The triumph of the real over the unreal

Daniel Henninger has another excellent column in today’s Wall Street Journal, this time invoking “reality” TV rather than “The Godfather” to comprehend current politics. He characterizes the televised image of the captured Saddam Hussein as “Escape from unreality.”
When he turns to national politics, Henninger writes: “[O]ur national politics has descended from Richard II to Punch and Judy. It’s a little hard to think of Howard Dean as Bolingbroke amid a large cast of florid, overdrawn characters. The party’s decision to stage so many on-camera debates led the serious candidates into statements and positions that escalated quickly into bombastic speeches as a device to stir up the primary voting base, which presumably sits out there in the audience like a mob howling for the head of the cartoon villain, George Bush. How else to explain Hillary Clinton’s statement at a National Democratic Committee dinner in Miami this week that Mr. Bush is trying to ‘turn back the progress of the entire 20th century’? Booo! Hissss! Sic the blogs on him! To understand the difference, imagine the kind of speech that a Sen. Sam Nunn, Democrat, would have given as criticism of the president’s course in Iraq. Whatever else, it wouldn’t have been a pitch for applause from the cheap seats.
“Amid all this, two oases of seriousness persist–the American public and the president. Despite constant immersion in events today that are fashioned to produce either tears or rage, I think people keep a larger picture fixed in their mind’s eye–the war on terror, the elements of the economy, the quality of institutional leadership. Someone in the Democratic opposition should get past the neurosis and notice that if nothing else, George Bush projects himself in every public appearance as a person of seriousness and focus. You don’t have to agree with or even like this presidency, but it’s not a circus. That’s no small accomplishment in our time. For many people, Mr. Bush must come across as the one guy who is as centered as they are, who keeps his eye on the ball. Of course he doesn’t have a patent on seriousness of purpose. Anyone in politics can try it. But most likely they won’t. The script’s been written. The show’s the thing.”

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