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A Misanthrope’s Guide To ‘Madam Secretary’


I should fully disclose that I lost interest in popular culture several decades back. I don’t remember the exact year, but when people started producing songs without musical notes, featuring vulgar lyrics recited by misogynistic goons who bobbed up and down while struggling to keep their trousers from falling off, I headed for the exit and never looked back.

Traveling across the country in the nearly monastic solitude of an 18-wheeler for 11 years, I would quite literally go for months at a time without turning on the television. With books to keep me company, classical and jazz music in the background, absorbing the latest news during the day and writing in the evening, I was content. Although I stayed on the move while driving through 47 of the lower 48 states, paradoxically, I didn’t get out much. A walk through a mall was like a trip to the zoo, populated as it was by the kind of folks one simply doesn’t encounter in truck stops.

That all changed a little over a year ago, as I came off the cross-country circuit, married a remarkable lady, and, like the parched nomad who finds the mirage is real after all, basked in the exotic normalcy of a routine existence. This all makes me something of an alien to popular culture — although come to think of it, the term “alien” having become an insulting designation except when applied to law-abiding citizens, I accept it as badge of pride.

But my wife has come to the rescue. My conduit to hipdom, Shelley is sufficiently plugged in to the latest music, upcoming and current box office hits, and the latest television lineup that she has reintroduced me to contemporary entertainment trends. Then, as a wedding gift to each other, we purchased an immense, curved, 65-inch ultra-high-definition television with a picture so detailed that it shows the individual blades of artificial grass on a football field as well as the coach’s nose hair issues, all in vivid and sharp color.

A Fantasy Secretary of State

Sitting there, in rapturous and stupefied wonder as the most insignificant commercials burst larger than life from the screen, I was ripe for the picking when we began watching “Madam Secretary.” I vaguely remembered hearing about the show when it came out and assumed, given the old media’s habit of tossing editorial bouquets toward Democrats while hurling Molotov cocktails at Republicans, that it was the network’s extension of the Hillary 2016 campaign.

How many television programs have you seen, after all, in which the CIA is characterized as either effective or ethical?

Then there was the remark by Lori McCreary, the show’s executive producer, that the idea for the show first occurred while watching Hillary Clinton face the glare of legitimate questions over the deaths of four Americans and ask in exasperation, “What difference, at this point, does it make?” Wondering what it’s like to be a female secretary of State, McCreary had an idea for a television show and voila, here we are!

Then there was CBS’ own synopsis of the show, to wit: “Madam Secretary stars Téa Leoni as Elizabeth McCord, the shrewd, determined Secretary of State who drives international diplomacy, battles office politics and circumvents protocol as she negotiates global and domestic issues, both at the White House and at home. A college professor and a brilliant former CIA analyst who left for ethical reasons, Elizabeth returned to public life at the request of President Conrad Dalton following the suspicious death of her predecessor. The President values McCord’s apolitical leanings, her deep knowledge of the Middle East, her flair for languages and her ability to not just think outside the box, but to not even acknowledge there is a box. …”

So we have an academic who left the CIA “for ethical reasons.” Owing at least in part to a media bias that renders the words “CIA” and “unethical” a redundancy, I had a sense where all this was going. How many television programs have you seen, after all, in which the CIA is characterized as either effective or ethical?

Of course, I also thought to myself, CBS’ promotional narrative would naturally describe Elizabeth McCord as “apolitical.” Ever heard any references to “staunch liberals,” or the “hard left” on the evening news? Me neither.

Democrats Who Forcefully Pursue American Interests?

But something happened on the way to the showcase of ideological superficialities. Of course there are the obligatory genuflections toward liberal causes like global warming, with the accompanying two-dimensional depiction of Republicans as a cross between the GEICO caveman and Darth Vader. But that sort of thing comes around about as often as the M104 Bus between Broadway and 42nd Street in Manhattan (every 10 minutes) and is, therefore, about as interesting.

Within hours of the dirty bomb attack, our fictional administration uses military force overseas to fire the first salvo of America’s response.

What I found truly arresting about the show, however, is that they’ve managed to create fictional Democrats who are not only unapologetic about national security, but utterly fierce about the use of force to advance American interests. For instance, take the recent episode in which a dirty nuke was detonated in Washington DC. Upon learning that the culprit in the attack is a Saudi Arabian diplomat currently located at the Saudi embassy, President Dalton orders assault teams to converge on the embassy to retrieve said culprit by force.

It didn’t stop there. Madam Secretary herself calls in the Saudi ambassador, presents him with irrefutable evidence and demands that the Saudis immediately turn the SOB over. When the ambassador replies that he must consult with his government, McCord tells him American teams are even now at the Saudi embassy and will be entering the compound in five minutes. “That would be an act of war,” the ambassador blurts incredulously. “You’re right, it would be,” replies our heroine with a gaze that would freeze hell itself, before adding, “Now you have four minutes.”

Somewhat luckily, as the Americans prepare to assault the Saudi embassy, the camera pans up, up to the top of the building, where our culprit stands unsteadily, swaying before closing his eyes and falling to his death and the subsequent discovery that the whole 72 virgin bit was a cheap ruse. Then, within hours of the dirty bomb attack, our fictional administration uses military force overseas to fire the first salvo of America’s response.

Contrast the ‘Madam Secretary’ Fantasy with Reality

I previously described Madam Secretary’s administration as one made up of “fictional Democrats,” because the sort of Democrat who would unflinchingly order the seizure of a terrorist from a foreign embassy on American soil became extinct more than 50 years ago. Harry Truman deployed the Enola Gay to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and win the Second World War. Today, John Kerry deploys James Taylor to strum his little guitar and sing, “You’ve Got A Friend.”

Today, John Kerry deploys James Taylor to strum his little guitar and sing, ‘You’ve Got A Friend.’

More than 50 years ago, President Kennedy famously declared, “We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” Today, Barack Obama hobnobs with tyrants and homicidal monsters in Cuba while the Castro regime locks its critics in political prisons.

A fictional Dalton administration threatens war with Saudi Arabia over a single terrorist attack while the horribly real Obama administration gets rolled by a state sponsor of terrorism in Tehran. A fictional Secretary Elizabeth McCord stares down those who would threaten America while the real Secretary Hillary Clinton hands out reset buttons, refuses her ambassador’s desperate requests for needed security enhancements in Libya, and blamed a video for the terrorist attack which killed that ambassador and three other Americans.

This is where, unwittingly or not, the creators of “Madam Secretary” may have performed a valuable service for those voters who note the yawning discrepancies between fictional Democrats who prioritize the lives and interests of American citizens, and the nonfictional Democrats who turn a blind eye to deadly threats and play nice with barbarians, all while telling the American people to just lie back and think of diversity.