Under the Sun


If only the real politicians
performed as well as actors

AT Jarrett Intermediate School, when someone put on airs, exaggerated, twisted the truth or just plain lied, my classmate Faye would call him on it with a two-word localism: "No act."

The phrase (pronounced "no ack") is an all-purpose one, and its application has become appropriate with the recent poses and shams by those we call our leaders.

George W. Bush, who since his election has been nervous as a mongoose on the H-3 about following in his father's footsteps to a one-term presidency, has the jumpy economy hard on his mind. With businessmen behaving so badly and the resulting effects on the stock market, he is attempting to detach himself from the corporate mask carefully constructed for his campaign. The White House, Newsweek magazine reports, took a keen interest in stage-managing the arrest of Adelphia Communication's CEO, wanting camera crews to capture the businessman in handcuffs to show America that Bush can get tough with the guys in his clubhouse. No act.

Governor Cayetano, meanwhile, disclaims political motive in his directing the state budget department to analyze the fiscal soundness of Republican gubernatorial candidate Linda Lingle's campaign promises. He says he is defending his administration, that Lingle is dissing him with her proposals. Now, Cayetano isn't the kind of guy who'll take a poke in the eye without poking back, so he's probably being truthful when he pleads self-defense. But he should acknowledge that his actions had political goals as well. No act, governor.

As for Lingle and the bare-teethed Republicans, their attempt to taint all Democrats as corrupt, unethical crooks diminishes them to name-callers and mud-slingers. Neither party can rightly claim the moral high ground and Lingle shouldn't need to play the ethics card so frequently if she believes she has a whole deck. So no act.

Presidents, governors, mayors, lawmakers, assorted other government leaders and wannabe leaders lie to us because they think it works, and to some extent it does. Many of us don't have the time, the inclination or the energy to ride herd on our leaders, to dissect what is said and done. More often than we'd like to admit, we are swayed and manipulated.

I prefer my manipulations clearly labeled. Every Wednesday night I travel eagerly to fantasyland for an hour. I watch "West Wing," the television series about a fictional president and his staff who try to do the right things for the right reasons.

As I said, fantasy, although there are touches of reality. Josiah Bartlet and his White House insiders are constantly judging how their actions will play in Peoria. They poll and trade votes and put the pressure on people to get their way, but in the end they usually extract themselves from the political morass and behave decently. President Bartlet even admits to wrongdoing and takes the heat head on, not a likely scenario in real life.

After a recent "West Wing" episode, I was on the phone with my best friend, who also is a fan. After talking about the dialogue and the filming of the show, I wished aloud that real people in power could perform like Bartlet, Leo, Toby, Sam, Josh and CJ, who despite the consequences of tarnishing the president's image, do what's best for the country and the public.

Maybe the real people do. Maybe at the White House and in Congress there are true patriots who choose to do the right thing regardless of approval ratings or possible effects on the November elections. Maybe there are public-spirited people in the state Legislature and the county councils who sincerely sought public office to help their fellow citizens.

If so, they are hidden off stage. They aren't part of the act.

Cynthia Oi has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin for 25 years.
She can be reached at:

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