Eugene Mirman and Eli Attie Wonder Why Politics Must Be Such Poor Entertainment

Photo: Photo-illustration: Everett Bogue; Photos: Getty Images

Every day until November 4, a series of writers and thinkers will discuss the election over instant messenger for nymag.com. Today, West Wing screenwriter and former Gore speechwriter Eli Attie and comedian Eugene Mirman discuss the meaninglessness of faster news cycles, starting Obama rumors, and working on McCain's TV show.

E.A.: Does it bother you at all that John McCain has abandoned not only his candor and humor and — dare I say — his occasional bouts of intellectual honesty, and become a scripted, bland, plastic automaton, and this seems to be helping his candidacy enormously?

E.M.: Yes. I believe the technical term is that it bums me out.

E.A.: Which gets us into the broader question: As much as politics has become a form of entertainment, why must it be such a bad one?

E.M.: You're asking why politics is more like Wanted and less like Super Size Me?

E.A.: Well, yes. Much as I like Wanted.

E.M.: Do you think it's different now from what it was like 8 or 12 years ago?

E.A.: I actually don't, particularly. I was on the 2000 campaign, and while we didn't have YouTube or viral videos or blogs or fax machines (OK, I do think we had those), I think the faster news cycles are meaningless. It's too much information to process, and what really matters is that every charge is answered, that a candidate counterpunch aggressively. McCain is running a fairly boilerplate negative campaign — the other guy doesn't share America's values — and more needs to be done to slam him back.

E.M.: Do you feel like Obama is counterpunching aggressively?

E.A.: Yes and no. What I would like to see, personally, is a sharper, more pointed attack that's really hammered home every day till election day. Republicans are better at mindless repetition than Dems are.

E.M.: Obama is also running negative ads, but the ads are not sleazy. He's not saying that McCain is working on a Rape Ray that he plans to give to the rich.

E.A.: How would the Rape Ray work? And would there be targeted tax credits to pay for it?

E.M.: You'd have to ask McCain. He's the one building it, I hear. The most depressing part is that he put earmarks in an education bill to pay for it.

E.A.: See, what we really need is more good rumor-mongering like this on the left. To counter those blurry faxes my relatives show me, about Obama (falsely) being a Muslim...

E.M.: It doesn't totally seem effective. There were lots of rumors about Palin that were proven untrue and it didn't seem to help.

E.A.: That's true. They even backfired. Why hasn't that been the case with Obama, do you think? The charges thrown at Palin seem to embolden her supporters, almost make her a martyr of the far right; they take it on as attacks on them as well. The left doesn't do that. Maybe because we secretly think we deserve it.

E.M.: Maybe if Obama was accused of secretly having his daughter's baby it would get more attention.

E.A.: You're right! We should start new rumors about Obama, ones that really get our side riled up...

E.A.: What are your thoughts/fears/hopes for a Biden-Palin debate smackdown?

E.M.: I think it will be interesting. My fears are that something would happen that seemed sexist or that the media will spin some irrelevant moment into a story.

E.A.: It's frustrating, as a veteran of the Gore debate prep process, because generally, the press don't evaluate these debates as candidate vs. candidate. It tends to be more about candidate vs. the press's own expectations for said candidate

E.M.: Yes. I think the stakes have to be raised for Palin or people will be impressed that she named some leaders correctly.

E.A.: If she can name Obama, you mean.

E.M.: Or Putin. Anyone really.

E.A.: Or Mirman. What if she turns out to be an obsessive Flight of the Conchords fan?

E.M.: My guess is she loves The Wire. Why do you think that after the last 8 years people still want to give McCain a chance?

E.A.: Well, the basic problem is that he has fairly successfully separated himself from Bush. He's running against Washington, as a challenger not an inheritor, and bizarrely people are buying it.

E.M.: Bush has left the country in a far worse place than when he started. It's hard to believe people want to give it another shot.

E.A.: If Obama can successfully link McCain to Bush, he'll win. But it turns out to be hard to do.

E.M.: It turns out no one can be linked to Bush.

E.A.: Not even his own brothers, probably. Jeb would be running this year as an outsider maverick.

E.M.: Even Bush sometimes pretends not to know what he's up to.

E.A.: True, Bush has been trying to link himself to Bush for years now...

E.M.: I think if McCain loses he should consider doing a TV show about a retired senator who is an outsider maverick who gets things done. I don't know what those things would be yet.

E.A.: I would work on that show. You can play Mike Murphy.

E.M.: I'd rather play Palin. I would love to have her hairdo.

E.A.: To me, the threshold issues (in terms of winning tactics) are: Which candidate represents change more effectively, and can Obama be seen as a viable leader and commander-in-chief (I think yes, and I think the debates will help).

E.M.: I think Obama has done a good job seeming more and more presidential over the last several months.

E.A.: Well, yes, and I do think as the prospect of that job becomes more real, people grow into it, in an almost physical sense.

E.M.: Yes. They grow "president horns" and all.

E.A.: And a goatee that's usually airbrushed out on TV.

E.M.: Yes. In the old days the media would hide presidential affairs and polio, now they hide goatees.

E.A.: True, the press has become more mature in that sense.