Avatar: The last votebender

photo by Gage Skidmore

by Ben Resnik

Everybody loves a good story. It’s why people are drawn to movies or novels — they’re interesting, they’re engrossing, and when they’re good, they provide some insight on how to live your own life. Politics has the same draw. It’s unpredictable (just ask Mitt Romney), it’s exciting, and everything that happens today informs what is going to happen tomorrow. Politics is a good story, and a meaningful one at that.

Of course, it’s tough to follow Washington minute by minute and be excited, and even politics nerds need the occasional diversion. Recently, for me, that diversion has been the old TV show Avatar: The Last Airbender. You can’t avoid the fact that it’s a Nickelodeon show, but it’s different from a lot of what that channel produces in that it’s actually worth it for an adult — or at least a college student — to re-watch.

The premise is the best part — the world is divided into people who can magically manipulate one of the four elements. But war has erupted between the nations, and only the Avatar, who can control all four elements, can restore balance. From there, the story is your typical coming-of-age, epic journey plot. There are plenty of explosions and slapstick and all the stuff that kept our neurotic, youthful little brains satisfied.

But the reason Avatar has transcended its lowly status as a Nickelodeon cartoon and merited a second visit is that, like all other worthy works of fiction, it has maintained its relevance long after the conclusion of the series (the first one, anyway). The world of Avatar has become, strangely, an animated metaphor for the current state of the Republican Party.

The GOP, like the four elemental nations, was a once-unified entity now consumed by factions, each one representing some fundamental constituency. Instead of water, fire, earth, and air, you have the Tea Partiers (Rick Santorum), the establishment (Mitt Romney), the libertarians (Ron Paul), and the neocons (Newt Gingrich). Though the four were at one time kept together by the all-but-deified Ronald Reagan, that unifying voice has disappeared, leaving the sides to squabble and war while at the same time wishing for some external, heroic force to return and restore balance.

In the series, the Avatar, Aang, must learn how to control each of the elements before he can defeat the bad guys and restore the world’s harmony. Unfortunately for the Republicans, there is no divinely ordained, chosen being waiting in the wings to leap in and run for office (sorry, Chris Christie supporters). But anyone hoping to take on that role has a lesson to learn from Avatar: To save the conservative world from degenerating into endless war, some gifted person must step up with the ability to “bend” all the major Republican constituencies to his will.

That cannot be done with a frontal assault on his opponent’s voting base; it can only be achieved if he can learn to understand and master each group from the inside, gaining the support of neocons and libertarians alike, and being able to call on either with equal legitimacy when the moment requires it. This is no easy task — it takes natural skill and years of study to be either the Avatar or a viable, coalition-building Republican nominee — but it isn’t impossible. It requires one to view different forces not as opposing, but as members of a whole as yet waiting to be unified. And whether that unity is found in the four elements or behind a podium, for the would-be warriors of the Right, it must happen soon.


photo by Gage Skidmore


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