The Blue Raccoon

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Will it be the same ole thing, or The West Wing?
"Yes We Can"... do what?

Image of the cast, via West Wing, summary of "Shibboleth" episode here.

"Senators Barack Obama and Joseph R. Biden Jr. in Springfield, Ill., Saturday." via The Caucus, New York Times political blog, here.

Billion-eyed audience, I realize that The West Wing was just a television show, and political porn for us trapped in the reign of George II, but I was addicted and loved it for most of the run--at least long as Aaron Sorkin was writing until his own deviltries and frailities unseated him. And it was OK after that, with some major gaffes (that whole thing with Leo in Cuba and the spy mission --echhh) and the series ending with a Hispanic elected as President. H'mmm. How unlikely did that seem?

I got hooked on the series during reruns on Bravo and brought up to speed. I even liked the West Wing see an empty office until Donna jumps up, "A-hah!" Or the announcer, underscoring the multiple times the show ran, repeating. "The West Wing...The West Wing...The West Wing," with some kind of funny tag line, I think about a copy machine, delivered by Josh.

So forgive me if, when watching some of these scenes of BHL and JRB and the attendant families and dignatorial functionaries in flag-draped scenes among clamoring crowds, that I get an attenuated form of cultural vertigo--that feeling you may know from when the elevator tops but you feel as though it is still moving. This is not just a campaign. This the Best West Wing Episode Ever.

I thought it interesting how in a slip of the tongue, Obama almost introduced Biden as the next President of the United States, and Biden referred to his running mate as "Barack America," like a spoken word poet, or, a superhero. Or perhaps both. And that Biden came out of the gate "literally" (as he so often said yesterday) running was fun to see. (I had a PBR to drink from each time he said "folks" and my guess is one of his media people told him to lay off the phrase--so I had just two sips by that word).

"Damn It Jim, I'm A Politician, Not An Actor."

You can tell Obama is tired. He didn't sell his lines quite right. His statement, "Joe Biden will give some real straight talk to America" was kind of a throwaway when the emphasis should've been on "some real straight talk" and that would've been a more direct jab at McCain. But, having made a few score curtain speeches, I know how difficult remembering all your notes can be, especially if you don't want some bright piece of paper distracting the audience's attention. Then again, he's a politician, not an actor.

I recall how years ago--when Tim Kaine was a Richmond City Councilman, and not even mayor, the Firehouse invited him to participate in a fund raiser and he accepted. Tim is one of the primary reasons there is a Firehouse today. Anyway, I wrote the show that had this Laugh-In style Advent Calendar-esque door opening-and-closing-quip-tossing scene. At the time, radio personality Jim Jacobs was broadcasting on WRVA here, and rather popular.

As written, Jacobs popped his head out and set up a joke, to which Tim replied, "Damn it Jim, I'm a lawyer, not an actor!" My little nod to Star Trek. OK. So Tim comes to me and asks if he can change the line to "politician" not an actor. Not only was this line alteration funnier, as it proved, but accurate. Tim then had his sights on the next thing, and as so happened he's gone a considerable distance.

The Climax of Climaxes So Far

The climax of climaxes of the Obama Experience thus far will be the stadium-sized acceptance speech. Seems to me this is an idea Sorkin might've had in some West Wing variant, and rejected due to the implausibility. When BHC came down here last year and his nervy staff had to hide art work at Plant Zero for fear of sending the wrong message (another West Wing-esque moment), I couldn't have anticipated where his candidacy would go.

I will say this: all politicians fail to live up to expectations. The younger, first-time voters may learn this the hard way. Also, placing too much faith in anybody running for office is a one-way ticket to Disappointment Junction. Even if the wellspring of a candidate's motivation is of the most pure and idealistic, the way to the highest level of governance is a chutes and ladders game of moral and ethical deviations and compromise. Also, there is something fundamentally wrong with anybody who wants the job of President of the United States. The massive ego and a certain level of arrogance required to endure an inhumane and over-long campaign and a constant assault on one's character and personal history means the possession of almost superhuman levels of confidence.

An Ambivalent Cynic

And, further, to place one's full faith in any leader--temporal or spiritual-- is dangerous. To think that any one person can undertake an overhaul of such a vast maelstrom of corruption as the government at Washington and do so without, to borrow a phrase, massive resistance, is foolish. To paraphrase Twain, our world is either governed by well-intentioned mediocrities or malicious idiots. I tend to think there is a bountiful combination of the two.

And that we have all these sitting senators running--does this not indicate some kind of rift in the Millionaire's Club that is the Senate? This reflects, too, the split in the country. And if we had a functioning non-money-special-interest polluted political system, a parliamentary style--not this show biz thing we have now--there'd be more voices and greater choices. And I'm not going to get started about the electoral college and manipulated voting and how we are today a corporatist nation. That elections today are about as profound as an "American Idol" and with fewer voters. Call me and ambivalent cynic. Hell, I voted for John Anderson in my first time out, and once even for Ross Perot.

In conversation this weekend with a neighbor, he told of how a friend who was accused of being a "liberal" once too often finally snapped, "I'm not a liberal, I'm a radical. I don't think any of it works." Or, as acquaintance of mine from years ago remarked, shrugging, "Why vote? It just encourages them."

"What Do We Do Now?"

Well, I don't think any of it works. I mean, not really. So much of what passes for action is just momentum. And voting encourages a misplaced hopefulness -- yet I vote whenever I get the chance. The real politics happens in your civic associations, community gardens, your theaters, and neighborhoods, on your front stoop. When the power goes out and the InterTubes crash, you're left with the people living to around you. That's where the solutions get worked out, and what has the most affect on you.

Some in the billion-eyed audience may be familiar with the 1972 film The Candidate, featuring Robert Redford, as a young vital politician who goes through a rigorous campaign that at times barely acknowledges his existence, and in the end, victorious and arms raised, he says through his smile, "What do we do now?" Read more here.

And here is just one reason why I liked that show so much; the crackling dialogue, the tangled situations--Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme-- the cinematic lighting and camera, and the great doors. West Wing had awesome doors.

"Well, Here I Am, Anyway."

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