State of the Union

Basically the state of the union is so bad that I’d rather crawl into my TV set and live in a fictional presidency.

Yesterday I got an email from Chris Lydon, a former colleague at Berkman Center, and collaborator on a few interesting projects, including the first real podcasts and blogging the New Hampshire primary campaign of the 2004 election. Today, Chris has a public radio show called Open Source. Yesterday he asked me to write my own State of the Union address.

Now this may sound self-important, lots of things bloggers do sound that way to some, at first, but really my scope is limited to the world I work in. As a blogger, my budget is small, I spend several hundred dollars a month for the servers that host my blog, various sites, podcasts, software, communities, services I run and support. Yet my influence spans the globe, reaching every country that has Internet access. I have readers on every continent, you can even read my blog in China, on a good day, when the government permits.

Last night watching a re-run of The West Wing, which is still my favorite TV show, I thought of the assignment Chris gave me. I wonder if we will lose the West Wing this year, just as it’s getting interesting again. I’m pretty sure the Democrats will keep the White House, but the race is tight. And if Matt Santos wins, how will they handle the death of the actor who plays his vice-president. Will McGarry always be lurking in the shadows, walking out of the room as the camera enters? Will we hear his voice in the other room, but not see his face? The show has always been fairly creative, it’s not impossible that they would keep McGarry, but one would hope they would never hire another actor to play his role. No one gives that theory much credence.

But the show has been cancelled, and if this were any year before 2006, that would be the end of that, but this is the year that Apple has shown the entertainment industry that they could sell TV shows for $1.99 per episode, and that enough money is generated this way to, dare I say it, fund the production of a show like The West Wing, which doesn’t use very elaborate sets, or go on location very often, for a few million people like myself who have the time and money and interest to fund such a show.

Which leads to an obvious question — why are people like myself so anxious to continue a fictional presidency, even willing to consider a fictional Republican presidency, as an alternative to the real President of the United States? Well, perhaps its because we can see into the machinations of the fictional one and like what we see. Sure, they’re human beings, but they labor over the big quesitons, make the thoughtful compromises we’d like to see our leaders make, hell, they’re actually leaders. Even if I didn’t agree with something Bartlet did, I’d still support the president, because I know he’s doing the best he can. In contrast with the current president, and the country that stands behind him, I can’t believe this is the country I grew up in. If I could I choose the make-believe world of the West Wing over the real one we live in, I would, in a heartbeat. And having the TV show to compare against reality gives me hope that at least some Americans share a hope for the greatness of our country.

26 responses to this post.

  1. The state of the union??… Not good and getting worse. 219 million in interest payments alone in financing the war in iraq. We should be using those dollars to expand broadband in our country to free our own people from slow or no internet access and unleash new voices. Oh a national broadband (wired and wireless) network would also be great for homeland security as well.

    More internet has proven more participation and conversations.

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  2. [...] Dave Winer’s State of the Union is very true. Everything he says is true and I agree completely, honestly couldn’t have said it better myself. I am also a fan of West Wing, though I have only seen a few episodes, the most recent ones mainly, I enjoy it alot. I also wish that we could trade the fantasy world of West Wing for this reality and if given the choice I would without a blink. I’m saddened by the decision to cut West Wing, but I like Dave’s idea of putting it on the Apple Store. I would buy the whole season (heck, I’d probably buy all the seasons if they put them up there just so I could make up for lost time) when it goes up and my parents would probably pitch in as well because they are the ones that got me into the show in the first place and I’m sure they would like to see it progress as well. I don’t have much more time but if I didn’t say it here, Dave’s already said it and everything he said in that post is wonderful. [...]

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  3. I’d love to take a stab at why people like the West Wing, over and above the reasons you mention.

    Integrity – No matter the situation, the people in the West Wing have integrity, so much so that there have been story lines involving staffers going against the party line because the felt that the party was somehow lowering itself with it’s current course.

    Intelligence – The pursuit of integrity and the pursuit of the general good is active and intelligent. You couldn’t ask for a better archetype in your president than an Economics Nobelaureate that surrounds himself with staff as smart or smarter than he is in their given areas that still look to him for direction and allow him to guide and focus their abilities toward success. Even in the wisdom of Leo McGary he had a foil to temper his decisions, even if his was supposed to be the character of turmoil (addiction, alcoholism, etc).

    All of the characters were also accessible. We knew that on Wednesday night (or whatever night they moved to THIS week) we would be able to peer into this arcane process on these intelligent people and through their actions and conversations we would see how statesmen became statesmen.

    Unfortunately, reality seldom mirrors TV (in the ways we hope) and our statesmen (stateswomen) aren’t usually nobelaureates until after they serve their terms, and I don’t think ever in Economics. Few of them are as well spoken as or well read as the writers for the West Wing, nor are they as charismatic as Martin Sheen (on average).

    What we see in the West Wing is the potential of the Office and of our government. We see the potential of what integrity on either side of the aisle could create and the accomplishments that could be delivered if the goals of our statesmen were to serve instead of to hold power.

    It gives us hope.

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  4. I was curious how they would handle John Spencer’s passing, also. And, it looked like McGarry had been removed from the campaign posters, I didn’t rewind, or verify, but that was what I took away from watching the last live episode,which appears to have been last week. 1/22/06. Did anybody else notice this?

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  5. West Wing. . .Really? That’s as good as it gets? I haven’t watched the show for years. Ever since one of the shows lawyer’s harassed me for asking one of its writers why he used my family name–carefully mispronounced–and geographical location–remote and obvious–and family size and situation as part of a plot for an episode of the show. Several friends and people we didn’t even know mentioned it. I knew he’d been vacationing near by and hey presto “we’re” on TV. I wasn’t after anything other than finding out how fiction could come so close to reality. I was disabused of the notion that there were similarities to us and the on screen fiction and abused as to my character. I am not a timid man, and I am fairly saavy–even got some book learnin–but after a 15 minute withering from the lawyer I was left wondering if this fictional show wasn’t a bit too close to the real thing.

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  6. Perhaps one of the causes of the current state of the nation is the general preference of televisual fantasy over reality (e.g. Fox News).

    You might want to check out Guy Debord’s “Society of the Spectacle”, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Situationism#Key_ideas_in_Situationist_theory

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  7. Hmm. Maybe this is why WW was dropped? People couldn’t cope with the cognitive dissonance? Important Republican connections noticed that people were *noticing* the contrast?

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  8. So, let’s make our real president like the one on WW then. That’s the task at hand.

    Blogs can help this hugely. However the real organizing needs to be face to face. Then blogs can spread the meme.

    “Don’t mourn, organize.”

    And yeah, of course we can do it.

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  9. Re:bobmorris: I agree.

    The problem, as i see it, is that the general populace fails to realize that the lowest common denominator for entertainment continues to lower and if we associate and expect sophomoric, moronic and inane performances to come out of the TV, then no matter who is performing, whether it is on “Dancing with the Stars” or the “State of the Union Address”, we will consume it without second thought or affront.

    This problem is escalated by the fact that while WE (the community) are motivated to create change and _expect_ that our leaders actually be SMARTER than us (other wise, we should just do the leading) joe public just ASSUMES that our statesmen are smarter than we are and follows, lemming-like, over the edge of the hill and right over our Bill of Rights and our credibility as a nation to the peoples of the world (I mean really, who wants to be liberated by a country that stomps on the liberty of it’s own people?).

    We need to be motivators OUTSIDE of our online communities. We need to take the information we learn here and actually talk to other people, listen for the misguided and misdirected and offer information, facts, guidance and direction to the people. The roots of change can be seeded in an online forum, but the people we need to convince, probably aren’t reading this comment.

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  10. Did my last post get axed?

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  11. Posted by Expat in Britain on January 31, 2006 at 1:42 pm

    In contrast with the current president, and the country that stands behind him, I can’t believe this is the country I grew up in.

    From where I stand (puts flamesuit on) Bush is doing a lot right. He isn’t perfect (the most spendthrift conservative I ever saw) but he recognizes Islamic Terror for what it is. And given the environment created by the media and the loony Michael Moore wing of the Democratic Party, he’s doing a fine job.

    As for you not recognizing the people who stand behind him, perhaps not looking at everything through a 60s peacenik lens would help. The world has moved on but people like Ed Kennedy and Kerry haven’t.

    What would it take for me to vote Democratic again? I, and many people I know, could care less about gay marriage and stem cells and abortion (these can be fixed later — say when a murderous religious clique isn’t on the loose). Prove to me you care about national security. If you don’t like the War on Terror, offer an alternate plan– one that doesn’t involve Sheehan, Moore or ANSWER, or America’s “imperial hubris”. Stop wasting time pandering to the shrill edge cases in your party and talk to Joe Public (oh, and stop painting Bush voters as ignorant Bible thumpers, insulting your electorate was never a winning strategy).

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  12. Pure flamebait, I hope no one takes it.

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  13. Dave- I’ve commented on the possibility that TV shows could continue life by moving to the web- subscribers could buy directly from the content producers- and be willing to exchange discounts in payment for watching very targeted ads. If you ask me- this is the future of TV. see: http://www.thenextwave.biz/tnw/index.php?cat=3 for more.

    I’ve had the honor of dining with Martin Sheen in the privacy of his brothers home- I can tell you- he beats any of the “real” politicians I’ve met in terms of not only integrity- but poise and eloquence. We would do much better with this movie star than the last one.

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  14. Must Resist Flame Bait…*grk*

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  15. Posted by The "I" on January 31, 2006 at 4:32 pm

    I liked the story, well sort of. Not because I like the West Wing, which I watch sporadically but because I don’t believe the story had anything to do with the West Wing. At least as some of the, so much hated by myself literary critics, would say – that wasn’t its theme.
    And no matter what Bush would say tonight will make any difference. I think I gave up watching his speeches, after some four years before when I was still living in my home country and not in the United States, I stayed awake till three in the morning, watching CNN, waiting to see if there will be a war against Iraq. And that’s how the most unjustified war, I have witnessed began. At the end, I don’t think it will be even economically beneficial for the U.S. society for I don’t think that now anybody believes in all the liberators and democracy crap.
    So I can understand why the West Wing represents some hope for those who are not satisfied with reality. Reality I hope, people should realize they don’t need to accept because this still is the freest society of them all.

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  16. National Nitwit has the inside scoop of a bold new plan by the President in his speech that will truly be a great leap foward.

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  17. The problem in response is not where to begin, but where to end.

    1. David E. Martin Sheen as President would be a nightmare. Sure, I’ll give him credit for not just sitting on his butt, for believing in something, and doing something.

    2. Dave W. You’re kidding right? You can’t believe this is the same country you grew up in? Do you somehow think that politics was any less politics as you and I were growing up in the 60′s? You think that LBJ was fostering good will around the world and sound political and/or military policy by the declaration of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution? I’d say that reasons for going into Iraq were specious, but at least we committed to it and deposed a dictator. Now I think we should get the hell out – but at least this time we did something – unlike ‘Nam which did nothing for anybody.

    3. David E. Don’t ever compare George Bush (either of them) with Ronald Reagan. Reagan was a true American hero. He was a man of integrity. He was a man that knew how to play politics, but wasn’t a politician. He gave the country a new sense of pride, vigor and hope after we had been in the worst malaise economically and in our national spirit since the founding of our country – with the exception of the depression of course. He was a man with vision, a man that could sit down and talk toe to toe with the leaders of the world and the other leaders of our country – and brilliantly communicate with them and find a resolution. I see none of that in our current President. And no, I don’t think that Reagan was perfect. I think the administration did some stupid things during his tenure too, and I think that even if he wasn’t aware of them at the time (he had a very hands off policy – unlike the micro-managing W and his staff) he was still responsible. Having said that, I also believe that he’ll go down in history as one of the greatest Presidents of our nation.

    That’s just my opinion though.

    It’s also my opinion that I’d rather be living in this reality and doing my best to make it a better one than trying to live in some TV show. And, if I was going to jump into any TV show where I was willing to follow the leadership – it would be Battlestar Gallactica!

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  18. “Apple has shown the entertainment industry that they could sell TV shows for $1.99 per episode, and that enough money is generated this way to, dare I say it, fund the production of a show like The West Wing, which doesn’t use very elaborate sets, or go on location very often, for a few million people like myself who have the time and money and interest to fund such a show.”

    Dave, um… I could swear either Aaron Sorkin or Tommy Schlamme points out West Wing is one of the most expensive TV shows in history in the extras to one of the DVD sets. But, here’s a quote from the West Wing Ep Guide, from Aaron in a magazine article:

    “(The plot line) is fraught with problems, not the least of which is we have one of the most expensive sets in television and we won’t be able to use it at all in those episodes.” (emph. added)

    Here’s a quote from John Wells, the producer of the show, in a WaPo story out of Google’s cache:

    “”The entire show has been under a financial freeze for the last four or five months,” said Wells, who has a $35 million deal with Warner Bros. and also earns millions from producing “ER.” “This is the most expensive show I’ve ever been involved in. When you build a senator’s office on ‘West Wing’ it costs $80,000. You have to put in marble, windows — there is a pomp and opulence surrounding our presidency, which is expensive.”

    According to Wells, NBC pays Warner Bros. $1.6 million per episode, while the cost is $2.7 million per episode.”

    To put it a slightly different way… You know how West Wing almost always looks like a movie? Not a TV show, but an honest to God multi-million dollar budget movie? Like, say, The American President?

    Well, that ain’t inexpensive to do.

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  19. Posted by Wounded Souldier on February 1, 2006 at 7:22 pm

    Really what’s wrong with this country is the number of people who can’t cognitively dissociate ANY TV show from reality. As someone who was born in Yugoslavia and lived through the wars and ethnic cleansing there ( I was a Bosnian muslim but am now secular) I am amazed and appalled at most native born Americans who have NEVER left this country (even to go to a modern western nation like France or Germany) who think that their experiences watching some stupid television show qualify them to comment on the way that this amazing country is run.

    Let me tell all of you people something…. I’ll take Bush, Clinton, Reagan, Carter… ANY of your presidents and ANY of your governments over MOST other national leaders or governments.

    Go read your constitution… go study how amazing your Executive , Legislative, and Judicial branches are balanced and how much power you the American people have by the birthright of your vote. I was naturalized an American citizen in 1999 and can tell you all without reservation that you need to STOP watching TV shows and critisizing this administration and congress and thank your lucky stars that you were BORN here and have lived your entire lives SAFE in the freedoms that many men died to give you long ago.

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  20. More flame bait. Tell us about your sad life, but you know what — the people who read this blog are generally pretty well educated and pretty well travelled. Not all of us live in the US either.

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  21. Posted by Wounded Souldier on February 1, 2006 at 7:43 pm

    I am sorry that you feel that way. You’ve probably never been forced at gunpoint to do anything unpleasant in your life. Forgive me if i think you have a wonderful amazing country no matter what individual is president.

    Would it make you feel better if I chose one leader over another? Ok then I will. I think that Theodore Roosevelt was probably the best president this country ever had. I very much enjoy all of the national parks in my area and am glad he had such foresight to set up that system.

    Please go read your constitution and turn off the silly television!

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  22. Posted by Gigabyte on February 1, 2006 at 8:15 pm

    Democrats cant win the presidency, so they have to play one on TV.

    Commander in Chief is going to be cancelled.

    My condolences to Mrs Bill Clinton

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  23. [...] Since this is the last season of the West Wing, Dave is thinking-out-loud about ways to save it. Put it on a stage in a high school auditorium. Make it a Sims scenario. It’s the story, the characters, their brightness and integrity that I value. Sure it’s nice that the sets look cool, but that’s not what makes the show so great. [...]

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  24. “He gave the country a new sense of pride”

    And there was me thinking pride was one of the seven deadly sins. Seriously, what the fuck use is pride? In your country?

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  25. In case it’s thought WW doesn’t have wider influence….

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,17129-2021010,00.html

    ‘One leading Labour rebel told The Times: “We could never surprise them again like this, I don’t see, for at least a decade. Whips should watch The West Wing. On Sunday night the Democrats were trying to get something through Congress and used exactly the same tactics — low profile.” ‘

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  26. Cheney pulls all the strings

    Reply

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