Friday, August 1, 2014

Better Presidents Through Television

In 2000 then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton began her now-fourteen year-long Presidential campaign to fulfill her destiny in becoming The American Evita.

Technically she was running to represent New York State in the United States Senate, an auspicious debut for someone who a.) had never held elective office and b.) had never actually lived in the state she was planning on representing.

It is important to note that Article 1, Section 3, Clause 3 of the Constitution of the United States reads, "No Person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty Years, and been nine Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen" (emphasis mine).  Therefore, exactly how Mrs. Clinton qualified as an 'inhabitant' of New York State when her birth state is Illinois and her residency was Arkansas must be one of those pesky, unimportant, and irrelevant questions that should be brushed aside.  After all, when Destiny Calls You, such trivialities as following the Constitution are an unnecessary burden.  Granted, the Constitution does not specify how long someone should be an 'inhabitant' of a state when running for statewide office, but by this token I could take up a week's residency in Walt Disney World and find that I could, in theory, run against Marco Rubio for his seat. 

Mrs. Clinton was blessed with many fortunes on her first stop towards a return to the White House under her own name rather than merely being the attachment to her husband.  New York is a liberal state.  Her opponent, Rick Lazio, was a weak candidate.  Finally, she had the ace up her pantsuit: the embodiment of today's feminism was a wronged woman.  By the time 2000 rolled around she was no longer the obsessed "nanny" who wanted to pick your doctor for you, nor the career-woman who decided not to waste her life by 'baking cookies'.  Now, at this juncture, she, this heroine, this pioneer for little girls everywhere, had achieved power in part because she had been betrayed so spectacularly and openly by her husband with a girl old enough to be her daughter!  Payback's a bitch, as the saying goes.

At this point, anyone who truly believes that Mrs. Clinton had received some Cincinnatus-like call to speak up and out for the people of Peekskill and Poughkeepsie, who had no ambition above maintaining representation for those in the land of the Hudson River Valley is either delusional or just plain stupid.  This was her first step to being President Hillary Clinton, and everyone with an IQ of a turnip knew it.   She was the first sitting First Lady to hold elective office.  Other First Ladies had been sought for political office, but both Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Mrs. John F. Kennedy refused offers of serving in the Senate and Ambassadoress to Mexico respectively.  They, however, were not as ambitious as the Little Girl from Little Rock.

Once elected she bided her time carefully.  She knew running for President in 2004 would be madness.  To have another Clinton challenge another Bush a mere four years after leaving office would have been political suicide.  Hillary wouldn't have run for President in 2004 if then-President George W. Bush were found naked in bed with Osama bin Laden while smoking a crack pipe right before the Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn.  No, it would be in 2008 where she would make her move, teasing and demurring for all those years.  Barbara Walters could poke and pry and keep asking Mrs. Clinton the same questions she is being asked now about a Presidential run and the then-Senator could laugh and play coy, but in the end the media were shocked, SHOCKED when she announced her bid.

Once she made her request for the Oval Office, it was all over.  The nomination was hers for the asking, the election a mere formality, a fait accompli

There was only one little hitch in that Master Plan, and it came in the form of someone then-Senator Joe Biden declared to be "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy": the Junior Senator from Illinois who had been in the Senate for a mere four years (two short of a full term), who had been catapulted to power thanks to his "Blue Fish, Red Fish" speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention and who voted 'present' (versus 'yes' or 'no') 129 times while in the Illinois Legislature.  No matter how hard she tried (and she did try awful hard for many primaries and caucuses), the wife of The Man From Hope could not vanquish the Man Who Gave Us Hope and Change.  Not even OPRAH (a figure who tells us how to think) would come to aid her fellow woman.  Her long-planned dreams of assuming power were derailed by one Barack Hussein Obama II. 

Needless to say, she was not amused.

Still, not all was lost.  She was rewarded (or held in check) by President Obama by being Secretary of State, one of the most powerful positions in government and the person who is the fourth person in line of succession (after the Vice-President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the President pro tem of the Senate).  After a full term and part of a second, Mrs. Clinton retired, again demurring while calls continue to go up that she come to rescue the nation, apparently from policies implemented by her own party.

Will she heed her nation's pleas and reluctantly take up power again?

Any guesses?

Now, since this is a movie/television review site and not a political one, why go through all this history of the Merry Adventures of Little Girl Hill? 

Very simple.  This is also a cultural site, one where we examine little matters of how high and popular culture affect us, and it couldn't be helped that there was a most fascinating trend appearing with regards to Mrs. Clinton's long-running/suffering campaigns.

In 2005, as rumblings of a Second Clinton Presidency were slowly reaching a crescendo towards an inevitable 2008 run, ABC premiered Commander in Chief, a television drama about the first Female President of the United States.  Perhaps riding on the coattails of The West Wing (the few episodes I saw not inspiring me to watch on a regular basis), Commander in Chief was about Mackenzie "Mac" Allen, an Independent who was swept into the White House after her boss, the President, died suddenly. It was all very noble and inspiring, but like Clinton's campaign, it bombed. 

Now, Commander in Chief bombed, if Wikipedia is to be believed, because of both American Idol and Criminal Minds gaining in popularity, trouncing the show.  That may be.  I didn't watch much of Commander in Chief apart from clips or any episode of Criminal Minds.  MY theories as to why it failed has to do with the fact that a.) her character was an Independent, and b.) the audience figured this was a virtual Hillary for President infomercial. 

Whatever flaws The West Wing had, it was open about the positives of its liberal President (and curiously enough, so was President David Palmer, aka the first Black President, on 24, a show beloved by conservatives).   This 'Independent' business reminds me of another political show, Mister Sterling (even the name makes it sound gloriously obnoxious).   If memory serves correct the title character was 'Independent' but was really a liberal.  Nothing wrong with that, except that it does two things wrong: first, it wants to have it both ways (it takes a position, then pretends because the character's an 'independent', he/she is really non-partisan), and it paints your opponents (in this case, Republicans/conservatives--not always the same thing) as 'the enemy'.  Thus you alienate potential audiences.

Granted, Republicans/conservatives weren't going to like a show like Commander in Chief because its portrayal of the Republican Speaker of the House (Donald Sutherland), who looked like he was making an audition tape for The Hunger Games' President Snow.  They also wouldn't care for the idea that it was veiled Hillary propaganda. 

In any case, Commander in Chief went into the history books, and all was quiet until 2014.  This year, just as Hillary Clinton is once again 'not' running for President (again), we have Madam Secretary.  This program, to debut this season, is about Elizabeth Faulkner McCord, a female Secretary of State. 

Now, I should point out that the U.S. has had three female Secretaries of State: Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, and Mrs. Clinton.  One could ask, 'why now?'  Why not when Secretaries Albright or Rice were in charge?

Again, the answer is simplicity itself: neither was running for President for fourteen years.  The producers of Madam Secretary make no secret that the show was 'inspired by' Mrs. Clinton.  Madam Secretary's star, Tea Leoni, even cracked that perhaps in Season Four the female Secretary of State would be President.

Not having seen the show, I cannot say whether it is good or bad.  IF it won't take positions, and IF it becomes a series of lectures rather than an actual drama where a woman balances her public and private life, then it will meet the same fate as Commander in Chief, or another high-concept CBS program which I DID watch.  Remember Golden Boy?

My observations of all this are these.  Is it right to make fictional, scripted television series that promote a particular candidate or ideology, even obliquely?  When do television programs, be they dramas, comedies, or even animated cartoons, go from mere entertainment to indoctrination?  Captain Planet may have been an animated series, but it was geared to tell children about the evils of pollution (and the corporations that brought them).  It certainly was no Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers.  They may have passed on lessons, but by and large they weren't interested in telling me what to think.

As a side note, did anyone else find the fact that the Soviet 'Planeteer' was always the wisest and most noble of the bunch, and the American the doofus of the group a bit, well, creepy?

In any case, I wonder whether programs that serve as advertisements for one party or candidate are right, whether they are ethical, and especially whether they are worth our time.  I don't watch The Golden Girls for lectures, or think Batman: The Animated Series should tell me how to live.  Television and film and music are all very powerful.  They can shape popular views, influence how we see the world.  It's a thin line that separates entertainment and propaganda.

Same goes for news networks.  Oh, I don't mind that MSNBC is liberal and FOX News conservative.  On the contrary: I celebrate that.  The press, be it right or left, should question those in power.  What troubles me are things like the CNN Special Hillary Clinton's Hard Choices.  I saw most of it, and I think it was a Clinton for President campaign commercial.  Christiane Amanpour should have worn a "Win With Hillary" button on her lapel.  It perhaps wasn't as awful as when Nightline's Terry Moran interviewed then-Senator Obama (when at certain points, a clearly besotted Moran looked as if he were about to jump on the Senator, rip his clothes off and try to make love to him), or when CBS' Harry Smith asked this proving question to the President, "When did you first learn to love?" (if memory serves correct), but an infomercial it was nonetheless.

Television programs or news networks simply should not be advocates for a particular candidate or agenda.  They can use those to create drama, but they really should not be used as tools for promotion or demonization one way or another.  There is a difference between something like Hannity or The Rachel Maddow Show and Anderson Cooper 360.  The first two are opinion shows, where the hosts blabber on about how right they are and how wrong the other one is.  The second is supposed to be an objective dissemination of information.  Having something like Hillary Clinton's Hard Choices is a sad commentary on television news, where it goes from reporting news to almost active campaigning. 

The networks save the implacably right-wing FOX News pushed for one candidate (Barack Obama) over the other (John McCain and Mitt Romney).  Now they've set their sights on Hillary Clinton (after bashing her in 2008).   They even have a little help from such things as Madam Secretary.

People can believe anything they wish and vote for anyone they wish.  I just wonder whether it is good that television news networks and programs are using their resources to act less as information resources and/or entertainment and more as advocates for the government or a particular ideology. 

I shudder at the idea that either FOX or MSNBC would become America's version of Pravda, or have something like Madam Secretary or even HBO's Veep turn into something from Iranian state television. 

In Iran, there are 'specials' where Jews go around killing Christian children to get blood for matzo balls for the Passover seder.  Arab television (not to be confused with Iranian television, which is Persian) hosts serious discussions on 'news' channels about whether The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and/or the Holocaust are real.  Their comedy shows have Jews as organ traffickers and swindlers, having the Jewish characters look in equally stereotypical manner, right down to wearing yarmulkes and payots (those curls on the side of their heads).  Their animated shows show Jews being turned into monkeys. 

We haven't gotten anywhere near those dirty waters, but when CNN all but promotes Hillary Clinton, and when CBS (and previously, ABC) used prime-time programs to promote Hillary Clinton, just how far are we from crossing that line?   

Mrs. Clinton, a question.  Do you think there's ANY chance that you will lose either the nomination or general election in 2016?   

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