The Magazine

A Civic Sitcom

Laughing out loud about ‘democratic governance.’

Jun 18, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 38 • By ELI LEHRER
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The result is that the show speaks to just about everyone concerned with public policy. Because Parks and Rec depicts Knope herself as hardworking and public-spirited, the office staff of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) has held “rallies” in support of the show and produced YouTube videos about it. And because Ron gets equal time to express his hardcore libertarian philosophy—to the point that he convinces an elementary school student to change her ways—clips get circulated around libertarian think tanks. Most viewers, even those with strong convictions, will find sympathy for both sides. And the producers keep it that way on purpose: Partisan politics stay out of the show. Even after Leslie wins her election, nobody mentions her party affiliation. And the “issues” of Parks and Rec—wheelchair ramps, for example—aren’t exactly polarizing. 

The end result doesn’t affirm any particular set of political beliefs, but underscores the value of allowing a wide range of views to have equal shots at convincing people of their respective merits. And through its comic skepticism, Parks and Recreation affirms the value, validity, and tensions at the heart of democratic governance.

Eli Lehrer is president of R Street, a free market think tank.

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