Watch and learn
2009 was supposed to be a year of change. That was the slogan Americans constantly heard as the Bush presidency hobbled past the finish line and a new direction for the country was set. It was going to be a new day. For people who have seen the landmark HBO series the Wire (shame on you if you have not), what is going on in America now makes the show look prophetic. A New Day was the title of season 4 episode 11 and felt like the first few months of the Obama presidency.
Previously on The Wire: A new mayor of Baltimore gets elected on the promise to clean up the city’s corrupt politics that affect the quality of life in the poor Western district and all over the city. After some initial momentum, the new mayor gets caught up in politics as usual and the new day fades into the status quo.
The gleam has worn off of the Obama presidency as reality has set in. The status quo is just too profitable to the rich and powerful interests in the country for them to allow it to change. Obama and his administration now seem to be either trapped in a stalemate or on the defensive on all their major policy initiatives. Reform of the financial sector that made millionaires of people who drove the economy off the cliff are not materializing, Waxman-Markey is overly-diluted sacrificing its effectiveness, health care reform is being stalled by “Blue Dog” Democrats that are in league with the private insurance companies, a comprehensive energy policy is still not ready, and the list goes on and on.
Why is an exact case of life imitating art imitating life? The reason is American politics is stuck in a cyclical system where interest groups who have the most to lose financially kill reform no matter the consequences for the public good. The Wire masterfully documented the interplay of this ‘game’ in Baltimore politics, business and crime over five seasons that focused on the drug trade, death of American manufacturing, campaign politicking, education and the media.
The points raised by creator David Simon in his narrative with co-collaborator Ed Burns were gleaned from their experience as a journalist and Baltimore city policeman respectively. The undertone of the show was how intricate the actions of one section of society affect the other. How drug money flows to the street to city hall, the devaluation of the American worker, politics where the person with the most money usually wins, underfunded schools and newspapers under existential threat are all as real as they were on the program.
The Wire is an underappreciated masterpiece. It is social commentary that accurately described the climate of modern American life for so many.
Unfortunately, the Wire never touched energy policy. Mr. Simon and Burns used another series “Generation Kill” to illustrate their vision on war, energy and the American people. While not as brilliantly done as the Wire, it is worth viewing as comparable flashes of brilliance occur. All American policy wonks should be Wire experts, all Americans should at least see the Wire.