“The president of what? The United States. Of what? Of America!”
Chris Rock, in Head of State, makes the American political system as simple as an ethical dilemma in a Lifetime after-school special. But, we all know this simplicity is all an illusion. In politics, ethics only get you elected; after that, they have no sustaining value like the American dollar. We know this because of recent history, cable news talking heads, and The West Wing.
When The West Wing first aired, the political life was the smog we all knew was killing us, but it was also a sign of a familiarity, home, and a healthy economy. We expect our politicians to be corrupt – that’s our fail-safe excuse for a bad day. And, as much as we complain about the seperation between politicians and their constituents, we all know so little about the “industry” that the ideal, “working-class” President will never be able to run this country. Being the President is “hard work.” But, the President is a person as well as an institution, and seeing fictitious dramas unfold on network television may show us exactly what President Bush meant by hard work during the 2004 debates.
I’ve seen a small handful of West Wing episodes, but, do to a rebellious fear of scheduling my social life around primetime television, I didn’t get sucked-in to that show, but I fear my left foot is sinking into its progeny: Commander in Chief. When Bones and House return to Fox in November, a recording VCR will have to be the living room’s silent, third viewer. I hate saying that after only seeing the show a single time.
Ronald Reagan brought a Hollywood glitter with him into the White House. Bill Clinton created his own Presidential soap opera. The Bush’s, well, not so much individual charisma as wrought iron tradition, like dad saying “my house, my rules” – rule by fear (of God) rather than lead by example.
In 1999, the first West Wing episode provided real-life drama when the American Presidency was obviously shifting away from entertainment with the close of the Clinton administration. Maybe the producers saw the 2000 presidential candidates as anything but entertaining. If the new president wasn’t going to have family drama or a Hollywood smile, then it could all be written into a script.
I think about the reality-television-like feel shows like The West Wing and Commander in Chief have. I think maybe everyone is quick to point fingers at the current administration when things aren’t looking to end with a series finale, happy ending. And, I think, what if the government is exactly how it appears in these television dramas? I know the difference between television-life and real-life, but I don’t have so much experience with politics to know the real-life isn’t like that scripted on television. Maybe I’ve been too hard on the President as a man, an institution, an ideal.
His recent Supreme Court nomination isn’t getting too many approving nods from either side of the partisan privacy fence. It’s the first sign of individuality outside of his signature mis-speak. I almost want to believe he’s nominated Harriet Miers because he believes she’s good for the Court and good for the future of this country’s Constitutional integrity. But, then again, the word “crony” is working its way into everyone’s conversations these last few days. I want to believe him, but I’m still wary of any unpredictable moves by a politician, especially one we’ve known for as long. Maybe he should’ve let Commander in Chief air just before his official nomination.