Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Alan Alda for President

At the height of its popularity, which seems a very long time ago, the TV program West Wing functioned almost as a form of video catharsis for liberals and progressives. Sure, we had a deeply ignorant frat boy who somehow weasled his way into the Oval Office, which was an embarrassing stain on our national pride and our sense of ourselves as a smart, progressive people. But at least we always had the whip-smart, Nobel-winning, wearing-his-heart-on-his sleeve Jed Bartlett to fall back on, a reminder of the kind of best-of-us brilliance we could have in the White House if only we were better at selecting presidents. For me, at least, it seemed more than a little pathetic to cling to such a thin reed in the face of the brutal reality, but if it worked for others, god bless 'em, I figured.

I haven't thought about that show in quite a while, and neither have a lot of others, judging by the fact that NBC recently decided to pull the plug at the end of this (it's seventh) season. I'm surely not alone in believing that the show lost most of its zing after the monomaniacal Aaron Sorkin (who nursed a nasty drug habit for years) stopped writing the scripts. Or possibly the show's central theme--that our best national qualities not only should but can be reflected in our highest leaders--finally created too much cognitive dissonance, given the brutal realities of the gang that now occupies the White House. Probably, it was some of each.

Still, I do flip across the show's repeats occasionally, and yesterday I stopped for a moment to watch. Alan Alda, who played a Republican Senator who hoped to succeed Bartlett in the White House, was accepting the party's presidential nomination, and he surprised his Democratic antagonists (who were watching on TV) with some uncharacteristic grace and eloquence about the office. He called the presidency more than a series of policy statements and political positions. "It's a stewardship, a sacred trust." Which of course it is.

But here was my next thought: do you think the deeply, even proudly unreflective George W. Bush has ever stopped for one moment in the last six years to considered his job in that way?


At 1:02 PM, Blogger Jill said...

That's a rhetorical question, right? ;)

At 1:08 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I was trying my best to be both charitable and open-ended with the question (for others). But do I personally believe he's ever approached the presidency from a perspective of stewardship? Nah. He's got too much of his mom's side (the Walkers) in him. They're a cold-blooded clan. The closest they'll ever come to enlightened stewardship, I'm afraid, is patting themselves on the back for not beating the hired help..

At 1:39 PM, Blogger Jill said...

John, when I see you next, I have a wonderful story to tell you about our President that I've promised the person who told me I would never use in a blog. It is PRECISELY on point about the "mother's side" observation you've made. Honest, I cannot even put it in writing. It's that good, and I love the person who told me too much.

At 2:37 PM, Anonymous MilesB said...

Every time I see Bush or hear him speak or observe his body language, what it tells me is that he'd rather be anywhere else but where he is currently; i.e. occupying the White House, playing the role of President.

He's gotten better about it over the years. But the first few years in office that's the impression he conveyed, to me at least.

At 5:12 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Jill, I'll look forward to that. I was thinking of you this morning, as I finished and sent off my next dad's column, wondering what your next companion mom's column will be about. I'll send you mine for an advance look. And I'll of course wait with interest to hear the Walker family tidbit. Have you ever seen that Walker's Point place the Bush's have in Kennubunkport, Maine, way out there on a bit of land off the shore? It has to be among the five most striking private homes in America, and says something about the fortune they accumulated. And you know the old saying among historians: that behind every great private fortune is some original crime(s). I refer you to turncoat Republican strategist Kevin Phillips, for the definitive take on the family in his book, American Dynasty. As for Miles, I think you share that feeling with at least half of your countrymen. And I like how you've keyed in on the body language. It's that, and his weirdly inappropriate smiles and smirks at odd moments that give him away: he has no feeling for anything he's doing or talking about. And to this day, he's still faking most of it. Finally, Miles, I hope to see your upcoming poetry slam appearance with the DeepCleveland bunch. Remind us of the date, time and place for that, will you? According to the flyer I grabbed at Mac's Backs (but which I now can't locate), I believe it's sometime during the third week of March, no?

At 7:56 PM, Blogger Jill said...

John, yes, I've seen the view countless times. I spend several summers as a teen and college student working several jobs in Ogunquit which is about 40 mins. south of Kennebunkport. We drove up there or through there regularly. The Maine Diner - great place to eat (though I'm not positive its in Kennebunkport - it's somewhere between here and there).

I will tell you that the story takes place in that locale.

oooooo :)

At 10:37 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

The Maine Diner is sublime. Chowder and apple pie is all I need there. Google tells me it's in Wells:

At 6:27 AM, Anonymous MilesB said...

If it's the flyer with Godzilla eating a train, that was for a reading at Loganberry Books last Thursday. Not sure if there's a reading planned for Mac's later this month, but I'll keep you posted.

At 9:45 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Damn, I missed it. Sorry, Miles. But please: let us know in advance whenever you take part in these again. I'd love to promote them to readers.


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