What a difference a year makes. On both the national political scene and the hit Fox television series “24,” a progressive-friendly outlook is kicking the neocon ass.
Now it’s a lot easier for me to admit my love affair with Jack Bauer (in the finest tough guy heterosexual fashion, naturally).
Exactly twelve months ago I felt the need to explain how a compassionate progressive such as myself could be so attracted to a counter-terrorism agent whose interrogation techniques—breaking bones, electric shock, bullet in the knee—wouldn’t pass muster with the ACLU (to put it mildly).
But as James Poniewozik pointed out in his TIME essay, “The Evolution of Jack Bauer,” my man has changed. Along with “24.”
Jack is showing his vulnerable side this season. A few years in a Chinese prison will do that to you, understandably. He’s been seen sobbing into a cell phone, “Tell the president I’m sorry. I can’t do this any more.”
We’re with you, Jack. Most of the American public can’t do this any more either: support the president. Or his Iraq war policies. Or just about anything else the incompetent-in-chief is in favor of.
Jack Bauer knows how to adapt to changing circumstances. He’s grounded in reality, not ideology. That’s why George Bush is no Jack Bauer. They do have in common a fondness for torture, but Jack does it for the right reasons.
Poniewozik accurately captures how “24” is no longer (and, really, has never been) a conservative show.
24’s ideology—Jack Bauerism, if you will—is not so much in between left and right as it is outside them, impatient with A.C.L.U. niceties and Bushian moral absolutes. This season, Bauer allies with Hamri al-Assad, a (putatively) reformed terrorist leader, to stop an attack.
He thus displays a better grasp of realpolitik than has the Bush Administration, which resisted the Iraq Study Group’s recommendation to work with Iran and Syria. A fellow agent asks Bauer if it matters that al-Assad has murdered hundreds of people.
“I don’t know what means anything anymore,” he answers. “The playing field has changed.”
…That may be the biggest lesson of 24 in the Iraq era: don’t stubbornly hang on to your preconceptions when the facts on the ground change. Undoubtedly, Bauer will continue to give liberals and libertarians conniptions before his latest day is over.
But if conservatives and neocons think 24 is working for them, they don’t know Jack.