Obama Will Be Split Screen President

The best thing about this Tuesday is that we will only have to hear the phrase “there’s only one president at a time” for one more week. Mr. Obama, it seems, is still swaddled in the folds of his gift wrapping, while Mr. Bush appears to be ready to tear the last handful of pages from his desk calendar all at once.

The second best thing about this Tuesday is that Jack Bauer, the hero of the show 24, will finally be able to get himself some rest after a two night, four hour marathon of shooting it out with the bad guys and double crossing the good guys

S. is addicted to 24.

I pretty much only watch the Falcons, the playoffs, and old movies on Turner Classic Movies.

But the Redemption episode of 24 came on after a late afternoon Sunday game last month, and the visuals of the inauguration of a new president hit too close to home for me to turn it off.

So I watched the show, not as the writer intended, but as I wanted to see it, substituting Barack Obama for President-Elect Taylor whenever she appeared on the screen. There’s only so much a writer can do with the script when the hero can’t die. So a lot of the scenes were pretty predictable.

Last night, as I watched Jack Bauer do more with a handgun, a trench coat and dress slacks than the entire squad of commandos outfitted with automatic weapons who were shooting at him, I had to shake my head as he escaped, just in time to get to the next crisis.

But I didn’t leave the room, because the thing the director did, just often enough to keep it interesting, was come up with a three way split screen that showed all the storylines unfolding in real time in a way that highlighted the connection between them.

I slipped back into multi-track mind mode as the bullets rained out from a FBI parking deck into a DC street in the middle of the day. I pictured a relaxed Barack Obama at Ben’s Chili Bowl, holding a half smoke aloft as he guided the end of it towards his mouth, in the northwest corner of the screen. I saw a masked Middle Eastern man in the next frame, directly opposite Obama, carrying a rocket on his shoulder during a rally in the Gaza Strip, the end of the rocket coming straight at us just as Obama sank the legendary D.C. hotdog into his mouth.

And I saw a scene from Congress that filled the bottom half of the screen, congressmen milling about the floor as a speaker passionately spoke about the need to rein in Israel while her colleagues ignored her.

By the time the show had gotten to its final cliffhanger of the week at ten o’clock, I had gotten to like the way the split screen on television had inspired me to think about other scenarios Barack Obama might be finding himself in during the coming weeks.

I saw Obama in a section of the screen, taking questions at a press conference about the passage of his stimulus package, juxtaposed beside a scene on the courthouse steps of a Midwestern city that featured a courthouse employee reading off the list of foreclosed properties for sale, both of them above the bottom half of a screen that was filled with a long conference table surrounded by the governors of the Federal Reserve, their faces looking as if they had seen the ghost of the Economy Past.

The way the world was changing so fast these days, I mused, maybe we all needed to start looking at the world as if it were a multi-screen montage. Maybe the visual evidence of the interdependence between a hotdog, a rocket, and an appropriations bill might help us get past the politics of polarization, beyond the dogmatic fervor for single issues that has come to define "business as usual" government.

We might only have one president at a time, but our next president will have to deal with more than one problem at a time, and often simultaneously with his efforts to lead and inspire the nation. Whether you said "Yes We Can" or "No He Can't" during the election doesn't really matter that much anymore - it's Americans who can think about issues from multiple points of view who will create the kind of national mood and mindset that can help our next president get the country headed in the right direction again.

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