Magical Sorkinism: The left’s dream

Magical Sorkinism: The left’s dream. By The Ivy Exile.

The fantasy:

Among the worst disasters for progressivism in recent decades has been the work of Aaron Sorkin, whose impossibly articulate ratatat dialogue made it way too easy to imagine sexy technocrats saving the world. It’s great entertainment, but normalized unreasonable expectations of the flawed human beings who happen to have high IQs and impeccable credentials.


Nothing like corrupt, stumbling, lying Joe Biden


As a child of the New Left, I never missed The West Wing: it was irresistible catnip for my adolescent hopes and dreams, and so much more satisfying than whatever was on the news — except for the eloquent public intellectuals on the Bill Moyers show on PBS.

The reality:

Later, as an idealistic policy major at Brown, I was surprised and disappointed to find basically nobody operating on that level.

It was only when I’d lucked into joining the Moyers organization that I began to understand how such Sorkinesque eloquence was manufactured each week — not with deliberate dishonesty, but ever more misleading as years passed and the scene grew shallower.

We’d typically tape on Thursday or Friday mornings to turn around by Friday nights. Being of Bill Moyers’ approximate height, I was tasked with showing up early to fill his chair as gruff union guys set up cameras and lighting. Then, as Bill’s blogger and research assistant, I’d watch live interviews from the control room to highlight quotable moments.

Uncut conversations were eye-opening; it was astonishing how often our esteemed guests hemmed and hawed and got basic facts embarrassingly wrong. And how many came off batshit crazy: one, later an anchor on MSNBC, speculated that Captain Sully’s Miracle on the Hudson—visible from our west side offices — had been God blessing the Obamas.

Drafting the Moyers Blog and promotional listings, I’d sit in with producers and video editors to consult on coalescing broadcasts. They were like wizards, casting away awkwardness and errors to sculpt artful vignettes of the most compelling bits of conversations that often stretched well over an hour or more.

So many of the most rousing clips came from when guests were at their most factually inaccurate, and editors deftly dipped in and out to pull and seamlessly reassemble the very best parts. It was wondrous alchemy, and a privilege to work with super-talented creatives, but the reality of our academic pundits remained the same.

Some (many?) on the left are sustained by those fantasies, which prevent them from conceding to reality:

Viewers, or at least those motivated enough to weigh in, frequently testified that their social-democratic faith had been wavering until they’d seen whichever inspiring interview affirming what they’d always believed. I always found that frustrating, wondering if they might have reacted more thoughtfully to the real deal than the perfected package that aired.

By no means were Bill Moyers and team operating with any less than the highest of ethics or best of intentions — from their perspective, we were clarifying what our distinguished guests were truly saying. The problem was that the intellectual scene our show channeled was dwindling, but my colleagues so badly wanted things to be better that it was all too easy to paper over the accelerating collapse of discourse. …

A lot of the time we were turning dreck to quasi-profundity by sheer force of will.

In a west that’s losing a point of average IQ every decade.