Not to belabor the point, but I heard somewhere that there was a certain “change” coming. Apparently, the recent election represents a shift in American politics. Our beloved “decider” is leaving office and taking with him a wealth of comic opportunities. The question that every political satirist is asking him or herself is, with this pending sea change, will there be enough material to stay employed?
Christopher Buckley, author of the recently released book, Supreme Courtship, is wondering just that. In a recent appearance on NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me he stated that his “inner satirist crave[d] a McCain / Palin administration [because it] would be a target rich environment. This would be a low hanging fruit.” Despite the fact that the Obama administration will probably lessen the chance for comic opportunity, he was a loyal Obama supporter, right up to the end—the end of his career as a columnist for National Review, that is.
Because of a posting he put up on Tina Brown’s Daily Beast blog titled “Sorry, Dad, I’m Voting for Obama”, he received a tremendous backlash from National Review supporters and ended up offering to resign from the publication (founded by his father, the famous conservative, William F. Buckley). Much to his surprise, the resignation was accepted, garnering a great wealth of media coverage for both himself and his new book.
Indeed, the whole debacle seems like it was taken straight from the pages of Buckley’s Supreme Courtship. A prime example of the pastiche Buckley paints is the protagonist, Judge Pepper Cartwright, who has been selected by President Vanderdamp as his nominee to sit on the Supreme Court. In Buckley’s own words, Judge Cartwright is “a glasses wearing, gun toting, TV hottie” who uses expressions like “that dog won’t hunt” and “I’m just a plain old girl from Plano, Texas.” If this is reminiscent of a certain former Vice Presidential candidate, keep in mind that the final copy was turned in to the editor last January!
Like Sarah Palin, Judge Cartwright began her bid for a seat on the Supreme Court with overwhelming support from the population. Even President Vanderdamp’s abysmal ratings received a temporary boost from the popular appointment. Because of this, Dexter Mitchell, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had no choice but to accept the nomination despite craving the appointment himself. Mirroring reality yet again, Judge Cartwright’s high ranking in the polls quickly deteriorated as she weighed in on some of the more important issues before the Supreme Court.
Dexter Mitchell’s ratings, on the other hand, skyrocketed once he quit the Senate in order to take the leading role in the TV series POTUS. Like many politicians throughout history, Mitchell’s ego knows no bounds. As national opinion of him increases every time he “sends in the Nimitz” to deal with fictional hostile forces, Mitchell begins to embody his presidential character, going so far as having an affair with his spicy Hispanic co-star and promising to take her to the White House with him when he runs for office.
And he makes good on his promise, to a certain extent, using her to court the Hispanic vote and often having her appear beside him and his wife on stage addresses the nation—a situation which becomes increasingly awkward when his wife discovers the affair. At the same time, the Senate is in the process of amending the constitution to make it illegal for a president to serve more than one term in office in an effort to make sure that Vanderdamp does not continue on in his capacity as president. Because of this, President Vanderdamp reluctantly agrees to run for a second term in order to defeat the ridiculous amendment and prevent Mitchell from assuming office. President Vanderdamp, however, is tired of the pressures associated with the presidency and decides to run on the campaign slogan ‘I hope I don’t win’, which instantly improves his ratings (much to his chagrin).
After a barrage of affairs, government ineptitude, corruption, a suicide attempt and a broadcast by the President from the Oval office stating that he had “quite possibly the worst Congress in United States history”, there is ultimately a happy ending. In the end, Buckley steps out from behind the narrator and leaves us with what seems to be a personal statement: “democracy has its flaws, but it is (often) self-corrective.” This ending, perhaps, gives us some insight into Buckley’s own worldview—ultimately optimistic about an often chaotic, corrupt and arbitrary system of government. Although the book is undoubtedly fiction, its satirical nature is necessarily based on assumptions about both our government and the media culture—read “voters who watch too much TV—which empowers the government, leading one to assume that Buckley, although overtly skeptical of our democracy, is ultimately a believer in the (eventual) self-correcting mechanisms of the American democratic process.
But do we need him to come out and say this? In my opinion: no. Supreme Courtship is an easy read about what would happen if media culture overwhelmed the political sphere (even more so than it currently does). The satire, however humorous in parts, seemed constrained by a desire to redeem the system, as well as the characters, which was being mocked. The main character was a sassy, sexy, gun toting TV judge, but she was also an extremely intelligent, dedicated, and sympathetic character—an excellent nominee for the Supreme Court. The nation despised the president, who was actually a moral, thoughtful and courageous leader (despite his nominating an un-vetted TV judge to the Supreme Court). In all, despite the brilliant and clear wit that characterizes all of Buckley’s writing, I felt that the humor in Supreme Courtship fell short because of a conflicting desire to simultaneously satirize and redeem America’s system of government.
At this stage in American history, however, this sentimentality is hard to criticize. Topping off eight years of consistently dwindling opinions ratings, I think Buckley put it best on a post-election article on the Daily Beast: “Mr. President-elect, my warmest congratulations. You make me—this is absurd, my eyes are watering—proud to be an American. And Senator McCain, you are a great American and you went out in style. Congratulations to you, sir. Well done. Well done, America. Pass the Kleenex…”
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