Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Fairy Tales

Sunday night, The West Wing aired what they touted as a "great live television event." Great, it wasn’t.  Much as I once loved that show, it is definitely a few years past its prime, to put it kindly. But the writers’ take on a "gloves off, no rules" debate between presidential candidates did contain some food for thought.

The buzz (what buzz there was) seems to be mostly about our make-believe opponents’ views on health care. Jimmy Smits’ "Congressman Matt Santos (D-TX)" character shoots us some interesting facts on how efficient Medicare is, in terms of how much it spends on administrative costs, compared to private insurance companies and HMO’s. And, to give him his due, "Senator Vinnick (R-CA)" (Alan Alda) gets in some good licks about how to bail Third World countries out of their crushing debt load. The dumbest point either character made was when the mythical Republican candidate tried to explain that it was permissible to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge because nobody ever goes there. (It’s a Wildlife refuge, stupid!)

My favorite soliloquy of the program, bar none, was Matt Santos’ response to the demonization of the word "liberal." When he asserts that a "liberal" was responsible for ending slavery in this country, Senator Vinnick retorts, "A REPUBLICAN ended slavery in this country." To which Santos replies, "Yes Senator…a LIBERAL Republican. Whatever happened to those?" What, indeed? And then Matt Santos goes on to tick off a laundry list of milestones of social progress—from abolishing slavery to women’s suffrage to civil rights to Social Security—that have been advanced by liberal factions in this country over the decades. I have been googling all over the internet trying to get the exact text of this speech and haven’t been able to find it…and I didn’t tape the show, so I can’t go that route. I’d like to spray paint the words on every building, billboard, and railroad car in America; publish them in 100-point font in every newspaper in the county; tattoo them up the sleeves of every liberal candidate who stands irresolute behind a podium because (s)he has let the right-wing’s twisting of that word silence the message. Like the fictional Congressman Santos, we need to remember why we are what we are, and be proud of it.

Oh, yes, the Democrats have completely mislaid their message. Is it any wonder that John Kerry lost the 2004 election? When allhe could do was say, "I’ll do exactly the same things that this oil-baron war-hawk religious right-wing nutcase that you seem to like so much has been doing. But I’ll do them better, because I’m a Democrat. God bless America!" Faced with that choice, perhaps Americans could be forgiven for sticking with the devil they knew.

Still, it was glaringly obvious that Sunday’s West Wing debate was a fairy tale. I watched last year’s real debates, painful as they were, for as long as I could stomach the idiocy. One would think the truth-in-advertising police would bar them from even calling these stump speech marathons "debates." The candidates don’t debate anything. Ninety percent of the time, they don’t even answer the questions. If a question comes within twenty miles of one of the candidate’s talking points, the candidate just rolls out the talking point. No need to make the "answer" sound thoughtful or spontaneous. By the time I shut off the television, too embarrassed by the proceedings to watch any more, I could only think…are there REALLY people out in TV-Land who honestly believe that these phony contests have any merit whatsoever? How can the polls ask who won? How can there be a winner when there is no debate?

Yet I can’t imagine that taking away the "rules" would make a difference. Politics is not about debating the issues anymore. One of the risks of true debate is compromise…and, by all means, we can’t have THAT! Twenty-first century politics in America is about awarding the office to the last man left standing at the end of the bloody, slime-launching, teeth-gnashing, flesh-ripping battle. Egged on by throngs of wild-eyed voters screaming for blood. Imagine what might happen if real ideas were allowed to take center stage. On second thought, don’t bother. It’ll never happen.


  1. Lisa.....

    Charley and I, after much consideration, are voting for Matt Santos in 2008.  Even though it goes against our registered party lines.


    ps:  This should scare you to death....I voted today.

  2. Another vote for Santos

  3. Imagine if one of the candidates wore a listening device in his ear and was tuned into his advisors! Naw, they'd never buy that script.

    I love this journal. I hate the colors, though.

  4. http://journals.aol.com/johnmscalzi/bytheway/entries/5030

  5. Do not fear.......we live in a very liberal state:

    every vote we cast was countered by Charley's parents who vote opposite of us.

                                       Our family is a dead wash.

    Funny and poetic.

  6. I've been rather pointedly identifying myself as a Liberal for about as long as the Republicans have been trying to make it a dirty word.  Matt Santos' speech about what it means to be liberal brought a tear to my eye.  Still lovin' the West Wing.

    Santos in 2008!