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THE TELEVISION WILL NOT BE REVOLUTIONIZED: In a recent e-mail, the chief strategist for the Barack Obama campaign for the nomination of the U.S. Democratic party wrote this awestruck sentence to a former writer on NBC’s The West Wing: “We're living your scripts!”
A piece published in last Thursday’s UK Guardian detailed “a bizarre case of art imitating life - only for life to imitate art back again.” It seems that the parallels between the past few months in the Obama campaign have become an eerie echo of the final season of The West Wing, which went off the air almost two years ago, though the ending has yet to be written on the real-life doppelganger.
Back in the late summer of 2004, West Wing writer and producer Eli Attie had to invent a dark horse Democratic candidate to emerge in the contest to replace outgoing fictional president Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen), and Attie took a bit of inspiration from Obama, a junior Illinois U.S. senator who had delivered a speech that was one of the highlights of the Democratic national convention that (to their everlasting regret, one presumes) nominated John Kerry. Attie, chief speechwriter for Al Gore’s 2000 bid for the presidency, got on the line to David Axelrod, an aide to Obama, and said “Tell me about this guy Barack Obama.”
Obama ended up being the main inspiration for Jimmy Smits’ Matt Santos, the former community organizer whose Democratic rivals attacked him being inexperienced in his campaign to become the first non-white U.S. president. Like Obama, his principal opponent in his own party had been part of a previous White House administration, and after winning his party’s nomination, he campaigned against a Republican senior senator from a western state who had alienated his party’s conservative base. (If you don’t read the news, that would be Hilary Clinton and John McCain, respectively, and I’m thinking maybe you should put down the Wii for a weekend and try watching a couple hours of cable news. Really, it’ll give you something to talk about at parties besides Rock Band – that is if anyone even invites you out anymore.)
The two men even have a wife and two kids, though this is more like a statistical average than any feat of political prognostication. The resemblance to real life had been enough to prompt Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist, to send the marveling e-mail above to Attie, now a writer and producer for House. Like most pro-Obama press, the Guardian piece is equally awestruck in tone, and seems to share a fond wish that the West Wing script will run true to course. Personally, I think that times are getting desperate when real life politics resembles its TV shadow, especially a fantasy scenario like The West Wing, which allowed U.S. Dems to imagine for seven seasons that the George W. Bush presidency didn’t happen. I’d wonder if an Obama presidency (or Hillary – don’t count her out yet) will see a primetime drama hit the airwaves imagining a Republican presidency in its place. I also know that this is about as likely as Fox taking over opera broadcasts from PBS.