a chapter on how early 20th-century progressives pushed for an expanded executive authority, Healy recounts what must be an equally hilarious and disturbing film:

A remarkable film produced in 1932 and released shortly after FDR's election captured the changes in the public's orientation toward the presidency. Financed by William Randolph Hearst and starring Walter Huston, Gabriel over the White House depicts a president literally touched by an angel and empowered to heal the country and the world. The movie's fictional president, Judson C. Hammond, begins as an unflattering amalgam of Harding and Coolidge, a party hack more interested in bedding his comely assistant than in dealing with the country's ongoing economic woes.

After Hammond is gravely injured in a car crash, the archangel Gabriel visits him in the hospital. Gabriel imbues the comatose Hammond with the Holy Spirit of presidential activism. Hammond awakens from the coma, declares a state of emergency, and threatens Congress with a declaration of martial law should they refuse to pass his legislative program, which includes federally subsidized agriculture, a ban on mortgage foreclosures, and a CCC-style "Army of Construction" that will give a job to every unemployed man in America. To eradicate organized crime, Hammond authorizes a special army unit to fight gangsters, several of whom are convicted via military tribunal, then executed with the Statue of Liberty visible in the background. Toward the end of the movie, President Hammond uses a demonstration of American air power to force other world leaders to disarm, thereby ending the scourge of war. Then, with his work on Earth done, the president ascends into Heaven."

Unreal. I have to think it's slightly exaggerated, but I sure hope not. I MUST find this movie and see it. And I hope an excerpt that long was well within fair use. I'll shoot the author an email with a link to see if he minds. Two points in my defense: 1) I have found the book so far to be very enjoyable, and would encourage folks to read it -and- 2) No one reads this blog anyway.

1 comment:

Dawn said...

Ha! I actually do read your that you're writing in it again. :)