Monday, November 14, 2005

Comments on and Recaps of "West Wing" Live Debate (Part 6)

Houston Chronicle Blog

Pasadena Star News:
"Before the largest audience the program has had in some time, Santos looked and sounded more like a combination of John Edwards and Dan Quayle than the presidential nominee of a Democratic Party convention. Maybe this is why third-term representatives are unlikely nominees of either party.

While Vinick spouted the usual statistics that candidates feel they must mouth, he effectively put down Santos time after time. On health care Vinick showed the shallowness of Democratic programs, which leave millions uncovered. Santos should have responded with a stirring defense of universal health care but failed to do so. Nor could he adequately explain how he would pay for his program.

The same was true when it came to job creation. Vinick's telling comment - that his administration wouldn't create a single job because jobs stem from private business, which he would promote - left Santos speechless.

Since the "live" debate was in fact a charade - those watching closed caption were often half a sentence ahead of the speaker - script writers must have counted on Santos' on-stage on-stage persona to make his scripted, simplistic comments appear convincing. But he didn't come through.

The guy is just not presidential. He has about as much dynamism as the woman chief executive on "Commander in Chief."

If Santos wins the election, how can the show possibly stay on for four more years? It can't. And if it did, do viewers really want another full term of Josh Lyman, C.J. Cregg and Leo McGarry? Phony liberals all, their compromises and lack of backbone make this lefty wish for a Vinick sweep.

Wouldn't it be a hoot to watch clones of Karl Rove, Scott McClellan and George Bush? Think of the script possibilities that would open up if Vinick won the White House: staff meetings where the prexy's advisers plot to privatize social security, drill in nature preserves, or protect pharmaceutical companies from lawsuits. The vistas are boundless."

Digital Journalist

Initially I did not watch the program, thinking it a clever show business ploy - in other words, a stunt - and not worth my time. Then the editor of this magazine asked me to look at a tape of the show. I did, and though, yes, a stunt - a live broadcast in today's world of carefully-crafted taped shows has to be a stunt - it was a beauty for its quality and the care and intelligence of its writing.

Broadcast Nov. 6, 2005, two days before the off-year elections, I did not see it until several weeks later. Watching it in the quiet of my office made me think seriously about real politics, something I covered for many years. The live presentation on "The West Wing" was wonderful, but there was something even better. The idea of the debate on an entertainment show, which is serious about its writing, acting and production, far outstrips the idea of the debate itself. Watching and listening to it should provide lessons for us all.

I am not a fan of political debates. Candidates' managers conceive the rules to protect their people. Most debates are dull, and uninformative. They are a lesson in avoidance. Each candidate presents his or her views on policy and on everything else, much of which is inane. Rarely is there true give and take. Each person in the debate fears making a mistake, which prevents them from truly reaching out to voters.

All these men and probably the legions of others, women included, who debated in the last election would have done much better had they the benefit of a writer such as Lawrence O'Donnell, Jr., who wrote "The West Wing" debate between Congressman Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits), the Democrat, and Senator Arnold Vinick, the Republican. In some ways, Alda and Smits had bulges in their jackets in the form of sentences conceived and supplied to the Teleprompter by a writer as informed as O'Donnell, Jr.

Think of it. A live debate on network TV with two poised men who, if real politicians, would surely have made their political parties proud. They actually discussed issues, most reflecting those that affect us in real life. And think, too, of the size of the audience. Had the same audience existed for the Bush-Kerry debates, and had each of the debate candidates come close to Smits and Alda, how much better informed our electorate would be.

But the American electorate's need to be informed apparently means more for an entertainment show such as "The West Wing" than it does for the parties and politicians to whom we entrust our well-being. Yes, it was entertainment, and we can be as cynical as we want about Hollywood and its "nefarious" ways, but if one listened carefully, one came away with a better sense of red state-blue state positions than we get from the heavily partisan politics that currently rule and divide our country.

Finally, I have a word about form. Almost as soon as the debate started, the candidates threw out the rulebook for the prescribed minutes and seconds for statements and replies and counter-statements. Each man, being an actor, was able to handle the change and use hand-held mikes to wander the stage and confront each other, at times getting as close to one another as football linemen do. It made for very good television, but would never work in real life, though I would like to think I could dream"

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