Perhaps it would have made no difference, but it would have been nice to have "24" around during the presidential campaign just ended. As any addict of the show will tell you, it's not a Republican soapbox but it does embody a core Republican/conservative idea -- that this a dangerous world, and force must be met with force. Jack Bauer also knows a thing or two about torture, from both ends of the process. The writers' strike, of course, delayed Season 7 for a year and forced fans to wait until after the election. But what if Jack Bauer had been on the tube fighting the forces of evil every week? Would Barack Obama have felt compelled to be a tad more steely in his talk and actions? Would John McCain have looked a little more mainstream to the American public?
There's been a bit of the debate about how much "24" has influenced American politics. Dennis Haysbert, who played President Palmer in early seasons, thinks his role may have helped pave the way to Obama's election. Kiefer Sutherland (Jack Bauer) disagrees. You be the judge. There's no denying that a very popular and very well executed TV drama can influence popular culture and public attitudes, though. That's why "24" may be helpful to the more conservative among us if it stays on its game.
So far, it appears to be doing so. The prequel "24 Redemption" aired on Nov. 23 was among the best "24" episodes I've seen. And it was more pointed than usual in its political commentary. The one totally worthless character was a cowardly U.N. blue-helmet who is apparently assigned to guard (or maybe just watch) the boys' school run by Jack's old special-forces buddy Carl Benton, played by Robert Carlisle. As a vicious press gang from the rebel army approaches, aiming to kidnap the boys and turn them into soldiers, Bauer gets off the best line of the show when he tells this little worm: "Why don't you go into the shelter with the other children?" Which the U.N. guy (played by Sean Cameron Micheal) proceeds to do.
There's also an intriguing hint of politically relevant things to come in the set-up for Bauer's return to the States. He has been subpoenaed to testify before a Senate committee about his actions at the now-disbanded Counter-Terrorism Unit (CTU). He's in trouble, we assume, for those many lively interrogations he conducted, with or without Agent Richards, that scary guy with the attache case full of injectables. This coming plot line could not have been more perfectly timed, because it was revealed just as President Bush was making his first round of pardons amid speculation that he might, as the AP put it, "decide to issue pre-emptive pardons before he leaves office to government employees who authorized or engaged in harsh interrogations of suspected terrorists in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks." If the show doesn't go wobbly, we'll get to hear Jack make a spirited defense of what some call "torture" and what others call "doing what you have to do." In any event, it's good to have Jack back, even if he's a year late.