Nightmare on Pennsylvania Avenue

Scripps-Howard News Service 10.31.01
Balint Vazsonyi

Last Wednesday, I decided to look in on what the folks at NBC-TV's "West Wing" were doing. While the rest of America has united, the series still insists on dispensing its one-sided messages, pretending to be an authority on matters in the national debate. And NBC, venerable NBC, continues to provide a platform between 9 and 10 every Wednesday night.

Of course, although the late great Sam Goldwyn proclaimed "If I want to send a message, I call Western Union," Hollywood never shied away from pointed historic and social commentary. In its golden years, though, it possessed producers, writers, directors, actors and actresses who could do it with artistically superb and deeply moving results.

Proof: On Thursday, Turner Classic Movies broadcast "Exodus." The 3 ½-hour saga is vintage 1960 - in other words, before the generation that appointed itself knower of all things came of age. In "Exodus," we encounter the British, the Jews, and the Arabs in the critical moments leading to Israel's statehood. All three come in various shapes and sizes, beginning with the General who represents the best of Britain, and his No.2 who demonstrates that prejudice is as blind as it is mindless. The historic references are accurate, the discussions invite you to consider difficulties and merits, by no means attributed to one side.

Only four decades later, "West Wing," with its fatuous, predictable dialogue, hopelessly one-dimensional characters, and wholly primitive political commentary, portrays the team upon whom our very survival may depend as bad-tempered adolescents, making it up as they go.

In our uniquely open society, with access to more knowledge and wisdom than imaginable just a little while ago, the makers of "West Wing" - from producers and writers to actors and actresses - appear to inhabit a dark corner, a black hole, into which neither rays of knowledge, nor those of comprehension penetrate. This a terrible thing to say about fellow human-beings, but what other explanation is there?

Is Hollywood running out of talent? America never runs out of talent! Perhaps the trouble began when movie makers forgot what their profession was supposed to be and appointed themselves arbiters of America's history, America's politics. The errors of that decision reached a peak beyond belief with the "seminar" that took the place of West Wing's season premiere. The arrogance and presumption of doing it at all was aggravated by appalling judgment, pure demagoguery, and the selection of Rob Lowe teaching America.

One might have thought that such a monumental gaffe would take the show off the air. But no. They continue to disseminate their take on the natural, and solely legitimate, order of things that can only have a Democrat in the White House, Democratic control of Congress, and socialist ideas gradually squeezing out American principles. Indeed, Republicans are invariably mentioned and portrayed in ways that, should one substitute any protected minority in place of "Republican," the producers and writers could well be prosecuted for hate speech.

Alas, they are not alone in that black hole, and not the only ones in the wrong line of work. The New Yorker reported in its October 22 issue that, but for the "feelings" of a legal officer at the U.S. Central Command in Florida, sporting the impressive title Judge Advocate General (JAG), much of the leadership of the Taliban could have been taken out during the first night of engagement in Afghanistan. An unmanned aircraft provided conclusive proof of their whereabouts and was in position to annihilate the building and its occupants, thereby possibly allowing that phase of the war to end in a couple of days.

The name, even the sex, of the JAG was discreetly withheld in the article and our legal system imposes no penalties on people for being in the wrong job. Since the early 1970s, increasing millions have been employed for the wrong job, making American efficiency a legend of the past.

I submit that, post September 11, we can no longer afford such dislocation of human assets. As part of our national defense, we must insist that people do what they are best equipped to do, as opposed to being instruments of political agendas. Screen writers ought not to confuse themselves with our elected representatives, actors and actresses should refuse to be empty mouthpieces, and the JAG... well, the public has the right to a full exposure of how a person, clearly better suited to just about any other occupation, ended up in this one.

Let's stop this nonsense and restore America's legendary commonsense.