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November 06, 2005

The West Wing "live debate"

I just watched The West Wing's "live debate" between "presidential candidates" "Matt Santos" (Jimmy Smits) and "Arnold Vinick" (Alan Alda).  Enjoyable, entertaining TV.  Even some interesting political points made.

But come on, now - it was TV.  To read some of the comments and diaries over at Daily Kos about "who won" and whether the writers are biased because Vinick (the "Republican") got more time than Santos (the "Democrat"), you'd think that this actually mattered.

And don't let anyone tell you that the "no rules" format on the West Wing "debate" should have any bearing on whether real presidential debates should adopt a similar format (maybe they should, but this show has nothing to do with why).  Again, let's keep in mind that this was TV - Alda and Smits are professional actors.  The reason that the "no rules" format seemed to lead to some enlightening discussions and to some eloquent moments is that professional actors are actually quite good at what they do for a living (in contrast, they may not be very good politicians *cough* Governator *cough*).  You want to know what a "no rules" debate would sound like with actual candidates who aren't actors?  Give a listen to the Healey-Reilly radio debate on immigration.  It wasn't pretty, it wasn't informative, and it sure wasn't eloquent.  Yes, it was entertaining.  But we should want a lot more from our politicians than that.  A debate format that emphasizes acting skills even more than presidential campaigns already do is the last thing anyone needs.

Posted by David at 10:57 PM in Random | Permalink


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I LOVE politics and the West Wing but I thought the episode last night was terrible. Few people watch the actual Presidential Debates, why would anyone at the West Wing, with its falling numbers, think we would want to tune in to a mock debate? I agree, too, that the free-wheeling debate we saw last night is probably not the best idea for our actual debates, I think the back and forth would not lead to anything substantive but only more fingerpointing and useless spin.

Posted by: Andy | Nov 7, 2005 5:55:39 AM

I must admit, I have a different view on this. Over on the DeStefano for Governor (Connecticut) Blog, we live blogged the 'live' debate.

One person asked me about this and I wrote to them:

"A few different thoughts: One of my most successful events during the Dean campaign was when I organized 150 to gather at a visibility event in Seattle based on the Doonesebury comic strip. We got some great national coverage. People love it when art and life intersect, and the media especially likes it.

Also, I just got home from watching, Good Night and Good Luck. Have you seen it? You should. It is a great film. It leads up to the great moment when Joseph Welch delivers the famous "Have you no sense of decency" line to Joseph McCarthy. The film ends with Murrow addressing a group of broadcasters about the importance of informative programs. It is interesting that the movie itself is an informative program, presented as entertainment. I suspect a lot of people who know nothing about Murrow or McCarthy have gone to see that film because George Clooney is in it.

So, in my mind, it is important to have the entertainment aspect. It draws people in. It loosens them up. It gets them talking. It is similar to how a child psychologist uses dolls and other play objects to get children to talk about very important issues that the children may not have the capability to talk about except representationally.

Real people will watch the debate tomorrow night. I want us to talk to real people. If past shows are any indication, real issues will be debated; abortion, immigration, national security. Some of these issues are more relevant to Connecticut and the Governor's race than others. However, I hope to use this to get people thinking about the issues as well as what makes a good leader. This, I believe will help get the message out about why John DeStefano is the best person to lead Connecticut.

So, yes, it is a little fantasyish. It is the right mixture of fantasy to make it fun and informative and to get people other than pure policy wonks and a few trolls to visit the site."

After the fact, I noticed that NBC's website where you could vote on who you think one the debate was swamped.

Maybe I'm being optimistic, but I believe that people who won't watch presidential debates watched this debate, and perhaps even got a chance to think in new ways about some of the issues our country faces.

My two cents.

Posted by: Aldon Hynes | Nov 7, 2005 8:30:02 AM

Actually, Aldon, I don't disagree with anything you said. To me, your comments are saying, essentially, "art and entertainment generally, and TV in particular, can be useful ways of drawing people into thinking about politics when they otherwise might not." I absolutely agree. What worries me is the sense I got from reading the Kos diaries and comments that the West Wing "debate" should be taken as (a) a barometer on where the country is on the issues discussed, or (b) an indication of how real debates should be run.

Posted by: David | Nov 7, 2005 3:20:08 PM

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