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FINEFROCK Progressive Patriotism: From Ainsley Hayes to Paul Begala
by Steve Finefrock - Hollywood Forum
[scriptwriter] 5/23/06

Huffington Post gave us Paul Begala retorting a criticism this week, as he noted the dems are "Bringing a Knife to a Gunfight" by not promoting their message, instead of all the consultants, voter files, computer geeks, phone banks, etc. He closes by describing his latest published tome (349 pages) in two words: Progressive Patriotism.

Shades of Ainsley Hayes, in her introductory episode of "West Wing" -- described in TV Guide's episode summary as "right-wing lawyer" -- when she confronts her GOPster allies at a fine restaurant, after they derogate the staff of almost-perfect president, Jeb Bartlet. We the audience are led to believe she will follow her stated intentions: refuse the offer to serve among her intellectual/ideological enemies. But, then Aaron Sorkin makes a brilliant stroke, almost Begala-like in its deviousness, by exercising the writer's "god" option: placing Ainsley so she will witness bold, decisive presidential staffers confront a human crisis. The door to the Oval Office closes, her face embraced by realization that Important Decisions are occurring.


Founder of Hollywood Forum, a speaker-bureau and panel-discussion vehicle to "Bring the Potomac to the Palisades" on issues that overlap politics and culture with the Hollywood film-TV influence on such national concerns. His scripts have addressed politics [including a TV series pilot/bible package about state political combat, called "A State of the Union"], hazardous materials [from twelve years in emergency management, including six years managing FEMA's Superfund curriculum for hazmat], terrorism, equestrian reincarnation, serial murderer killing journalists in the nation's capitol, and fantasy about time-wasters.[go to Finefrock index]

Cut to: fancy dining table in fancy restaurant [isn't that where we'd expect her GOPster colleagues to casually take sustenance?], where the male-female couple babble about their joy at hearing of Leo McGarry's disappointment when Ainsley has refused the offer, and also how they despise the Bartlet White House. Ainsley dresses them down firmly, acknowledging certain disagreements, and then defending the staff she's just witnessed, asserting that they "are patriots" and further, with a suitable dramatic pause, "And I am their lawyer."

Patriotism: Define Your Terms

The thorn in the dems' side is the lingering, public-debate question: Who's a patriot? Or, what defines patriotism. And the use of the "T-word": traitor. While the dems had giddy glee at using such language to attack Zell Miller for his treachery, treason, traitorous betrayal, such words are denied by the media judges when conservatives dare attack liberals as unpatriotic. It is a sore point, the residue of their refusal to attack Stalin with one-tenth the energy which conservatives devoted to attacking Hitler. This very day sees Hollywood resentment at continued judgment of their poor judgment about Stalin, their weak-at-best support of the Cold War, and of course enthusiastic embrace of draft-dodgers and war-protestors during the Vietnam era. Aaron Sorkin set up that first Ainsley episode explicitly to have a defense of the liberal Bartlet administration be uttered by a Republican. And as TV Guide branded her, a right-wing Republican at that.

Enuf said, eh! Sorry, never enough said, as Begala this week tells us of progressive patriotism becoming their new mantra. Not 'liberal' patriotism, nor 'socialist' patriotism -- the new label is to be 'progressive' to dilute use of liberal labels. They are flinching, and it is apparent with Begala's mantra-like employment of his new term. Mixed with his assertion that methods and means are not enough to win: you must also promote your MESSAGE.

And the message is: WE'RE PATRIOTS, TOO! His is the real-world version of Sorkin's sneaky manipulation of Ainsley into uttering a lefty mantra for a TV audience. "West Wing" is fictional agony for conservatives, but Bagala's crowd in power would be very real agony. "West Wing" is dead, RIP -- but Begala is very much alive. And on one thing he is right, if not Right: MESSAGE IS THE MEANS TO POWER.

Levine, McLuhan, et al: Sizzle v. Steak

Michael Levine, publicist to the stars [and for a few minor tsars as well, in politics], asserts his "Tiffany Theory" of promotion: if you present a gift within a box with the Tiffany label, it enhances the recipient's perception of the gift's value. Marshall McLuhan told us that the medium is the message. Many ad flacks adhere to the belief that an ad doesn't sell a steak to the hungry buyer, but instead sells the sizzle. Codicil to all the above: folks is buying steak, not sizzle, and if the medium has no serious message, or the Tiffany box contains a clump of fetid, rotting manure, ain't nobody buying the product, idea, message, theory, theology, politics or ideology. Packaging is important, presentation makes a difference. But we buy steak for its actual taste and texture; all the sizzle is merely foreplay, a pretext, the warm-up or first-act to the actual dining expectation. Once we've found the steak to be tough, or bitter, or rotted, we not only are put off by the steak at the moment, the "Tiffany label" that may have promoted it is now tainted.

And getting a bitter experience out of your taste buds takes a lot of mouthwash. Thus, today Begala is still trying to wash out the bitter taste of the DNC and liberal dalliance with commies, and fondness for war-protesting flag-burners. While he loves 'traitor' applied to those who are disloyal to the DNC's own "flag" he is quite concerned that the patriot label be allowed to be pasted on his team in the coming campaign.

And we must not allow the American people to be fooled. Just as they keep as their own legitimizing label that of 'civil rights' and 'racial justice' characterizations -- and laugh at any claim by the right to have had a role in those movements -- we must make sure that this message is clear: PATRIOTISM IS A RIGHTWING LABEL. It is our "Tiffany" brand, it belongs to us, we hold the patent and copyright and trademark on patriotism, reaching back to when Hollywood used "patriot" as an insult, a slur, and condemnation of their enemy.

Message Massaged

Unfortunately, we are weak on message right now. The media is not cooperating, and talk-radio is weakening in its influence -- ratings are down, the audience sated, the hosts stuck in old phrases and worn mantras. And one Tiffany box has been shredded by Dubya: Fiscal Restraint. It is an insult to sailors to talk of spending like drunken sailors: ship crews on liberty are spending their own money! Congressional rightwingers have surrendered that one holy grail for the coming generation. Thus, patriotism is one grail we must not allow to slip into the hands of Begala. They may yet get away with "progressive" as their new label -- been at it almost a decade, not yet successful -- but we must not let the Ainsley Hayes maneuver become a fait accompli in the real world of real politics. The reel White House of Bartlet the Perfect President was under the godly control of the godly writer Aaron Sorkin, making a propaganda point with his writer's nib.

But this coming battle with foreign forces cannot be won with Begala's boneheads in power: PELOSI, REID, MOORE, GAROFALO, CLOONEY, et al. Not a rabid patriot in the crowd; when we use that term in the future to describe them, it should be in the quotation marks of irony: "patriot" Pelosi, "patriot" Reid, "patriot" Michael Moore/Clooney/Garofalo.

Begala's book title, and his softening the pre-publication ground for it, are signs of the times to come: dems grabbing the one remaining "Tiffany" label for their own use. We're naked in the sandstorm on fiscal responsibility, for the coming two decades [Humpty Dumpty comes to mind as the metaphor], so our one remaining trump card must be held dear, and kept under our copyright. For you can believe that otherwise, we'll be left holding a pile of fetid manure after this election.

Begala has shown his hand early. Let's thus prepare early, and win the coming game of political poker with the only hole-card, the only trump-card, remaining in our deck. Sorkin had absolute godly control of Ainsley's branding liberals as patriots; in real politics, we have at least something to say about how that script is written, and how it plays out in the scenes yet to come.

copyright 2006 Steve Finefrock





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