Matthews: Vidal’s ‘The Best Man’ is the greatest play about politics ever written

Updated

Let me finish tonight with this.

This weekend, I saw for the third time the best play about politics — today’s politics — ever written. It’s called The Best Man.

It’s about a candidate for president who has to choose between his ambition and his principles. His opponent is about to dump a bad story on him, that he had a nervous breakdown years ago. He knows the story would destroy him as a candidate, especially right there at the opening of his party’s national convention. 

An aide comes to the rescue. He’s dug up a witness who says his rival engaged in a gay relationship back during World War II. It’s a murky account and may well not be true, but our hero knows that it is good enough to do considerable damage on his rival. He knows it could stop him in his tracks. 

There’s the dilemma. Does someone who wants to be president get down in the mud and play dirt-against-dirt politics? Does the end justify the means? Does doing something nasty just come with the business of running for high office? Does it? 

I just saw the play in its new production with John Larroquette and James Earl Jones as the stars. Larroquette’s performance reminded me why I was drawn to politics as a teenager. His is the noble politician we’d all like to have leading our country: the person who does the right thing when nobody’s watching. 

I just learned today that the playwright who created The Best Man has died

I met Gore Vidal back in my college days. He’d come to Holy Cross to give one of those great mid-week lectures we used to have.  

Well, just let it be said that if Vidal is known for one thing, let it be The Best Man, a play that reminds us — even now up on Broadway — of the kind of person we’d like in our public life: someone not willing to eat the crap politics urges you to eat all the while saying, “Don’t worry, you’re not what you eat.”

Well, I’ve noticed that you are. And nothing benefits a great country like ours than to remind ourselves every so often what the gold standard is. It’s in this play called The Best Man and it means just about everything to those of us who love politics — great politics.

Hardball Let Me Finish

Matthews: Vidal's 'The Best Man' is the greatest play about politics ever written

Updated