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Mad Men Foretells a Change in Politics, Too

May  21, 2010

Don Draper is a super hero to many grown men

I’m not sure how the women look at him - that may be a mixed bag.

Don Draper is, of course, the lead character in AMC’s award winning series, Mad Men, a sexy drama about life on Madison Avenue in New York City during the 1960s. Draper is the creative director of the fictitious ad agency Sterling Cooper.

He’s smart, talented; has a beautiful wife and family, and usually ends up in an extramarital affair at the end of each episode. More so, Draper is a man’s man, unfettered by the world around him, he plays by rules of his own choosing, and promulgates a world of political incorrectness.

It’s easy to see the parallels between Mad Men, and the current political landscape. In the 1950s, and early 60s, life was predictable, and there was a hierarchy where men ruled, and women did what was asked of them. This is the essence of Mad Men.

In politics of the past, voters returned incumbents to office (at a rate of 98.2%), and rarely, if ever, challenged the notion that a newcomer could do a better job. In effect, they listened to those in power, and went along with what was asked of them.

As Mad Men moves forward in time, through the early 1960s, and beyond, writers will no doubt change the premise, and start to depict the reality of a changing society.

Washington, D. C. lawyer-writer Donna Lewis, (aka Bettebloo) creator of Crazed Angels, and the new comic strip, Reply All,,  summed up the series this way:

“It hits on the conflicts that men and women face and that people face generally.  It’s very difficult to maintain one’s sense of competitiveness, vitality, and self-respect and daring once a person has settled into a life that is already written or proscribed.

I think the show highlights how stuck people get and how complicated life gets – although it’s in the 50’s, I think the dynamic hasn’t actually changed that much.”

Ms. Lewis makes a good point. People do get stuck in complicated lives, whether it is in past or present, and it’s hard sometimes to find a way out. This theory can also be applied to politics.

For decades, voters were unable to distinguish between those who were doing a good job, and those who were not. The result was a staggering re-election rate for incumbents, and in Washington, congressional stagnation.

With the advent of the 24/7 news cycle, and access to issues through cable news and the Internet, voters are now asserting themselves into the political process.

The result has been a tidal wave of political change, starting with the special election of Republican Scott Brown, to fill the Massachusetts Senate seat vacated by the late Edward Kennedy.

Voters have since tossed out U.S. Senators Bob Bennett of Utah, and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, as well as West Virginia incumbent Congressman Alan Mollohan. Senator Blanch Lincoln of Arkansas didn’t get enough votes to prevent a run-off election with her opponent, and in Kentucky, upstart candidate Rand Paul trounced the handpicked senatorial candidate of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

These changes are just the start, and with many more state primaries yet to come, there will undoubtedly be more incumbent surprises. It appears that no incumbent, Democrat or Republican, will be safe from intense voter scrutiny, and a political tsunami is all but certain in the November general election.

As Mad Men enters its fourth season, Don Draper’s life is about to be turned upside down. It will be interesting to see how he handles the changes that are about to come his way.

This November, the same will be true in the world of politics.

Robb can be reached at