The Guilfoile-Warner Papers

Oct 24

I have a quiz for you. Who said the following?
[O]ur entire agricultural system is built on cheap oil. As a consequence, our agriculture sector actually is contributing more greenhouse gases than our transportation sector. And in the mean time, it's creating monocultures that are vulnerable to national security threats, are now vulnerable to sky-high food prices or crashes in food prices, huge swings in commodity prices, and are partly responsible for the explosion in our healthcare costs because they're contributing to type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease, obesity, all the things that are driving our huge explosion in healthcare costs.
Choices: A. John McCain B. Sarah Palin C. Bill Clinton D. Josiah (Jed) Bartlett (as played by Martin Sheen speaking words written by Aaron Sorkin) E. Barack Obama Remember The West Wing? Political porn for the center-left with a principled (yet flawed) chief executive seeking to better the lives of all Americans? Currently, Bravo is re-running the final season which features the last year of the Bartlett administration as well as the election battle between his possible successors, Matthew Santos (the democrat played by Jimmy Smits) and Arnold Vinick (republican, Alan Alda). Even though the episodes pre-date the current campaign by a couple of years, Santos and Vinick are fairly obvious stand-ins for Obama and McCain, with the exception that Santos is hispanic rather than black and Vinick is pro-choice. Oh, also, Vinick doesn't drag his entire campaign into the sewer, even as the upstart Santos gains momentum in the race. Essentially, the final half of the season seeks to dramatize politics if our leaders were thoughtful, principled, and really did prioritize the good of the country over personal gain. You know, fantasy. I don't want to ruin the ending for those who are seeing it for the first time, but in the final episode a race of extraterrestrial unicorns descend from the sky and declare a winner. President Jeb Bartlett was a Nobel Prize-winning economist who would roll out something like the above block quote as an aside while bantering with his staff over rules variations for cribbage. He was a polymath, versed in every subject, the smartest guy in the room surrounded by people almost as smart. That government wasn't perfect, but at least it had some interest in governing. That said, the answer is actually "E," and it came in an interview Obama did with Joe Klein. I cheated a bit for the sake of quizzy suspense by cutting the part where Obama says that he'd been reading about this in a New York Times article by Michael Pollan. If I'd included that, we would've known that Palin wasn't possible because she doesn't read newspapers. Klein turned the full interview into an article titled "Why Barack Obama Is Winning," the upshot of which is that Obama is apparently winning because he seeks out the best information possible from the smartest people and then makes his decision based on his weighing and reading of those facts. What a concept! The "circular firing squad" has begun to form for the GOP, with the excuses ricocheting around like a five-year-old on a Red Bull bender. McCain had no message. Palin was a base pick that alienated the moderates. The press turned on the republicans. The fundamentals are disadvantageous. They paid more for their make-up artist than their political strategists. The list is literally endless, but I think the Klein interview demonstrates the core reason Obama finds himself in a seemingly commanding position: He is a better candidate who is able to articulate what are superior stands on the issues that are more closely aligned with the beliefs of the American people. The Clinton campaign's argument at the end of the primaries was that the Rove Machine would chew Obama into little pieces, reducing him to a crude, unelectable stereotype, a toxic mix of foreign, leftist, and inexperienced, Hugo Chavez in a diaper clutching a photo of Osama bin Laden. No one can say that the McCain campaign hasn't given it their best shot, but it just isn't working. Neither is Joe the Plumber, or Obama the money-grabbing socialist, or Palin's "real America," gambit of earlier in the week. The reason is because in the face of Obama's approach, all of these things look (and lets face it, are) trivial. I know you remember this passage from Obama's 2004 convention speech:
Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America.

There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America.

The pundits, the pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue States: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states.

We coach little league in the blue states and, yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states.

There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq, and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.

We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

In the end, that's what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism, or do we participate in a politics of hope?
I remember thinking at the time, "that's all well and good, but let's just work on getting the war criminal out of the office and worry about that hope shit some other time. There's too much at stake to hope." In our 2004 dialogs we discussed the limits of this kind of approach noting that without some kind of positive message, Kerry was going to lose, and he did. The republicans are learning that lesson this time around the hard way. Is it so terrible that I'm loving it?

TMN contributing writer John Warner’s first novel, The Funny Man was recently published by Soho Press. He teaches at the College of Charleston and is co-color commentator for The Morning News Tournament of Books. More by John Warner

blog comments powered by Disqus