by Meredith O'Brien
Politics have dominated the news during the past week, what with the U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts ending in what major news outlets called an “epic upset” with the Republican defeating the Democrat. The media, excited by the Senate race  then shined a tabloid spotlight  onto Senator-elect Scott Brown’s family , while the gossip-filled 2008 presidential campaign expose Game Change , which took several potshots at candidates’ spouses, rocketed to the top of best seller’s lists. (I discussed Game Change earlier .) At the same time, mirroring reality, campaigning for elected office has been prominently featured in the storylines of a couple of primetime shows, dramatizing the impact of politics on families with children.
Politics have been a staple of CBS’ The Good Wife  since it premiered this past fall. The pilot episode took place amid the debris of a Chicago pol’s sex scandal which left him behind bars after being convicted on corruption charges. Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), a state’s attorney, had his dalliances with prostitutes plastered all over the media – there were videos too – which shamed his wife Alicia (Julianna Margulies in her Golden Globe winning role) and their two teenagers. In the wake of her husband’s fall from grace, Alicia moved the children out of the affluent ‘burbs and into the city as she went back to work as a attorney after a decade-plus absence to keep her family afloat financially.
As the freshman season of The Good Wife has progressed, various people have harassed Alicia and her children as payback to the incarcerated pol who has a lot of political enemies. Photos and videos of Peter in compromising situations were left by other politicians at the Florricks’ front doorstep, only to be intercepted by the children and hidden from their mother so she wouldn’t be further hurt by her husband’s misdeeds. In one episode, one of Peter’s many escort friends even made the rounds of high profile TV interviews and publically mocked Alicia.
The Good Wife shows a straying politician’s family paying a huge price – emotionally and financially – for his mistakes and for the controversial decisions he made in the political arena. And with Peter’s character suggesting that, if he secures an early release, he’s hoping to re-enter politics, we’ll soon be treated to stories about the resurrection of a politician while his family suffers in silence. (Paging the Spitzer family.)
Politics have also been a major element in the ABC drama Brothers & Sisters  since its first episode when Calista Flockhart’s character Kitty Walker was a conservative TV talking head who relished in verbally sparring with liberals, including members of her own family. When Kitty was hired by a Republican U.S. Senator (Rob Lowe) to work on his presidential campaign, the two fell in love in short order and she became a political wife who had to live under the scrutiny of the prying eyes of the media which were ready to pounce at the first sign of discord.
Throughout the show’s run, we’ve seen this couple face infertility, adoption, his heart attack, her cancer, his short-lived gubernatorial bid (commenced after he lost his party’s presidential nomination), his announcement that he’s not running for re-election and, in the recent episode, Kitty’s newfound desire to run for either the U.S. Congress or her husband’s soon to-be-vacant Senate seat. So now we’ve come full circle back to politics. Fresh from her experimental cancer treatments and still sporting a scarf over her head, the new mom Kitty may soon be providing us with a primetime portrait of a high profile political parent, whether that representation is a positive or a negative one remains to be seen.
The last place I’d expect to see a character entering politics would be on the HBO show Big Love , the drama about the owner of two home improvement supply stores and now a Mormon-themed casino, Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton), who’s married to three women and has a lot of kids. His life is plenty messy enough without throwing the pressure of politics into it. Plus there’s that whole polygamy being against the law thing that could kind of become an obstacle. "I know we used to talk about public service, it was something we dreamed of, but Bill, that was three marriages ago," said first wife Barb to Bill who’d announced to his family that the best way to make their lifestyle socially acceptable and protect the sprawling family from prosecution was to run for state senate.
At first Bill figured that the only way he could manage to win an election would be to hide his two extra wives and his five children by them, only trotting out his first wife Barb and their three children in public. Then, Bill modified his campaign plan and decided that once elected, he’d take the whole family out of the closet. Yeah, the word of politics will be kind to a polygamist family, don’t ya think? And it’ll be super-easy to hide the two others wives and kids what with gossip blogs, social media and cell phone cameras out there who’re so nice to real life political families. Oh and you can’t forget to throw into the mix Bill’s ties to a creepy polygamist compound where his parents and his brother still live. Certainly that wouldn’t come up as a campaign issue.
If the world of politics seems vicious to Alicia Florrick and her children on The Good Wife as they’re tormented by her husband’s political enemies, and to Kitty and Robert in Brothers & Sisters when the cancer survivor/new mom enters the fray, I can only imagine that it’ll be brutal to the naïve, polygamist Henricksons. The real people featured in Game Change – the Edwards, the Palins, the McCains – can attest that politics can be unsparingly unkind to families.