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Kiefer Sutherland for president

If a U.S. politician doesn’t love '24,’ how can he be trusted to keep America safe?

JAIME J. WEINMAN June 18 2007
THE BACK PAGES

Kiefer Sutherland for president

If a U.S. politician doesn’t love '24,’ how can he be trusted to keep America safe?

JAIME J. WEINMAN June 18 2007

Kiefer Sutherland for president

tv

If a U.S. politician doesn’t love '24,’ how can he be trusted to keep America safe?

JAIME J. WEINMAN

At the Republican presidential candidates’ debate in South Carolina last month, moderator Brit Hume asked the would-be presidents how they would interrogate a suspected terrorist if “U.S. intelligence believes that another larger attack is planned and could come at any time.” Everyone knew where the Fox News anchor got that scenario: 24, where almost every episode involves Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) torturing a suspect to get information about an imminent attack. Along-shot candidate, Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo, even replied, “I’m looking for Jack Bauer at that time, let me tell you,” and got applauded for it. The debate may not have been a turning point in the primaries, but it was a defining moment for the influence of 24. Republicans used to want to be Ronald Reagan. Now they want to be Jack Bauer.

The debate—which featured such Baueresque moments as Rudy Giuliani’s proclamation that he would approve the use of “every method [he] could think of’’—wasn’t the first example of 24’s political importance. Last year, the conservative Heritage Foundation sponsored a symposium on 24 and counterterrorism, and one of the panellists was Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff, longing to be with an organization as good as Jack Bauer’s: “I wish we could have instant communications and I wish we had systems that didn’t go down.” Kiefer Sutherland was too busy to be on the panel, but the guy in charge of real-life counterterrorism had nothing better to do than talk about 24.

Conservative writers are particularly in love with the idea that 24 isn’t just a TV show, but a model for how terrorism should be handled in real life. After the debate, Michael

Goldfarb, online editor for the influential conservative magazine the Weekly Standard, praised Tancredo as offering “the best response” because he invoked Bauer by name. But Goldfarb also claimed that torture-skeptic John McCain offered “a 24-style policy on torture” (since Jack doesn’t like torturing people even though he does it every week).

Even people who aren’t candidates yet have to take a position on 24. To find out if Law & Order’s Fred Thompson would be worth supporting for president, Goldfarb checked to make sure Thompson was right on one essential issue: “A reliable source informs us that 24 is the former senator’s favourite show.” The best Republican president, in this view, is the one who is the most influenced by viewings of 24; if a guy doesn’t love the show, he can’t be trusted to keep America safe.

Not only has Jack Bauer become a model for future Republican presidents, his exploits are used as the model for Republican policies. Zalmai Azmi, who has been chief information officer of the FBI since 2004, told the Wall Street Journal that his aim was to make the FBI more like 24’s secret agency, CTU. Bauer “always has the right information available at the right time,” Azmi enthused. “That’s the goal for the FBI.”

No matter how much politicians learn from 24, many rank-and-file Republican voters feel

they still haven’t learned enough. Joseph Farah, creator of the conservative opinion site WorldNetDaily.com (whose columnists include noted intellectual Chuck Norris), wrote an article demanding a candidate as ruthless and violent as Jack Bauer. Even after the South Carolina debate, Farah was dissatisfied. “It was Republicans who fought the war with one hand tied behind their backs because they didn’t want to be politically incorrect,” he told Maclean’s. Republicans, he added, “let the silly antics of Abu Ghraib actually interfere with their conduct of the war in Iraq. Please don’t confuse Jack Bauer with the wimps of the Republican party!”

Liberals have been pushing back against Republican positions on torture, but they’ve been pushing even harder against Republicans’ attempt to co-opt 24 as their own. Liberal blogger Taylor Marsh wrote a widely linked article entitled “Jack Bauer is a Democrat.” The show’s conservative fans, she insisted, are overlooking its true liberal message about the evils of rich white people. The message was clear from both sides: to enjoy 24, political partisans have to believe that it supports their positions.

Fox has renewed 24 for two more seasons, which guarantees that it will be on through the 2008 elections and beyond. That means that when the Republicans choose their presidential nominees, we might learn more about the party’s counterterrorism policies from the Fox Network than Fox News. M