Someone find the remote, please

By Justin Reedy

With the way things are going in the real world, is it any wonder I'd rather watch ?24' or ?The West Wing' than CNN?

Both television shows n which I consider to be the two best anywhere on the dial, hands down n include plotlines that echo our country's current troubles with terrorism, international conflicts and strife in the Middle East.

But the difference between those shows and the real world is in the leadership.

Witness this week's season finale of ?24,' in which President David Palmer, after overcoming what was essentially a coup d'etat by a vice president bent on going to war, admonished his lieutenants for taking the country on a path that should be a last resort. The evidence implicating our targets, three Middle Eastern countries, in a terrorist attack on American soil was tenuous at best, and eventually disproved completely by that man among men, Jack Bauer.

A patient man not given to rash decisions, Palmer recognized that he couldn't start a costly, destructive war only on the irrational need for immediate revenge (instant gratification for the body politic, don't you know).

Likewise, the chief executive on ?The West Wing' is known for his wisdom and cognitive ability, rather than for blithely following the illogical desires of an American public given to fits of herd-like behavior. In this season's climactic episodes, President Jed Bartlet's daughter was kidnapped and being held captive by Middle Eastern terrorists.

Capable of recognizing that he wouldn't be able to think rationally in such a situation (would he launch cruise missiles at Israel if they ordered him to, knowing they had a knife at her neck?) the president declared himself unfit to lead the country during the crisis. But with the vice president forced to resign earlier this season because of a scandal, that meant handing over the reins of power to the Republican Speaker of the House, the next in the line of presidential succession.

Knowing the stakes he faced n starting an international war over his youngest daughter nBartlet didn't hesitate to abdicate his power temporarily to one of his most fearsome political enemies. Ain't that a man?

Is there any doubt that President Bush (who couldn't carry Bartlet's wallet or lug Palmer's briefcase, let alone walk a day in their shoes) wouldn't think twice before dismissing such a selfless, considerate act?

Likewise, Bush clearly isn't as interested as the fictional (ugh!) Palmer in the burden of proof placed on an aggressor considering armed conflict against another country. Try as we might, our teams of weapons inspectors in Iraq have yet to find any more than empty tractor trailers n not exactly the massive stockpile of chemical and biological agents asserted by Colin Powell and the rest of the Bush administration only months ago.

Conveniently, though, our aim in the military conflict shifted from dispatching a tyrant with weapons of mass destruction to liberating a people who have lived under the thumb of said dictator.

Meanwhile, as Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden seemingly still roam free somewhere (albeit in a cave), a nuclear power plant had some of its stash of radioactive material looted during our invasion. Rest assured that in the world of ?24' the unstoppable Jack would be on the case of any missing nuclear material, and he wouldn't have stopped until the terrorist behind any plot was either brought to justice or lying in a ditch with a double-tap to the head.

As the worlds of ?24' and ?The West Wing' converge on the real world (or maybe just the Matrix) from their references to the specter of international terrorism, it seems obvious that the American public is far safer in those fictional realities than in ours. Of course, it could be that the latest terrorist attack warnings in the real world are nothing more than internally directed saber rattling meant to keep an increasingly bored American public on its toes and waiting for the next shoe to drop.

Either way, it doesn't do me much good to get worked up about an Orange Alert, so you'll excuse me as I turn off CNN and, instead, watch Jack, David, Jed and the rest of my boys keep the world safe from tyranny and disorder.

Which begs the question, what do I do until next season?

Justin Reedy covers county government for the News Daily. He may be reached at (770) 478-5753 ext. 281 or via e-mail at jreedy@news-daily.com.