There’s this thing in competitive swimming called a tow, which allows swimmers to be dragged through the water at speeds faster than those possibly achieved on their own. The biomechanical theory behind it is that once the body becomes acculturated at cutting through the water at such a high speed, it will be able to achieve that level of performance unassisted.
I’m not saying television is a cultural tow. In fact, in some ways television is more an anchor than a tow, weighing down and holding back much cultural and political discourse. But that may not be the case with presidential politics. One only need to look at Dennis Haybert as president David Palmer in the show 24, which predated Barack Obama’s election by three years, to see how a popular television program can acculturate a massive audience to seeing a black face in the White House and how, once that conceptual Rubicon has been crossed, electing a black president no longer seemed unthinkable.
Hillary Clinton has been around for a while now. Whereas Obama seemingly came out of nowhere to win the 2004 election on a tide of hope, Clinton was the presumptive nominee he beat. Now she’s almost certainly going to run in 2016. There will be plenty of time for pollsters and pundits to weigh in on the likelihood she’ll be elected. But perhaps the most easily observable canary in the mine is television. And television certainly is on Hillary’s side.
From First Lady to New York State Senator, Presidential candidate, Secretary of State and now candidate, again, Clinton has offered writers’ rooms ample material to chronicle. So it’s no surprise that on a range of shows, women bearing no small passing resemblance to Clinton have surfaced at all levels of government. I’m thinking chiefly here of Tea Leoni as Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord on Madame Secretary, Robin Wright as First Lady Underwood (turned U.S. Ambassador to the United States) on House of Cards, and Katherine Heigl as an advisor to the president in matters of national security Charleston Tucker on NBC’s tenuous State of Affairs. (The President, by the way, is black and a woman so..here’s to 2020!) Then there’s also Carrie Matheson (Claire Danes) on Homeland but as the head of the Islamabad bureau of the CIA she’s more operational than Clinton ever was.
Now, none of these women are out and out heroines. Some, like Mrs. Underwood, might be evil. Others, like Carrie Matheson, are certainly struggling with their own issues. But each plant a seed in the minds of viewers, that a woman---unfortunately for now, blonde and white---can be a strong and efficient leader. (Of course there are African-American lady bruisers as well, like Kerry Washington and Viola Davis, but as yet no female black candidates for the White House.) Does this ensure that there’ll be another Clinton in the Oval Office? Far from it, but does it indicate the idea isn’t so far-fetched millions that Americans won’t tune in every week to track the progress of a handful of quasi-Hillarys as they rule the world of the silver screen.