TV is powerful, it’s dangerous, and it’s pretty much out of democratic control

I finished watching “The West Wing” today. I enjoyed the show – much of what it says about how laws are being made, favor curried, particular interests appeased in today’s Washington were interesting and revealing. The dialogue is witty, the cast a bunch of highly sympathetic characters (my favorite remains Toby Ziegler) and it aspires towards a rather optimistic tone.

I have one major issue with it, though: this is supposed to be a left-wing White House. There are people in the show, main characters, who loudly proclaim their left-wing credentials. The problem with this picture is, however, that those supposed left-wingers do not even attempt to implement left-wing policies!

I got a hint that the world-view would be clearly US-American and center-right, when Leo McGarry states:

If I could put myself anywhere in time, it would be the Cabinet room, on August 4, 1964. When our ships were attacked by North Vietnam in the Tonkin Gulf.

(http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0018973/quotes)
Because historic facts are not a matter of opinion and the second Gulf of Tonkin incident never happened but was the official cause for escalating the Vietnam War. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_of_Tonkin_incident)

This narrowed point of view is kept up

  • having to balance the budget
  • having to fix social security before it runs out of money
  • performance-indicator teacher pay (and school vouchers before that)
  • a Republican candidate who could win 50 states because what the US voter really wants is a centrist
  • a centrist as VP, Republican as Secretary of State, the claim that the majority of US voters are really centrist and that the new president has to be protected from liberal Democrats who will try to push him to the left

and much more. All of which talking points and policy ideas of right-wing Democrats (and centrist Republicans) in the US.

The causes the Democrat politicians champion are progressive: gun control, legal abortion, voting for felons. But the point, the very important point is that those are not left-wing positions.

One could argue that the show is simply trying to be realistic, reflecting the political climate in the US. Although one would be hard-pressed to find a Democratic president who was pushed to the left by liberal Democrats.

But the show is remarkably unrealistic when it comes to the portrayal of politicians: Basically everybody is principled. The Democrats anyway but also the Republicans – even the strongest opponents on the Republican side are doing this because of principled positions, not because they will get a big pay-off, or it benefits them personally. No, it’s always principle.

The West Wing is a well-crafted propaganda piece and its message is that if just sensible, principled left-wingers and right-wingers get together then they can enact center-right policies together. This is a show that narrows the world-view until the viewer is taught that the best case scenario is a Bill Clinton, a Barack Obama, or in Europe a Tony Blair, a Gerhard Schroeder, a Francois Hollande – a socially liberal, economic neo-liberal.

And that left-wing policies are impossible, even in an idealized world.

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