Pop Quiz: Which conservative icon is responsible for the following quotes?
"There's only one bad word: Taxes." "My dream is to have the parks system privatized and run entirely for profit." "The whole point of this country is if you want to eat garbage, balloon up to 600 pounds and die of a heart attack at 43, you can! To me that's beautiful."
Rush Limbaugh? Glenn Beck? Sean Hannity? Nope. They come from Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), director of the City of Pawnee, Ind.'s Parks and Recreation Department on NBC's popular Thursday night sitcom, Parks and Recreation.
From its documentary format to its collection of clueless co-workers, when the show first debuted in 2009, it looked like a fairly shameless attempt to copy the successful formula of The Office. However, now in its third season, Parks has carved out its own niche by moving away from office politics and toward national political debate.
In one corner, we have the exaggerated capitalist Ron. Sure, he works for the government, but only so he can make sure his department spends as little tax money as possible. He's for more border security, against eminent domain, and with a hilarious and slightly crude metaphor, can explain why over-regulation is such a drain on private sector productivity. Unlike, say, Alex P. Keaton or many other TV Republicans who've come before him, Swanson, in his own overstated way, makes a strong case for conservatism.
In the other corner is Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler). Though from early episodes it appeared Poehler would follow the bumbling, tin-eared template set out by Steve Carell with Michael Scott, her character has evolved in a far more sympathetic direction. Idealistic and relentlessly positive, Leslie takes her title of public servant seriously. Confronted with a town hall meeting full of angry citizens with petty complaints, she chirps happily, "These people are members of the community that care about where they live. So what I hear when I'm being yelled at is people caring . . . loudly at me." Leslie is a woman who believes in the power of city hall to solve problems (and makes us believe that if all government employees were like her, it could).
Perhaps most amazing is that while each character does an honorable job voicing and parodying the platitudes of their party, neither corners the market on reason or good intentions. You might call it fair and balanced mockery. Parks and Recreation is where Obama's community organizers meet Sarah Palin's Tea Partiers, so it's little surprise that bloggers for both The Huffington Post and National Review reference the show's one-liners.
Sadly, like nearly every sitcom on network television today, plenty of sexual themes and innuendo pepper Parks' plot lines, undercutting its own sharp wit and severely limiting its potential audience. When the show focuses on the political zeitgeist instead of cheap wordplay, it presents an incisive and side-splitting stump speech for our times.