TV is the zombie-land of modern American politics

Watching Eliot Spitzer jaw-jut his way through his new CNN talk show is a morbid, train-wrecky sort of thrill.

There was a time when great men (and women) who disgraced themselves slouched off into oblivion.   And disgrace is hardly too strong a word for Spitzer.

His self-immolation included a ham-handed entanglement with prostitutes, followed by that blood-chilling public moment with his wife, Silda, who looked anesthetized with pain at his side.

Along the way, Spitzer left the state of New York institutionally crippled at a time when we desperately needed steady leadership.

In the first weeks after his downfall, it seemed that the former governor might accept a sort of dignified internal exile.   He was spotted walking his dogs in Central Park.  There was talk of a quiet law practice.

But no.  With the great man dead and buried, CNN decided to prop up the zombified remains.

Powerless and stripped of all moral significance, it appears that Spitzer is still perfectly capable of summoning opinions, invective, and that edgy, unpleasant stare.

If you were eating dinner with the man, that expression would make you fear he was about to take the food off your plate. Which is probably what his co-host, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Kathleen Parker, is thinking right about now.

But the truth is that Spitzer isn’t the only political zombie shuffling across the television landscape.

Fox News is haunted by Karl Roves and Mike Huckabees and Sarah Palins, figures whose scandals, legal entanglements, and political setbacks have left them in kind of mass-culture limbo.

Obviously, some of these figures hope to prove that a kind of revolving door exists.  Their banishment to the TV aether is seen as a way of staying relevant and proving their down-home, guy-or-gal-next-door normalness.

But I’m skeptical.  When now-convicted former Republican whip Tom DeLay went dancing with the stars he unwittingly crossed over for good into the land of the political undead.

And it’s hardly surprising, in hindsight, that John Edwards’ sex-scandal involved dalliances with a woman who was filming him for a series of “webisodes.”   One wonders whether he was flirting with his mistress or with the camera.

In any event, it was, in political terms, a fatal attraction.

But with his gee-gosh good looks and his TV-friendly grin, it can only be a matter of time before Edwards gets a shot at his own daytime TV show.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said that there were no second acts in American lives.

Watching Palin’s self-hagiography on the TLC channel, or Spitzer’s irony-free moralizing on CNN, you can’t help but wish it were so.

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43 Comments on “TV is the zombie-land of modern American politics”

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  1. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Just say NO to television. All it does is drain your intelligence and your strength to resist. It is the Eye of Mordor. Turn it off and never turn it on again.

  2. Jeez m. crow says:

    As time ravels away, it gets harder and harder to not see the political disgraces of Spitzer and Joe Bruno intricately connected: Albany’s irresistable force colliding with Albany’s immovable object. Two powerful and well-connected enemies, hell-bent on mutual elimination.

    With Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker’s tenure as Spitzer’s sidekick looking less tenable, CNN could do a lot worse than recasting the program. Bruno-Spitzer, anyone?

  3. Paul says:

    Zombies are very popular these days! I actually kind of like the show with Parker and Spitzer. I guess I am a zombie.

    Speaking of zombies here is a must get gift. David Sedaris suggested this at a show that I saw him do it is a really funny book.

    Here is a Google book link and the top 10 things you need to know:

    1. Organize before they rise!
    2. They feel no fear, why should you?
    3. Use your head: cut off theirs.
    4. Blades don’t need reloading.
    5. Ideal protection = tight clothes, short hair.
    6. Get up the staircase, then destroy it.
    7. Get out of the car, get onto the bike.
    8. Keep moving, keep low, keep quiet, keep alert!
    9. No place is safe, only safer.
    10. The zombie may be gone, but the threat lives on.

  4. oa says:

    Not to be pedantic here, but this is (at least) the second time you’ve misconstrued the Fitzgerald “second act” quote.
    All right, maybe it’s a little pedantic…

  5. Brian Mann says:

    OA – Guilty as charged on the Fitzgerald line.

    Is it fair to say that the misconstrued understanding of a quote has eclipsed its actual, original meaning?

    To put it another way, this is a line which has entered the language as an idiomatic phrase — just not in a way that the author would have recognized.

    Which is true of about 80% of the Shakespeare, Churchill, and etc. that gets tossed about.

    I know — I’m rationalizing. But if you get to be pedantic, I get to rationalize…

    Brian, NCPR

  6. Bill G says:

    I believe Mencken’s observation, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public” is more appropo.

  7. Mike Ludovici says:

    It is clear that there is a shortage of saints running for political office.
    Most would probably be just too boring.

  8. Pete Klein says:

    Politics is politics. If you want saints, get thee to a nunnery.
    Actually, a little corruption goes a long way to making government work.
    Where’s Nucky Thompson/Johnson when we need him or Mayor Corning, or the original Mayor Daley? How about Boss Tweed.
    The world is not become more corrupt. We are just into stale reruns.

  9. Mervel says:

    Palin is so full of crap; did you see her shoot she couldn’t even operate her own rifle; she is much like Spitzer and Kate Goslin; they are all the same. I don’t think politically we are more corrupt than in the past I just think we have less shame. We glorify being mean and sleazy; and being moral is now boring.

  10. Ellen says:

    @jeez m. – I’ m with you on the power struggle, but you can’t blame $4000 a night prostitutes on Bruno. Spitzer was the cause of his own downfall. The arrogance of his behavior still has me shaking my head.

    But Palin is not in the same bucket as Spitzer, Rove and Huckabee. She is very much still a player in the minds of voters – ignore her at your peril!

  11. Mark says:

    “Train-wrecky,” Brian? Que sera, Sarah.

  12. Bret4207 says:

    I had to look up the meaning of “hagiography”. Funny, we have 2 disgraced ex-presidents running around acting like nothing ever happened. Why didn’t they make your hagiography list?

  13. Mervel says:

    Yeah Clinton would certainly have to be there with Spitzer as far as the sleaze factor goes. I mean getting oral sex from a 19 year old intern with your wife down the hall! At least Elliot took it out of town.

    But yeah I think he is the Gold Standard for rising from the grace of sleaze. It helped that he was really good at his job.

  14. Fred Goss says:

    The big problem with the show is that neither of them had ever done it before andthey didnt bother with a “screen test.” No wonder it’s awkward to watch them learning on the job.

    Same in sports wherenetworks assume anyone who has been a successful coach or player wil be a good announcer…often not so.

  15. phahn50 says:

    Not to rock the puritanical boat, but why do we care about any of their personal (sex) lives? Most of them dont get caught so we dont know what (and with whom) they are doing whatever they are doing. We should care about how they do their job.

  16. oa says:

    Your rationalization is on the mark. But I will continue to fight the pedantic fight. To the barricades!

  17. Jack says:

    Nicely stated Brian.

  18. Bret4207 says:

    Phan, it seems to matter when it’s someone on the right, why should it not matter if they’re on the left? Whether it’s Larry Craig, Bob Packwood, or any of the other Republican morons who were practicing their “wide stance” or were mashers it mattered. Why doesn’t Clinton or Gore or Spitzers garbage matter.

    I agree that as far as simply governing it shouldn’t matter. But I don’t think there’s any doubt the jobs are about far more than just governing.

  19. Mervel says:

    But why is it puritanical to be concerned about the abuse of power over of an intern by a 50 year old married man in the White House or the concern over the use of prostitutes while claiming to prosecute prostitution rings?

    What is the standard for puritanical? Jeesh.

  20. phahn50 says:

    Bret – my point is that it should be about governing. When we insist on moral leadership is when they get into trouble. Larry Craig, for example; A married man who likes sex with men in public bathrooms. His big problem is that he belongs to a political party whose platform includes fundamentalist Christian beliefs about homosexuality. He is forced to condemn behavior that he himself enjoys. He gets caught and is forced to resign. None of that should be any of our business.

    Mervel – people in political power have been “abusing” their resulting sexual power as long as we have been a species (maybe longer).

  21. mervel says:

    Oh I agree Phan about abusing sexual power, but I don’t think it is puritanical to point it out.

    But Brian’s point is interesting how on T.V. we have all of these people who are in various levels of disgrace or failure or simply purgatory. They are waiting on TV. to make another run to resurrect themselves. Some might most will not. I think Spirtzer and John Edwards will both be back within ten years politically.

    In the entertainment industry people feel pressure to have a good scandal that helps their career, the release of a “stolen” sex tapes often helps the career of b rate celebrities for example.

    I think we will reach a point that we will demand a good affair or two or some fishy financial dealings from our public officials to give them some swagger. Good will become bad and bad will become good, the worst thing you can be is boring and the only real sin is being judgmental.

  22. Pete Klein says:

    I really don’t care about the sexual morality of the elected as long as they do the job they were elected to do and are not committing rape.
    I could say the same for doctors and plumbers. Let’s add actors and sports stars to the I don’t care list.
    It’s the job performance I care about.
    And I really don’t think it is appropriate for anyone in radio to pick on TV.

  23. phahn50 says:

    Mervel – I agree about Spitzer (he’ll be back)- but I dont see how John Edwards can return – even to TV. Gingrich left a dying wife for a younger woman and does fine on FoxTV but somehow Edward’s betrayal seems (to me) to be beyond redemption. But who knows. Maybe its just me.

    and – maybe its not puritanical to point it out – maybe its just prurient.

  24. Mervel says:

    Yes very good; I like prurient better and that is an excellent word for much of our culture really. I mean its not like we really care what these guys do we just like watching them and digging dirt on people.

    John Edwards has to lay low a little while longer. You are right Gingrich is moving into place now to do something. Look at the power of media, I think Edwards betrayal seems worse because we got to know his wife and her grace and how wonderful she was. We didn’t get to know Newt’s wife for all we know she was just as wonderful but she did not get the media attention.

  25. phahn50 says:

    good point about knowing Elizabeth Edwards

  26. Bret4207 says:

    John Kerrys first wife was in an insane asylum when he sued her for divorce so he could go marry the Heinz fortune. Whether that was before or after he changed his name so his initials became “JFK” I don’t recall. None of that or his tales of shooting young NVA kids in the back as they ran away from him, his lies about throwing his medals over the wall, etc. seemed to hurt him in the run up to the election. My point? People don’t care about the garbage “their” guy did, only about the garbage the other guy did. The media feeds off that and will always be willing to bring up any reference to dirt of most any kind. So someone I see as a complete phony, say Clinton or Edwards or Gore, will be defended by those who buy into whatever it is they see in that person. The media makes hay off that every day and always will.

    As far as should it matter, it depends. Are we ever surprised when we find out that some big dollar celebrity politician is stepping out with one of his aides, of either sex? Maybe that doens’t “really” matter since morals and character are simply old fashioned ideals from a different era. But what if you find out the politician is snorting coke or having sex with underage people, or even into some more perverse sexual endeavors. Does that “really” matter? What if he’s a truly lousy parent that really screws up his kids or treats his wife like dirt? Does that matter? What if is religion is an issue? Apparently being a Mormon is still a problem. What if he’s a true fanatical born again Christian? does that matter? What if he’s an fanatical atheist? A Scientologist? A Jehovahs Witness or a strict vegetarian based on religious principals? What if he’s a gambler or a drunk? Many of the same people who adored Ted Kennedy made hay over Bushs past history of alcohol abuse. Does it matter?

    Of course it matters, all of it. It just doesn’t matter when it’s “your guy”. It’s always been that way and always will be.

  27. Pete Klein says:

    Name anything about a person and it will “matter” in terms of voting for some people.
    Bret, you could have included sex and race into the what matters list. Education could also be included, as well as weight and overall appearance.
    There simply is no way of controlling how a person thinks or feels about another person. When confronted, they will come up with a host of “reasons” for their feelings. Some will be the truth while others will be used to hide the truth.

  28. Bret4207 says:

    Good point Pete. I was reading a history book last night and the authors mentioned that Abe Lincoln would be dead meat in todays appearance oriented media system. He was gangly and rather homely by any standard and his voice was described as high and almost squeaky. He never would have made it to square one today.

  29. phahn50 says:

    Bret – most of that stuff is phony – both the good and bad. None of it should matter.

  30. oa says:

    What about when a candidate runs explicitly on a pro-Puritanical-morality platform, and then pulls an Edwards? Does that make a difference? Kerry never ran on a Christianist platform the way Newt did in his rise to power. So there’s a difference, I think. You don’t?

  31. Bret4207 says:

    It all makes a difference to different people. We overlook in our chosen candidate whatever flaws they have, or accept them or make excuses. We see in them what we want to see, or believe we see. I can recall thinking Jimmy Carter was a breath of fresh air, a simple, common man who would lead us past the ugly Vietnam/LBJ.Nixon/Watergate/recession era into a newer, friendlier world. 2 years later I’m on an airplane allegedly bound for someplace very near Iran. We got turned around in the Azores. NCA couldn’t make up his mind. What I thought I saw and wanted to see was decidedly different from what was really there.

    It works other ways too. If Clinton, for instance, had had one ounce of character and honesty in his body, most of his problems never would have become problems. If you get past the missile tech for campaign contributions, the shady backroom deals with nasty people, the land deals and missing records and all the other garbage, the women and rape allegations, ol’ Bill wasn’t all that bad a President. It was all the trash in the background that screwed him. Same with Obama, it’s the Bill Ayers, the sealed records, the secrecy, the things he’s said that ad up to something slightly…well, either kinda stupid or scary, one or the other. I’m sure others feel the same way about Bush or Reagan or McCain or Romny.

    On Kerry, my point was that people supporting him overlooked what to others were massive problems. Apply that to Bush or Carl Palidino or Doug Hoffman. It all works the same way, we see what we want, the media supplies us with fuel, the media makes their bucks, the political games continue.

  32. Mervel says:

    Bret is right though in general we mainly care about the morality of people we disagree with.

    I kind of liked Bill Clinton and I never liked John Edwards he always came across to me as a rich blowhard; so honestly if I looked at myself I think I use a double standard for the two when it comes to what they did.

  33. scratchy says:

    I have to agree with knucklehead. Why bother with tv? It’s waste of time, for the most part. No sense in listening to overpaid, self-important punidts pontificate.

  34. Pete Klein says:

    Wouldn’t it be fun if the news media went after the talking heads in the news media?
    How many of those who pontificate about the morality of elected officials should be casting stones?
    Just one more case of “do as I say, not as I do.”

  35. oa says:

    So Bret and Mervel, when you run on an explicit anti-sex morality platform and get caught with your pants down, you’re no different than somebody who doesn’t run on the same platform and gets caught?
    Isn’t that really relativistic thinking, where words have no meaning, like they teach in those high-falutin commie college lit departments?

  36. Mervel says:

    oa it depends if people like you or not. It is like running on an explicit anti-war campaign and then escalating a war when you get elected or running on an explicit green campaign and having a huge home and private jets. People who like you kind of shrug it off and make up some reason, basically any will do; people who don’t scream hypocrite. The same goes for some of the guys who emphasize values (although they are very few today), and get caught cheating on their husband or wife; but people who like them still support them unless it is just too much, and people who hated them anyway because of the message salivate and scream hypocrite.

  37. Mervel says:

    Although I have to say any politician today who runs on values or makes a big deal about them, and is committing adultery has to be relatively insane, they WILL get caught, I don’t understand the thinking, they might be nuts?

  38. Mervel says:

    We might reach a point though if TV is going to be the new launching pad where politicians or potential candidates will feel the need to have an affair or two to enhance their resume, at least maybe some past coke use or something sexy like that.

  39. oa says:

    I don’t think it depends on if you like people or not. I think it depends if you think at all critically or clearly. Obama did escalate the war, and did not use his constitutional law background to protect the rights of accused or stop torture. That’s why many liberals who supported him have cooled.
    You don’t see anything like that with the vast majority of the GOP. The only place I see reality intruding with regard to Palin’s ineptitude, for instance, outside of David Frum, is the hunters who watched her TV show.
    There are definitely some people who are all pro-blue team, too, but they’re less vocal, and less prevalent, than the yay redsters. That’s why the GOP is so able to block legislation.

  40. Bret4207 says:

    If you are able to think clearly or critically then it’s obvious that people see in their candidates what they want to see. Good Lord, how can someone argue against the obvious? We’ve said it 10 different ways and you still can’t process that?

  41. oa says:

    I guess I’m just stupid, Bret.

  42. Brian Mann says:

    Hey everybody – Take it down a notch. It’s the holidays, right? Go hang a decoration or sing a carol, then come back and see if there’s something thoughtful to add.


    Brian, NCPR

  43. Bret4207 says:

    Okay Brian, I’ll try this- Obama also didn’t use his marvelous constitutional law background to stop the entirely unconstitutional healthcare mandate.

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