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Art Imitates Congress

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Last night marked the first appearance of sitting Senator Fred Thompson as the new district attorney, Arthur Branch, on NBC’s plow horse Law And Order.

Senator Thompson is no novice thespian. He costarred in a number of major Hollywood productions before running for Al Gore’s deserted Senate seat in 1996. He replaced the inexplicably boring Dianne Wiest as the district attorney (she herself had replaced the incomparable Steven Hill, who is answer to the trivia question “Who led the Mission Impossible Force during the first year of that show?” Extra points if you know the name of the character Mr. Hill played on IMF).

For some reason, Dianne Wiest, who is a great actress, really sucked on that show. Her character, Nora Lewin, was very uninvolving, and nothing about her performance really jumped out at the viewers. The most exciting thing she ever did on that show was be introduced, in her first episode, by America’s mayor, Rudy Guiliani (who set the precedent for politicians moonlighting on Dick Wolf productions, we suppose). She was so uninteresting, we’d rather watch Steven Hill on his TD Waterhouse commercials.

But that’s not the point of this rant, if there even is one. Last night as we watched Sen. Thompson trade barbs with DA Jack McCoy and Assistant DA Blondie Barbie, or whatever her name is, Mrs. Skippy remarked “Gee, do you think Bill Clinton will try to get a job on this show too?” (Mrs. Skippy is just as funny as Skippy, and that’s why he married her. We have no idea why she married him).

That got us to thinking. Sen. Thompson is still a sitting senator, working in Congress, until the end of this year. We have spoken about Sen. Thompson’s TV duties interfering with his day job here.

Now, when rumors about Bill Clinton negotiating for a talk show were flying around the great echo chamber, there was such an indignant hew and cry coming from the screeching heads that you could fry an egg on your overheated TV set.

As it turns out, those rumors were just that: rumors. Of course, that didn’t stop anyone from decrying Mr. Clinton’s lack of taste or dignity for contemplating something that it turned out he was never contemplating in the first place.

But Mr. Clinton was a private citizen when this was supposedly taking place. Sen. Thompson, if you’ll notice our use of the title “senator,” is still a senator.

Take it from us, many of Skippy’s staff have worked on television shows (not Law and Order, but, Buffy, fer shure!). It takes a lot of work and focus and energy and time and commitment. To be fair, none of us have ever been a senator. But we bet that takes at least as much work and focus and etc. as being a television actor. We are very unsure how anyone could do both at the same time.

Trust us, it’s hard enough to hold down a day job typing for insurance companies while trying to be in show biz, we can only imagine how difficult it would be to be a sitting senator (Uh, Mr. Daschle, I can’t be here for the vote on the resolution to invade Iraq, I’ve got a…a dentist appointment. Yeah, that’s it. A dentist appointment. A 2 week dentist appointment. See yah.”)

But we were unable to find any article or editorial online even approaching the reprimands that Bill Clinton got for maybe doing something in the future (which he never even was contemplating). With the exception of a piece that we ourselves first posted on Sept. 2, which is no longer available online. This is an excerpt from James Brosnan, writing in the Memphis Commercial Appeal:

” New episodes debut in late September. Even though the part would require only two days a week of shooting in New York City, it could mean Thompson would miss votes, committee hearings and other work. Acting, like writing books, is one of the few exceptions to the Senate Ethics rules that bar outside earned income. But Thompson has a moral obligation to voters to finish the job he hired on for six years ago. If he can’t fulfill that role full-time, he should resign and let Gov. Don Sundquist appoint an interim senator. Or Thompson should at least return a portion of his $150,000-a-year salary to taxpayers.” (Copyright 2002 The Commercial Appeal)

That’s it. That’s the only objection we could find to a sitting Republican Senator using his time as an actor. Now, please don’t misunderstand us. We think Fred Thompson is a fine actor, and we are looking forward to his work on Law and Order; maybe it will make it interesting again (we can dream, can’t we?) He certainly can’t be any worse than Ms. Wiest was.

But we just find it amazing at how the American media holds Democrats to a different standard than Republicans. Oh, what the hell are we saying? We don’t find it amazing at all. It’s par for the course. What we find it as, is depressing. Where’s the fairness and balance? Who stole America’s sense of fair play?

Where’s Goren and Eames when you need them?

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