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Gone before I get going

Chris Hine | Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I had it all planned. I was going to be Toby Ziegler, President Bartlet’s Communications Director on “The West Wing.” I was so certain. I would go to Notre Dame for undergrad, law school, gain entry jobs working in D.C. and then work my way up until I was the main speechwriter for the President, and then call it a career. The next 40 years of my life was all set.

I guess in previous years of my life I was too caught up in the idealistic nature of politics portrayed in “The West Wing” to really grasp what was going on in reality. The show showed government as a noble calling. Sure, there are people who are greedy and out to crush anybody who stands in their way, but you get that in every career. At the end of the day, principle trumped ambition and the good guys usually won.

Then along came this year’s midterm elections.

I realize now that creator Aaron Sorkin was not reflecting the reality of government life; rather, he was showing what it could and should be like.

Since the show is now off the air, I have had to get my political drama from real life, and what I have seen has changed what I want to do with the rest of my life.

In the Congressional race between Joe Donnelly and Chris Chocola, both sides were slinging the mud back and forth in a campaign that focused more on tax filings than issues. When the ads actually focused on the issues, attacks were blown out of proportion.

Then, a few days before the election, John Kerry botched a joke in an attempt to insult President Bush’s intelligence. Many accused Kerry of insulting American troops with his misinterpreted remarks. It was bad enough that you had a former presidential candidate reducing himself to taking pot shots at the President, but what made it worse was the Bush administration’s reaction to Kerry’s remarks. Instead of accepting the fact that Kerry’s words came out wrong and taking the high road in the process, Press Secretary Tony Snow and the President himself played into the perception that Kerry was insulting the troops. Their remarks in response to Kerry’s comments deliberately tried to skew the truth in an attempt to score a few political points.

The whole snafu reminded me of a conversation between two characters on “The West Wing” over the political ramifications of the President disliking green beans. The staff was considering issuing an apology to Oregon, the nation’s leading green bean producer.

C.J: It’s because everybody’s dumb in an election year, Charlie.

Charlie: No, everyone just gets treated dumb in an election year. (conversation paraphrased.)

Everyone from the President on down, in both parties, insulted our intelligence this past election cycle, and they should be smarter than that. As for me, who knows? I still like studying the history of government, despite my disenchantment with today’s politics. Maybe I’ll teach. Yeah, I know the saying, “Those who can’t do, teach,” but the question is not whether I can “do” politics, rather, it is, why would I want to?