Conservatism and The Wire

From a reader:

Other Wire cast members in odd places:

Dominic West is playing the head bad-guy “Jigsaw” in the upcoming Punisher debacle

The actors who played Fremont and Bodie are both in the Chris Rock failure Pootie Tang

Just curious- why is season 5 “a whole different conversation”?  Last week I realized I couldn’t remember any conversations about The Wire on The Corner and was thinking I should spread the good word.

Apparently Barack Obama’s favorite show is The Wire…which makes me wonder whether he thought Tommy Carcetti was a good guy forever trying to stay one step ahead of a corrupt and dilapidated system, or a hack who had convinced himself of his own virtuousness.

Me:  Let me start with by saying I agree that there was too little discussion of The Wire on The Corner (and too little Deadwood, too). At the National Review Institute “future of conservatism” panel, I made the off-the-cuff point that conservatives generally should have embraced The Wire far more than we did. It’s funny, the show obviously has bipartisan fans, but it was something of a favorite among liberals. Of course, most no doubt liked it in no small part for the same reasons I did: it was brilliantly written, wonderfully acted and almost perfectly directed.  And yet, one also got the sense that liberals also endorsed its focus on the underclass and its effort to “raise awareness” about the plight of inner cities and the like. Opponents of the drug war, too, hailed its searing indictment of drug war (particularly in season 3). Fair enough. (Though  as a supporter of the drug war, I found much I could agree with and cite as evidence for my side).

But look at it through the eyes of a conservative. This is a Democratic city, run almost uniformly by liberals. While many of the problems most prominently on display can certainly be traced back to racism, racism itself is not a central issue in The Wire (nor is racism an inherently or historically conservative phenomena). These drug gangs and the poor souls in their orbit, are not trapped by racism so much as by a dysfunctional culture. That’s certainly the lesson of much of season four. The stoop kids do okay. The Corner Boys are destined for a life of misery. For every main character who is a murderer or dope dealer (but I repeat myself), there’s a representative of the black middle class who rejects the criminal culture of the street. For every Marlo, there’s a Bunk. Race relations between the actual characters are remarkably healthy, and nearly every mention of race as a salient issue is in the context of the political nonsense inherent to Baltimore, or rather urban, Democratic politics. To the extent many liberals try to explain all of the problems of poor blacks on racism, the show was a powerful rebuttal.

Some liberals (including some of the show’s creators) might look at the manifest failures of the schools in The Wire as evidence that we don’t “invest” enough in urban education, which is itself a symptom of racism. Okay, fine. But as a conservative, I don’t look at the schools in the Wire and say, “gosh, if only they had more money.”

My point here isn’t to say The Wire is a conservative show. It’s that it’s a realistic show (with dramatic embellishments to be sure), and its depiction of reality serves as an indictment of a system many conservatives should second.

As for season five, my problem with it was that I found the indictment of the media to be way too polemical and too much of an effort to settle scores. I didn’t hate it. But I think it failed to live up to the standards of the previous four seasons. That said, even here, the main target of season five was not primarily evil rightwingers, racists and whatnot, but sanctmonious guilty white liberal newspaper reporters and editors.

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor of National Review. © 2018 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.