In the 1964 screen adaptation of Gore Vidal’s play, The Best Man, William RUSSELL quotes the philosopher Bertrand RUSSELL early in the film. Here is the complete quotation from Bertrand Russell: 
Our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man, and our politicians take advantage of this prejudice by pretending to be even more stupid than nature made them. 
(Bertrand Russell, New Hopes for a Changing World)
What do you think? 
Is there a relationship between honesty and intelligence? 
Does our political system tend to favor stupidity or intelligence? 
Do voters in The Best Man distrust Bill Russell because of his intelligence? 
Do they trust Joe Cantwell because he isn’t as bright? 
How does the film show us that Cantwell does not have Russell’s intellect?

If Bertrand Russell was right about most voters, is he wrong about Gore Vidal? 

Is Vidal taking a position on honesty and intelligence? Does his script have a readable message?

This movie was made in 1964. Would the evidence Bill Russell has against Joe Cantwell work to Russell’s advantage or disadvantage in 2012? Would the evidence Cantwell has against Russell work to Cantwell’s advantage or disadvantage?Did Russell do the right thing by not spreading the rumor about Cantwell? 

Is it the voter’s right to know about a politician’s personal life? 
What do we have a right to know about? His sex life? His income tax return? His bad behavior as a teenager? His religious beliefs? 
How do we determine the “character” of a leader? Through his policies? His personal history? His religious beliefs? 
Why is Russell so disdainful when speaking of the “Gallup Poll?” What does he have against taking polls? 
Is Bill Russell a believable character? Is he too good to be true? Is the former president right? Must a politician sacrifice part of his soul in order to be effective? 
Could a candidate running for president in 2012 admit to being an atheist? Why does or doesn’t religion belong in politics?
Tagged with →  
Share →

19 Responses to The Best Man: Questions for Consideration

  1. Natalie Masters says:

    It was very interesting to watch this movie before the recent election race for the U.S. Presidency. An interesting comparison can be drawn between the political bashing ads of the current election campaigns compared to the research that both candidate finds on their opponent in The Best Man. I am not sure how deep the bashing of candidates would actually have gone in past elections. I think this was a slight foreshadowing of the current bashing that occurs in the presidential races.

    Another interesting point is the title. Are either of the candidates the best man? Based on the end of the movie, I believe this was the best way to relay that neither of the two primary candidates were the best man. I think Russel shows his deep understanding of honesty by deferring the candidacy. If he did not have a deep care of the country, he would have tried to take the presidency for his own even though he may have been “mental.” Here Russel uses both honesty and intelligence to make sure the country ends up in the best hands possible.


    As a political science major I particularly enjoyed The Best Man, although I certainly hope that our modern day elections do not have all the behind scenes the below the belt mud-slinging that was shown in this film. The best man pits two strong human desires against each other which is what makes it such a classic ethical dilemma. On one hand Russel wants power, he wants to be the man in control of the nation. But at the same time he can’t let the country fall into the hands of Cantwell because he fells like the country will be worse off and that he would be disregarding his duty as a citizen if he is to let Cantwell win. So the simple way to solve both wishes is to win the election, but when it looks like that isn’t going to happen Russel gets faced with a choice. The choice he makes is to withdraw his name from contention and keep Cantwell from winning the election by throwing his support behind a no-name candidate. Russel makes what we would look back on and say was the noble choice, but I think he made the harder of the two choices. It is so hard to give up on a dream such as becoming president especially when it was so close to his grasps. I think its an interesting question that is asked on whether the political system favors the intelligent or not. I would certainly say that it favors the intelligent, but even more so than it favors the intelligent it favors the ruthless, those who will go to all lengths to win. Cantwell had that combination unlike Russel who lacked the ruthlessness. This would not be a typical election where the candidate who won was shown to possess neither of these characteristics. This type of outcome probably in reality happens once in a blue moon.

  3. GWEN K FRIES says:

    I do not believe there is a relationship between honesty and intelligence. I think that idea has come about due to the honesty of simple-minded people and characters. That being said, we as a nation are normally not voting on a candidate rather like Lenny from “Of Mice and Men.” We think that lies do not even cross the minds of those of low-intelligence. Those who are really intelligent seem suspicious to us. We believe they must have an ulterior motive and will lie to exert power over us. (Napoleon in “Animal Farm” if we’re keeping with the literature theme.) But in reality, that’s not always true. I instantly thought of “Honest Abe” Lincoln. Undoubtedly one of the greatest minds our nation has ever known and has become an almost mythological creature embodying honesty.
    Our political system definitely favors stupidity. I could explain my reasoning behind this in two words: Sarah Palin. People trust those who are like them because they can predict how they’ll behave. Stability and predictability are good things. My friend is voting for President Obama this time around because she’s pretty much convinced Paul Ryan will enslave us all. Love him or hate him, Paul Ryan is one intelligent fellow. I asked what makes her think that. She doesn’t know, but he seems tricky. Tricky=intelligence?
    I think the voters in The Best Man distrust Bill Russell partly for his intelligence but mostly for his wealth and upbringing. Again, we like people like us. We trust people like us. They trust Joe Cantwell because he’s not as bright. He could’ve grown up next door to them. He’s not a Harvard man. He’s an embodiment of the American dream. Start at nothing, work hard, and get somewhere. Cantwell showed that he lacked Russell’s intellect by saying things like that he’d increase defense spending and get rid of the income tax. WHAT?! Where’s the money coming from, Joe? (He could use a sit-down with Paul Ryan…)
    The evidence Bill Russell has against Joe Cantwell would never ever ever work today. (Except in certain states in the Midwest and South, perhaps.) In today’s society, being a homosexual is something to be proud of, not something to ruin a life over. This summer I worked at a playground, and whenever one of the kids would complain about something by saying “That’s gay!” I’d be all over them. Eventually some started to say “That’s unfortunate!” or “That stinks!” Unfortunately, Cantwell’s evidence against Russell would probably still be effective. We expect our presidents to be superhuman. Any health defects are held strongly against them, and mental health issues are understood even less than physical ones. This reminded me of when Michele Bachmann was raked over the coals for suffering from chronic migraines. Believe me, there were plenty of other things to rake Michele Bachmann over the coals about!
    Russell was absolutely the more ethical politician in this movie. By not spreading the rumor about Cantwell, he showed enormous restraint and character. He showed mercy and compassion—two traits we should want in a leader.
    I think it is the voter’s right to know about a politician’s personal life, but I don’t think we should necessarily be able to hold it against them. For example, lots of Presidents engaged in the activity of, as Kennedy called it, “girling.” Do I hold it against them in terms of their service to this country? Come see my dorm decorated half Kennedy, half Jefferson and then see if you can tell my viewpoints


    I’m going to take that first question about the correlation between honesty and intelligence and run with it. In theory, and intelligent person would be honest. We are all familiar with the cliche “honesty is the best policy.” The truth will find its way to light, and thus it is better to be forthcoming, particularly when you are in the public eye. Often we see politicians lying by omission, as we saw in Bill Russell’s hiding of his failing marriage. This brings up some other questions about what we as voters are entitled to know about the person running for office.
    The way I see it, the voting public is concerned with electing a president to which they can relate. Sometimes this takes the form of an “everyday” man who may or may not be intelligent OR honest. People want to be represented by someone who has been in their shoes and will represent their interests because they are also the interests of the candidate in question. If the voters feel and intelligent candidate is snobbish, privileged, or has never struggled as the voters feel they have struggled, they won’t trust the candidate. On the other hand, if voters feel a candidate has been untruthful, they won’t trust them, either. And even then, you have situations in which a politician lies, is caught in a lie, and is still beloved because he is relatable as a person.
    I think “The Best Man” comments on the public’s obsession with a relatable candidate through the support for Joe Cantwell, while ultimately showing that intelligence should be the prevailing factor through the ending with Russell.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to toolbar