Washington ‘Reality’

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Washington lawmakers work in and near the Capitol Building, which is between Independence and Constitution streets, K Street just houses the firms that lobby them. But when Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney teamed up to make a show about “politics from the inside out” they called it “K Street” and centered it around a fictional lobbying shop headed by a real power couple in consultants James Carville (Democrat) and his wife Mary Matalin (Republican). The show has some people wondering What, if anything, does the show say about American politics?

The show describes itself as “an experimental fusion of reality and fiction–an entertaining, fly-on-the-wall look at government, filmed in and around the corridors of power in Washington.” Mary Matalin, who plays herself in the show, says “If it gets even close to reality it will be better than anything produced about politics ever.”

Of course, the top priority of any TV show is to entertain. But how exciting can the lives of political consultants and lobbyist really be? Newsday’s Noel Holston says the show is almost irrelevant:

“The show is the proverbial tree falling in the forest. Its pseudo-verite, fly-on-the-wall style, overlapping dialogue and unidentified characters make it the most abstruse entertainment series in the history of television. Even HBO’s uncommonly dense crime series ‘The Wire’ is easier to follow, not to mention more compelling.

“Matalin and Carville are kind of fun to watch, and Mary McCormack, of the three professional actors in the regular cast, is remarkable in her naturalness. But the payoff in entertainment or in political insight doesn’t justify the level of concentration required merely to keep your bearings. If a program is going to work you this hard, the least it could do is give you a degree.”

The consultants themselves, of course, think their own lives are fascinating:

“Carville, Matalin and the rest of Washington’s elite believe that citizens around the country will find their line of work exciting enough for television. ‘People are clearly interested in what happens in Washington, how laws are made, just sort of the mixing bowl that goes into getting legislation in this country, and I think they’ll find it fascinating,’ Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe told me Friday night. ‘I’m fascinated by how laws are made in this country.'”

Part of the problem, many people say, is that laws are made on the real K Street, and the show doesn’t seem to have a problem with that. Slate’s Timothy Noah thinks “K Street” fails to show how lurid the lobbying business is:

“The world of corporate lobbying is not, as many of its occupants would have you believe, a morally complex milieu whose subtleties go unappreciated. Rather, it’s a morally straightforward milieu populated by people who often like to pretend that it’s morally complex. For example, Mike Deaver, the former top aide to President Reagan who now works as a lobbyist (and who will be appearing on the show as himself) praised Soderbergh for not having ‘an agenda’ and for simply wanting to show ‘how it works.'”

A realistic look at today’s K Street would have to depict the widely discussed and well-coordinated Republican plan to fill the real K Street firms with their own people. Chances are, oddly enough, the show will not tackle such touchy political issues.

The Nation’s William Greider finds the show “borderline obscene”:

“I understand James Carville and Mary Matalin’s involvement in K Street. They have created a great gig for themselves, the bipartisan power couple play-acting at hardball politics. I know them distantly–they are not evil people. But I wonder if they realize how cynical they have become as Washington figures. The message of their show (therefore of their lives) is that ‘democracy’ is entertainment, put on to divert the great unwashed with amusing sound bites, while the ‘real people’ do the business of governing to serve their clients.”

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