With the sixth season of Fox’s 24 scheduled to air in just a little more than a week, one question I have is what’s happened to the TV version of the American President?
Indeed, for the first time this decade, it seems that there’s no water cooler TV prez worth mentioning. Looking back a few years, we’ve had the liberal president (West Wing’s Jed Bartlet), the African-American President (24’s David Palmer), and a woman (Commander in Chief’s MacKenzie Allen). All the characters, of course, appeared to be more wishful thinking on Hollywood’s part than anything else.
Keeping Hollywood’s identity politics in mind, who can we expect as our next TV President? A Latino? We’re probably a few years away, at least, from seeing a gay or lesbian President in the Oval Office.
But my best bet is that we’ll see the ultimate People’s President, an angry populist that takes on both Washington and the press. Just three days after last November’s election, Washington Post columnist George Will argued that the Republicans, by launching the Iraq War, lost because they failed to learn from Clinton and the Democrats, whose universal health care ambitions in 1994 illustrated that they themselves didn’t understand that the era of “confidently comprehensive, continent-wide attempts to reform complex social systems” was dead.
Our next President will dismiss such negative thinking. Americans, all across the land, have problems and they still desperately need solutions. This President will restore the idea that government can reach out and lend a helping hand. In fact, government will take on (and solve) global warming, the economy, health care, and just before the November sweeps, Al Qaeda. But this won’t be your grandfather’s liberal FDR but rather a hybrid of say, what John McCain and Barack Obama stand for. It won’t matter if he or she is a Republican or a Democrat. What’s important is the emphasis on doing the greatest amount of good for the greatest number–to paraphrase classic utilitarian thought.
Now, the fun part. Which actor plays such a President? I’d love to hear your nominations.
Guest Blogger David Vaina is a research associate at the Pew Research Center. He lives in Washington DC.