Monday, November 07, 2005

West Wing Debate: Could These Guys Please Run in the Real World?

After last night's live debate on The West Wing, my wife turned to me and said, "If all presidential debates were that enlightening, it would be great!"

The debate, ably conducted by Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits playing the nominees of the Republican and Democratic Parties, respectively, had about it both aura of reality and unreality.

It looked like a real debate and there was something of the tension that comes through the TV screen with these quadrennial events.

The difference is that the Smits and Alda characters were blunter and more authentic than the real candidates usually are, exposing their fictional nominees' genuine sentiments about issues. Ironically, the showbiz candidates made no attempt to employ one of those standard presidential debate conventions, the withering one-liner, itself something nicked from showbiz.

The upshot? I think I would feel better about voting for either of the West Wing candidates for president than I've felt about their real-life counterparts in decades.

[By the way, here are links to some earlier posts on real presidential debates:
Note for 2008: Dump or Change Presidential Debates
Okay, So Maybe I Was Wrong About Debates]

NOTE: One reason I may have so liked the West Wing debate is that they adopted a format similar to the one I recommended in the first post cited above.

8 comments:

Orikinla Osinachi. said...

Most politicians are impressionists.

They are good actors on the soapbox. But, once you have elected them, then they show you their true ugly colours. Wolves in sheep clothing.

Bob said...

It looked real because "real" debates are just as scripted and rehearsed as fictional TV.

Mark Daniels said...

Bob:
I thought about that. But, in some ways, it actually seemed more genuine than a real debate.

When I considered why that might be so, it seemed to me that the two fictional candidates, with no personal stakes in winning or losing the debate were free to focus on the issues. They were going to draw paychecks whether they "won" the debate or not.

But the performances of the real candidates are so driven by fear that they play it safe, sticking to talking points and rehearsed one-liners.

Real candidates would probably be terrified of the sort of freewheeling discussion that Alda and Smits gave us last night.

Orikinia:
I think that there are probably lots of reasons that politicians are so false during their election campaigns.

Most of it has to do with fear of failure, I think.

Some are outright cynics.

But my experience--I once ran a congressional campaign and used to work as a staffer at the Ohio House of Representatives--is that few of them are sinister, though they can fall into the trap of behaving in that way.

Thanks to both of you for dropping by and for your comments!

Mark

David said...

One interesting omission is that there was no real debate of the important social issues of the day during the show. Economic issues were really at the forefront.

Dean said...

I appreciate your optimism, but I'm not so generous on my blog.

I mean, no matter how good the actors, how good would they actually do in a less-contrived situation where all the World's problems aren't solved in just under an hour (sometimes a week if it's a cliffhanger:-)?

Mark Daniels said...

David:
You're right about the omission. I surmise that the reason for that is that it was largely scripted by Lawrence O'Donnell, a political pro. If he's like most politicians of whatever stripe, he devoutly wishes that the biggest social issue, abortion, would simply go away.

I well remember reading of Bush the Elder, while president telling an aide, "I hate this issue."

In the fictional America of 'The West Wing,' neither of the two candidates had to deal with abortion, gay marriage, or whether "under God" should be included in the Pledge of Allegiance.

This may be why the unscientific survey on the NBC West Wing site showed Smits' Democratic character to be the 70% to 30% winner of the debate over Alda's Republican nominee. Lots of the issues addressed last night were those on which, devoid of specific candidates, Democratic positions score higher than Republican ones in various surveys.

So, O'Donnell may have been guilty of wishful thinking twice over...once in wishing social issues out of presidential politics and again in wishing that the only issues discussed are those that play into the Democrats' hands.

It was nonetheless a fun exercise, I thought.

Mark

Mark Daniels said...

Dean:
I just looked at your blog and you really didn't like the "West Wing" debate.

I sort of looked beyond the specifics of the politics--and do so whenever I watch the show irregularly.

It seemed to me that both Alda and Smits gave fairly able presentations of mainstream GOP and Dem views of a confined set of political issues.

To me, that was a good exercise for all of us to witness.

Thanks for dropping by and for your comments.

Mark

Dean said...

Thanks Mark - but I thought the mainstream issues raised were dated.

That said, I can agree that the show could serve as a 'better way' example for the useless type of debates we are currently made to endure.