12/12/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

What Obama Can Learn from The Wire

One of the main reasons I supported Barack Obama is because we share the same favorite TV show, HBO's The Wire. The Wire is probably the most realistic show on television and the only show that deals intelligently with several problems facing the USA, including drugs, violence, educational disparities and corrupt politics. What are the lessons Obama has learned from watching The Wire, a show which paints a bleak picture of the decaying city of Baltimore?

Foreign Policy

If Obama was watching The Wire carefully, he could learn a lot about foreign policy from two of the major characters from the first three seasons, Avon Barksdale and his cohort, Stringer Bell. While Avon was always willing to go to war for territory and fight over pride, Stringer was more pragmatic, realizing that war was bad for business. Like Obama, Stringer was willing to negotiate with his enemies, including Proposition Joe and Marlo Stansfield. Rather than war with other drug dealers over territory, Stringer built an alliance of hustlers from both the east and west side to share a common package and economic interest.

Obama could take Stringer's role and avoid wars unless they are absolutely necessary, negotiate with countries previously hostile to the US and build alliances with other countries. He should not however be shady and conniving, the characteristics which led to Stringers death.


Addiction and distribution of drugs have played a big role in all five seasons of The Wire. If anything is clear from The Wire, it is that the War on Drugs is a failed war, one that only keeps the cycle of addiction, poverty and violence going. For many, the War on Drugs is a war on black neighborhoods. In The Wire, we see that incarceration of drug dealers has little effect, as there always is a new one to take his place. Obama could learn a lot about how to deal with drugs from Bunny Colvin's Hamsterdamn experiment. Rather than brutality and incarceration, treatment and counseling were used in an area where drug dealers were free to sell drugs. With drugs less of a priority, police were able to stop violent crime, burglaries and rape.

If Obama was paying attention to Season three, he will put more money into treatment, and less emphasis on incarceration. While the American War on Drugs has focused primarily on the black community, millions of white Americans have become addicted to prescription pills and methamphetamine. While surveys have shown that white people use drugs at the same rate of black people, blacks are incarcerated five times as much for drug crimes.


Season four of The Wire highlighted the educational crisis in urban areas through the eyes of four poor black children and a white teacher. In Season four, we see the failure of No Child Left Behind, as teachers are forced to teach to tests rather than using their own skills and knowledge. We also see the apathetic teachers and the overcrowded classrooms and the social problems that lead to dysfunctional students.

Season four also makes it clear that students in urban areas who aren't involved in the educational process get educated on the street to become drug dealers. John McCain called education the Civil Rights Movement of the 21st century, probably the only thing he said during the campaign that I agreed with. Education in urban areas is not a black problem but an American problem, a problem all Americans must unite to solve.


Clearly Obama paid close attention to Mayor Tommy Carcetti's campaign against Mayor Royce. Both Obama and Carcetti were good looking, with excellent debate and oratory skills. Just like Tommy Carcetti, who woke up white in a city that wasn't, Barack Obama woke up black in a county that wasn't. Carcetti managed to overcome his race problem by splitting the black vote between Royce and Gray just like Obama managed to split some of the white vote between Edwards and Clinton in the primary. Carcetti kept a cool head while his opponents tried to connect him to unsavory characters and reached out to people outside of his base to develop a strong coalition.

Obama must also learn from Tommy Carcetti's brief term as Mayor. Carcetti found himself in a budget deficit as Mayor and unable to complete his campaign promises. He also realized that he would have to eat "bowls of shit" from several interest groups in Baltimore. Obama must also confront this problem in dealing with the military, Wall street and religious leaders. With a failing economy, he must be both pragmatic and idealistic in his decisions on what to cut, what to keep and what to expand.

Obama must also be like Carcetti and build alliances with his opponents who did not support him in the election, such as Carcetti's alliance with council president, Narise Campbell. He must also crack down on corruption in politics, whether it be from the Clay Davis's of the world or the Tom Delays.