Thursday, October 23, 2008

Post No. 59: Art Imitates Political Life Again

© the Institute for Applied Common Sense

As this piece is being written, I am watching an old episode of The West Wing on Bravo. The “conversation” in the episode was so close to the current “conversation” in our presidential race, that I had to find out when the series ended. ( It turned out to be 2006.

Part of The West Wing conversation had to do with courting evangelical Christians, uniting the Republican party, affiliation with shady characters from one’s past, and associations with ministers. There was also a discussion about the public’s seeming demand for expressions of religious faith from politicians. However, those issues are not the focus of this piece.

This piece is about uniting America. In the West Wing episode, Alan Alda plays a member of Congress planning to run for the presidency when Martin Sheen’s character, President Bartlett, leaves office. A Karl Rove type political consultant, played by Ron Silver, is brought in by one of Alda’s aides to counsel Alda. One gets a sense that Alda does not respect Silver. Silver even goes so far as to question Alda as to whether Alda thinks that Silver is really a spy sent by the opposition.

At some point during the exchange, Silver essentially says the following: “Look, I’ve spent 20 years driving a wedge between people. By observing what drives people apart, I also observed what brings people together. How about this? How about becoming the candidate of unity – the candidate who is capable of defining those issues and goals on which we can all agree, and the methods used to achieve them. We can highlight those ways in which people are connected and have the same basic values. We can also play to their emotions in that during these times of uncertainty, it is more important for us to be united than divided. If you do what I say, you’ll be elected as the candidate of unity.”

I found it to be of interest that Obama originally painted himself as the candidate of unity. He claimed that he was able to cross political and cultural lines. Interestingly, it was the politics of division, from within and without his party, which ultimately caused him to respond in kind.

Do we as a nation have the capability and motivation to unite and get past our individual differences? It has generally been said that such unification, and looking past our selfish interests, occurs during periods of “stress.” These might include war (at least those in which the whole country is invested), natural disaster, and common threats (such as a poor economy or the attack on the World Trade Center). Are we as a nation sufficiently in trouble (or worried) to prompt us to find some unifying principles around which we can rally?
To some extent that’s what occurred when oil prices hit the roof. We finally started a serious conversation on alternative energy sources and energy independence. (By the way, Jimmy Carter first tried to doing something about energy during his term.)

I find it a tad ironic that we are facing some very serious problems in this country, and we are still focusing on our differences. I still say that the Laughingman had it right earlier this year. If only McCain had nominated Obama as his VP, and Obama had done the same with McCain. That would have been the shot heard around the world.

I recently heard an author speak on C-Span2 Book TV. (I was unable to locate the book for purposes of this article.) However, it was someone fairly well known, since Newt Gingrich trusted him enough to provide him with his records and notes. In the records, the author located a set of amazing documents.

As most of you are aware, there was no love lost between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich. Furthermore, they did not trust one another. However, at some point in Clinton’s second term, they both came to the conclusion that they both loved their country. They also both felt that partisanship was having a detrimental effect. Erskine Bowles was Clinton’s Chief of Staff (1997-1998) at the time, and fortunately, Gingrich trusted him.

The author actually found a document outlining the terms of the truce, and stating the goals of Clinton and Gingrich. The document further contained a pledge to work together. Just before it was about to go to the press, and announced to the American public, the Monica Lewinsky story broke 2 or 3 days before. Thereafter, the Congress and the President were absorbed by the Fellatio Investigation.

Can you imagine the direction in which our country might have been guided had that circus not occurred? In the grand scheme of things, was the President’s indiscretion and admittedly improper conduct of such importance as to justify the diversion?

Maybe we could use someone similar to the character played by Alda in the West Wing episode. I’m still wondering what would have happened if Obama, in his quest to be the candidate of inclusion and crossing of lines, simply ignored the questions raised about his citizenry, Jeremiah Wright, Father Flager, Bill Ayers, Lewis Farrakan, Chicago Political Machine allegations, ACORN, and his purported devotion to Islam.

Here’s my final question. Who would you admire more? An honorable and noble loser, or a down and dirty winner?

When one stops to think about it, it is we who determine the nature of the discourse, by what we pay attention to, and how we respond.


  1. "Here’s my final question. Who would you admire more? An honorable and noble loser, or a down and dirty winner?"

    I definately hold more admiration for an honorable loser and it's sad because if more people regarded honor and nobility as superior traits, the honorable and noble would not be losers. Instead, John Q. Public is dazzled by smoke and mirrors, failing to question the man behind the curtain. The woman that stood in front of McCain and stated that Obama was an Arab should have her voting priviledges revoked. A person who can not seek out the facts and discredit such blatant falsehoods does not deserve the right to make such influential choices in our society. Art frequently imitates politics, even Shakespeare knew how to expose royalty for the peasant's entertainment, but it's sad that more people don't see the parallels that you mentioned here. Good points!

  2. Gonna have to go with the down and dirty winner. Society is to cut throat for passive aggressiveness. The man I want looking out for my interest is the one who will fight tooth and nail to obtain victory. If the noble man cant find a way to obtain victory without breaking his code of honor, then in my eyes hes a quitter. Nobility and Honor are not handicaps, they simply require a stronger man to wield them. If I cant find an honorable winner, I guess I'm forced to settle with the down and dirty one.

    Great read as always /salute


  3. Thanks Iris and Seattle Craig for the comments which you posted. Although it is unusual on my part, I have chosen to respond to the two of you simultaneously. That's because your responses, at least in my view, are neither contradictory nor internally inconsistent. My first gut instinct was to agree entirely with Iris, since her stated position jives pretty well with mine. However, Craig's comment to the effect that "nobility and honor require a stronger person to wield them," is so powerful. That made me think. In ways, I think that you are both right on point with this. Interesting one to ponder further.

  4. Iris and SeattleCraig: I've been thinking about this further. I think that Iris' position is the one which a noble person think about on a regular basis in going about their regular tasks of the day. It is a goal to which people should aspire. During battle, Craig's position is one of which the noble person must be aware, in that by losing to the down and dirty opponent, the noble person realizes that all of us have lost, and thus this should motivate the noble person to be stronger and fight harder.


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