The Corner

Conservatism & The Wire

From a reader:

Jonah,

I can’t disagree with any of the positive points you made about The Wire, especially the acting and the directing.  The theme of every season, however, is a variation on Sisyphus’s rock which make the plot archs suffer under spinning wheels (frankly while I like Deadwood too, I also think it suffers from plots that spin their wheels rather than arch).

But you say that the show “serves as an indictment of a system many conservatives should second.”  I gotta disagree there.   The utter pointlessness of fighting a drug war is indicted every season.  Does The Wire leave any room for the real success of broken windows policing, such as we actually experienced in New York?  NYC’s zero-tolerance enforcement model is a historical reality that would bring down almost every season of the Wire.

The show doesn’t make heros out of the left, but left-wing themes always win out.  For instance, the audience is left with the following at the end of season three: the Amsterdam model works and things would only get better if it continued, but it can’t continue because politicians and the thoughtless public won’t tolerate police condoning the drug trade. Oh, and the press would never lend a sympathetic ear to a policing policy that condoned the drug trade.  Yeah right.  Sure the politicians in question are Democrats, but the worst people on the show are the Democrats that act most like law and order Republicans.  The show indicts big city politics, big deal, but it never even cracks the window to a conservative solution such as broken windows policing.

All that said, it is a good show (sorry, Freaks and Geeks is the best TV show ever).  And I DID think the treatment of the boxing coach in season three is at least theologically conservative (and indirectly politically conservative).

Me: I think the point about broken windows is a good one, and one that bothered me too. As for the Amsterdam storyline, I’m not so sure it’s as one-sided as the reader suggests. Sure, the makers of the Wire are for ending the drug war, but their vision of drug use is hardly the cheery nonsense  you hear from some champions of legalization (no, not all). Legalization was hardly a cure-all in (the Wire’s) Amsterdam. Being a drug dealer was still an evil calling, and being a drug addict was still an evil curse.

Despite my disagreements, I have a lot of respect for some proponents of drug legalization, including many colleagues at National Review (we’ve been opposed to the drug war editorially for a long time now). What I can’t stand are utopian arguments about drug legalization. The Wire’s argument for ending the drug war may have had weaknesses, but it was serious and by no means utopian.

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