28 June 2024

But I Want the Pony!

Well… last night's "debate" was appalling. Jon Stewart was far too easy on both candidates, and didn't even get to the parties and power brokers. That "debate" was also precisely what I expected, and proof that The West Wing was pure fantasy. Leo was both right and wrong in his objection to choosing between the lesser of who cares (starting at 0:55 in the clip):

  • The American public very well might elect "a good man" as President…
  • …but only if the major-party apparatus allowed that "good man" to appear on the ballot.

That could happen only when the major-party apparatus is significantly coopted down to state and possibly local level, whether by infighting or anything else — and it's far from guaranteed in that event (viz. 1980, 2000, and 2016 for one of the parties). Even when we hypothetically get "a good man," we forget all of the friends he brings along with him. Jimmy Carter individually was probably "a good man," but thanks to the perfidy of senior officials in his administration — Bert Lance being only the most obvious problem — we'll never know how that might have made government better. His successors were worse — pretty uniformly in the nearly half-century since, all things considered. Apparently, the electorate didn't actually learn anything from Watergate; the party apparatus of both parties, however, did (just not what they should have if they actually read the oath of office before screening candidates for the ballot).

The West Wing wasn't just a fantasy of good governance, of a government composed of men and women operating in good faith through persuasion and recognition that "agreement to disagree" is a necessary component of representative democracy, even when the opposition is obviously "wrong." It was an unstated fantasy of how such a government might be elected (and selected), as epitomized by the last season and a half of the show. A particularly unrealistic fantasy: Everyone got the pony in the end, even the conservatives. The closest we're going to get to a pony this time around is an old nag, long past any usefulness, found in a glue bottle.