Jack Bauer rules! I’m a huge fan of “24,” Fox’s gripping television series about the bold efforts of Jack and his Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) comrades to save America from sundry nefarious enemies. But how is it that my progressive psyche can love Jack while hating George, when the two seemingly are so similar?
Jack Bauer, former head of field operations for CTU’s Los Angeles Domestic Unit, habitually bends the rules (when he isn’t outright breaking them). I came to “24” late, becoming a regular watcher only last season. However, it didn’t take me long to realize that Jack doesn’t let niceties like the Geneva Convention or anti-torture statutes come between him and terrorism-fighting.
I’ve seen Jack rip the electrical cord off of a lamp and use it to shock a man tied to a chair (and he might have done worse if the guy wasn’t a friend of his). I’ve watched Jack release a suspect from CTU control, where the presence of a weenie ACLU sort of lawyer was cramping his style, and follow him into the parking lot—where the suspect became wonderfully loquacious after Jack broke a few of his fingers.
And all the while, I was cheering. Shock him again, Jack! Break another finger, Jack!
Last night I fired up our digital video recorder, fluffed up the pillows on our TV room couch, and settled in to see last Sunday’s two-hour kickoff of the new season. I thought it was great when Jack shot a terrorist in the gut, then engaged in his typical interrogation style.
Jack: “Tell me who put you up to this and I’ll get you to a hospital. You’ll live.”
Terrorist: “Blah, blah, blah…There, I’ve told you what you want to know. Now, get me to a hospital.”
Jack’s gun: Boom!
This is, of course, exactly how George Bush, Dick Cheney, and the rest of the neo-cons are telling us terrorists should be treated. Whatever it takes to make them talk, do it. When Jack Bauer does it, I applaud him. When the Bush administration does it, I’m appalled. So what gives?
I’m not the first person to ponder the connection between Jack and George. Craig Crawford blogged about “Our ‘Jack Bauer’ President.” Conservative Lorie Byrd hoped in “Jack Bauer’s America” that George was as prone to torture as Jack. And liberal Tony Norman opined that “The politics of ‘24’ are fine—on TV.”
Norman says that his wife doesn’t share his admiration of “24.”
Earlier this week, the espionage drama “24” really put a bee in her bonnet. After wandering into the living room, attracted by the sound of people shouting, threats and automatic gunshots in the recap from the previous week's episode, my wife settled into a permanently critical lotus position on the sofa. “Oh, come on,” she said, apropos of nothing. “You're being manipulated. This show doesn't reflect your politics.”
The same is true of me, but I don’t feel like I’m being manipulated. I genuinely approve of Jack Bauer’s tough guy tactics. If George was Jack, I’d be more inclined to give him a blank check to spend on the war against terrorism (so long as he stays within the spending limit of the Constitution, naturally).
However, he isn’t. And so I won’t.
Jack is a rebel with a cause. He’s honest, loyal, patriotic, brave, and competent. George is none of those things. Our president trashes the Constitution and this country’s laws without a noble cause. His motivations are selfishly political and personal.
Bush seeks unfettered presidential power to advance his own neo-con agenda; Bauer unfetters himself from restrictions to protect others, usually at great risk to himself. There’s a huge difference between the two men.
As Norman observes:
In a week when former Homeland Security boss Tom Ridge complained of arm twisting by forces outside his office to raise the color coded terror alerts when it wasn't necessary, it's clear that the crew currently running the government couldn't make toast on “24.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m opposed to torture. Almost always. But if there’s a choice between saving thousands of lives, and torturing a terrorist who has information that would save those people, I’m with Jack.
The problem is, George isn’t Jack.