Each holiday season, Gov. Jim Doyle and his wife, Jessica, invite Capitol media people to the governor's mansion for an interview. Some reporters see it as an opportunity to review the year and look ahead. Others grill the Democrat on campaign contributions or the awarding of state contracts.
But I decided to explore a question so sensitive around the Capitol it's never really been broached in public before: whether Doyle's obsession with televised reruns of "Seinfeld" may be affecting his ability to govern.
The rumor has circulated through the press corps for nearly as long as Doyle has been in office. A few of the governor's closest friends will talk about it -- but only off the record. His whole family could be embarrassed. And, based on an interview, his wife clearly is concerned.
In the interview, it quickly became clear this "Seinfeld" thing spelled trouble. Doyle couldn't stop talking about the TV show and especially "Festivus," or "Festivus for the Rest of Us," a fake holiday celebrated in the show by character George Costanza's family. The "Airing of the Grievances" and "Feats of Strength" are rituals that take place on that holiday.
Q. There's a rumor you made a reference to a "Seinfeld" episode involving the "Airing of the Grievances" to Senate Majority Leader Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, and he didn't get it. What happened?
A. In fairness to Dale, it's a reference I make frequently, and he happened to be one of the people I made it to. Sometimes, when discussions just turn into people complaining -- and sometimes it's me, and sometimes it's the other person -- about past wrongs, you can't get on to what you want to because there's something that happened two years ago.
I think that the "Festivus" and "Airing of the Grievances" is one of the most instructive "Seinfeld" programs. There are a lot of things you can learn through "Seinfeld." But I think the "Festivus" episode and "Airing of the Grievances" had a really basic human truth to it, which is: "All right, let's air these grievances and get on with the celebration -- the Feats of Strength."
Q. If you had an "Airing of the Grievances" this year, to whom would you give the most grief?
A. I'll tell you who will get the most grief, and they don't deserve it -- my family. Even though my sons are grown men, they occasionally still hear from me about some perceived wrong that was done to me many years ago that they better make right.
Q. Such as?
A. We won't get into that ... I'd say they each, during the (ages) from about 17 to 22, made it pretty hard on me. So, it's going to take me like another 10 years to get over that. ... Without getting too serious about this, and getting back to "Seinfeld," there is such a basic truth to this. It gets in the way of politics. It gets in the way of family relationships. It gets in the way with just so many things, where the grievances are what are dominating people instead of sort of moving on.
It's so important to try to put yourself in the position of the other person and to understand maybe your grievance isn't quite as sharp as you think it is. For example, yesterday, Dan (Leistikow, an aide) gave me a theory on a puzzle, and we had quite an argument about whether he was right or I was right. And for the record, I've thought it over, and although I'm not totally convinced, I think I've come over to Dan's view on this.
Q. (to Jessica Doyle) What's the most annoying "Seinfeld" reference you're exposed to?
A. Clearly, the "Airing of the Grievances." Can you think of it? Heading into a holiday dinner, knowing that you're married to a guy who thinks a holiday dinner is for airing of the grievances? Not just this year -- you heard him -- but years past.
A. (Doyle interrupts his wife) You know, it isn't only "Airing of the Grievances." There are lessons in almost everything. The "Big Salad" episode is a fundamental human issue about how you express thanks to people and whether you should be resentful if someone else gets your glory. There are a lot of really basic issues that get aired out on "Seinfeld."
\ Sheehan covers the Capitol for Lee Newspapers in Wisconsin. Contact: email@example.com or 608-252-6198.