Thursday, November 10, 2005

Fantasy Presidents: Commander in Chief

Like many television viewers, I've enjoyed watching the new drama Commander in Chief on Tuesday nights. It's no surprise that the show has generated a certain amount of controversy over its depiction of the first-ever female president. Neither is it surprising that few of those who have publicly criticized the show have actually complained about the fact that the president is female, per se. Rather, the show has been criticized as being a veiled campaign to promote Hillary Clinton for President in 2006. Right-wing sites note that creator Rob Lurie is a liberal, and that lead writer Steve Cohen worked in Hillary's press office. Such sites also accuse the show of anti-Republican bias.

But that's not entirely fair. Although I will certainly concede that Speaker of the House Nathan Templeton (played by Donald Sutherland), one of the most manipulative and spiteful politicians I've seen in recent times, is a Republican, that hardly seems like an indictment on the whole party. And it's not as though President Mackenzie Allen (played by Geena Davis) is a Democrat. Rather, she is a Republican turned Independent turned running-mate-to-a-Republican! And in an early episode, President Allen just as readily shot down suggestions from Democratic representatives as she did Templeton's. If anything, this show seems far more "pro-Independant" than "anti-"any particular party.

A disclaimer is in order here, unlike The West Wing (which also features a Democratic President, and for which the recent debate episode was also criticized as being "anti-Republican" on some conservative blogs), I do not feel that Commander in Chief even attempts a "realistic" look at American politics. Rather, it comes off as asking "what would happen if our President acted upon beliefs about what was right for the nation, rather than upon what was politically expedient?" While entertaining, I myself feel that some of President Allen's solutions work out just a little too nicely to be entirely believable. The show, having already exhausted the novelty of having a woman in the Oval Office, is far more about idealism than about gender.

But upon reading the conservative pundits, it's hard to not feel that the complaints aren't really about Hillary at all, but rather that a woman President might be getting greater acceptance. Truth is, Hillary Clinton and Mackenzie Allen have little in common with each other besides their gender. If true, this is a sad commentary on the conservative mindset. I would hope that viewers could set aside such prejudices, and evaluate a potential presidential (or any other) candidate based on the talents he/she brings to the office, rather than on what reproductive organs they were born with.

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