The Manchurian Presidents

The Manchurian Presidents


Leonard Zwelling

         One of the great political thriller films of all time is 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate. It was directed by John Frankenheimer from a book by Richard Condon published three years before. The black-and-white film (not the awful remake with Denzel Washington of a few years back) stars Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, and a thoroughly vicious Angela Lansbury as the main villain.

I remember seeing the original in the theater as a teenager and many times since. It is on television every once in a while but fell into scarcity for quite some time as it dealt with political assassination and, after the Kennedy murder in Dallas, seemed to cut too close to the American bone, although the truth about whether the film was pulled for a time is a little hard to ascertain on the web. It is now available on DVD and worth a watch. It is a great film.

The story at its core is a Cold War tale of the brainwashing of an American hero to become a programmed assassin and to use his skills to gain control of the White House. You can see where I am going.

This film has been alluded to of late because of the seeming intrusion into the American political process by Vladimir Putin and our adversaries in Russia, perhaps in service of the Trump ascendancy.  Did the Russians hack the DNC and John Podesta and in doing so cause the Trump victory? I am not sure we will ever know. It will only be by watching Trump’s actions once he is inaugurated, with particular attention to how he runs the State Department, that we can determine whether Trump is a Manchurian President, planted in the White House to do the country harm at the behest of an adversary. Is it possible? Who knows?

But when it comes to Presidents doing irreparable harm, it is most difficult to find a better example than that of Dr. DePinho. Morale at MD Anderson has got to be at an all-time low along with the operating deficit at an all-time high. If the Regents wanted to undo the good that is the MD Anderson Cancer Center, could they have done so any more effectively than they did by installing Dr. DePinho? I think not.

The notion of turning an academic, free-standing, non-profit cancer center into the source of new drugs for cancer was and is preposterous. Could the center have played a role in such discovery in conjunction with the private sector? Of course. It was already doing so back when I had to sign all those contracts and material transfer agreements twenty years ago. MD Anderson had a vital role in the development of new treatments and diagnostics for cancer and for its prevention. But should it be the prime mover in such endeavors, acting like a drug company, risking patient care revenues in the hope of generating commercial revenue streams? No way!

The Board of Regents was as effective as the Manchurians in the film in planting an agent of extreme harm at the highest reaches of the administration of MD Anderson. It will now be up to those same Regents to undo the damage and to do so before all the good that 75 years has produced goes down the drain in a stream of red ink.

In the film it is the Queen of Diamonds that serves as the trigger to unlock the killing potential of the programmed Laurence Harvey by his mother played by Angela Lansbury. What is the trigger on Holcombe? The dollar sign as it dances before the eyes of the overpaid executives of MD Anderson like sugar plums as the institution is swimming upstream in that sea of red ink is the Queen of Diamonds. Throw them a life preserver before they drown in it. Give someone else a chance.

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