The West Wing and the 2008 Presidential Election

Just as a new TV series has a pilot I have often wondered at the amazing parallels between the last two seasons of The West Wing, which ended in 2006, and the 2008 presidential election.  It is almost as if The West Wing was the pilot, the test run as it were, for the election. I am not the only one who has noticed the parallel.

Also, this administration makes the liberal democrats of the Bartlett White House in The West Wing seem like Tea Party members.

I was interested in a post on an English blog named Bridges and Tangents by Fr. Stephen Wang of the Diocese of Westminster, London, Dean of Studies at Allen Hall Seminary (now on my sidebar though I’m not on his… but I digress), which talks about The West Wing and the 2008 election.

I admit it: I’m a West Wing junkie. I made the mistake, when I was staying with some friends one holiday, of watching the first two episodes of Season Two, the two-parter when the President has just… Oh dear, I’m about to reveal some plot; and if there is just the slightest chance that you haven’t seen the cliffhanger at the end of Season One, then I’d better leave you to that moment of TV heaven without spoiling it.

I know, some of the haircuts from the first few years are already dating, and we have had plenty of great TV since then. But it’s still, to my mind, one of the most dazzling and thought-provoking shows of all time. My heart still hasn’t healed from trauma of discovering that they were not carrying on into Season Eight.

He goes on to talk about a book called Race of a Lifetime by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, which covers the Primaries leading up to the 2008 Presidential election, and the election itself.   It seems that Race of a Lifetime has been reprinted, at least in the US, as Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime.

In any event, I truly enjoy the witty dialogue of The West Wing and the development of the characters.  Also, the series is a real civics lesson.  Before all sorts of right-wing conservatives have a spittle-flecked nutty – a figure of speech I happy stole from The West Wing’s Ainsley Hayes – I hate the political slant of the series.  I really appreciate intelligent TV.  The West Wing is smart.  Yes yes… I know that the Catholic Pres. Bartlett is squishy on abortion and homosexual marriage. But who can forget the sight on prime time TV of the President of the United States saying the Rosary in the Oval Office and then, after making a bad decision, making his confession to an priest he called in for consultation.  We mustn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good!

Anyway, if you are looking for some intelligent, adult TV that does not involve Cylons or green energy rays, try The West Wing.  That link (yes… there, to the left… click it… you know you want to) is for the entire series, now reduced in price pretty dramatically.  I think they start to hit their stride toward the end of Season One.

In any event, Fr. Wang has inspired me to watch through the series again.   The next time I am in London, I will offer to buy him a pint, since in London you don’t find much Mystic Monk Coffee.

BTW… I see that the number of seminarians in formation at Allen Hall is up.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. medievalist says:

    Tried out Season one on a whim ($15 a Best Buy in Canada) and after a few episodes bought the next seven seasons (also for $15 each). For the price and number of episodes absolutely the best TV money I have ever spent. Once I finished season 8, I waited a week and watched through again.

    However, and maybe it’s just me, but both times I saw the confession in the Oval Office scene, the priest looks to be the spitting image of Fr McBrien’s shot on the NCR website or Fr McBrien at the podium (often posted on this site).

  2. medievalist says:

    Season 7…not 8.

  3. medievalist: McBrien? Hoo hoo! Ha ha! Nooo… the priest in The West Wing is wearing a Roman Collar and actually hears a confession.

    And he bears an uncanny resemblance to Karl Malden.  And remember that Malden played a priest in On The Waterfront.  That was filmed in part, by the way, if I am not mistaken at Guardian Angels in Manhattan.

  4. acardnal says:

    I agree. I have the entire series on DVD and have watched all the episodes. It is one of my all time favorite TV dramas. My main criticism is that it often moves too quickly in scene changes and in dialogue. Too fast to catch all the witticisms, nuances, etc. Thankfully the DVD allows me to reverse and watch the scene again.

  5. Jack Hughes says:

    I remember watching “Take the Sabbath Day” for the first time and I am convinced that that last scene was part of my conversion.

    Also I loved the scene of Barltet in the Cathedral (Season 2 finale) as well as the final 8 minutes of “Two Catherdals” where they leave it ambigious as to whether the conversation Bartlet has with you know who is a vision or his own subcioncious, also the montage featuring “Brothers in Arms” is brilliant !!!!

    As well as being a great civics lesson TWW has so many great moments, espescially the last Season where Vinnic and Santos actually debate rather than trade soundbites, another great moment is the Season 5 opener with the Bartlet family going to Mass…….. so many great TV moments

  6. Peggy R says:

    While I was a denizen of DC during the show’s run, I have NEVER, EVER watched a minute of WW. The scenes about the rosary and confession are impressive, though I must admit.

    It seemed to want to be the Clinton Admin fantasy show. It seemed like a sequel to the “The American President” movie, which starred Michael Douglas as the pres and Martin Sheen as his right hand. I thought I despised the Clintons; now we have Obama. The real evil of the Obama presidency is that it makes Hillary Clinton very palatable to the American public. Never mind that they espouse the same positions.

  7. Cristero says:

    I’ll take Cylons and green energy rays.

    Tigh-Roslin 2012!

  8. PhillipE says:

    The Priest was played by Karl Malden. He also played Gen. Bradley in Patton with George C. Scott.

    I was a poli sci major in college so I loved the series! On The Day Before, a Season 3 episode is one of my favorites, followed by Season 5’s The Supremes. The end of Season 4 was a bigger cliffhanger than Season 1’s ending in my opinion.

  9. Jack Hughes says:

    Peggy R

    Admitedly I was a liberal when I started watching the West Wing and whilst there a few moments (especially in the early seasons) when there is unjustified sniping at Conservatives (especially of the Evangelical variety) the show often presents both sides of an argument e.g. in Season 1 there is one episode where deputy chief of staff and his assistant talk tax policy where both sides of the argument are made.

    Also to be honest there are some Evangelicals/Tea party type Republicans that really do need to have their rear end treated to the ‘pointy boney thing on my foot’.


    The Supremes really is a good episode !!!


    I’d vote for that ticket!!

  10. Gail F says:

    I started watching after Season Two and loved it for a couple of years. Fantastic writing and acting. The most memorable episode for me was the one in which President Bartlett comes face to face with being in charge of the army when something happened — I don’t remember what — to a soldier he realizes for the first time is “his.” He wants to send out the military but the head of the Joint Chiefs has to tell him not to. That was an amazing piece of television. So was the one where all the staff ends up telling him “I serve at the pleasure of the President,” and he realizes that he’s not just himself anymore — he’s “The President.” But I quite watching it when it got stupid. Every once in a while I’d tune in over the last two years and it had just descended into silliness. The politics had become unbearable and the characters’ personal lives had become caricatures. The last one I watched on purpose had one of the characters asking for the Bartletts’ approval of him giving sperm to his ex-wife for artificial insemination, or something. They said they were Catholic but they would respect his choice. Come on! No one with a brain would respect that choice, whatever their religion. It wasn’t as stupid as the last “LA Law” I watched, when a judge allowed a recess so the terminally ill defendant could go have her head cut off an cryogenically preserved, but it was close. Now I wish I had watched it, if it would give me any insight to the 2008 campaign!

  11. Jacob says:

    I never watched the show during its first run though I caught it now and then when it was in syndication in the US.

    After 99 when I started university for my poli sci degree, the show would come up now and then. The most interesting observations were about how the show had taught the general public the wrong things about the political process in DC, that things actually work, that government, if run by the Jed Bartletts of the world, can actually be effective.

  12. Centristian says:

    What a great show; certainly one of my favorites. It was brilliantly written and the cast was phenomenal. So many great story lines and subplots, and plenty of laughs, actually. The banter between the staff members (as they hurriedly scampered through the maze of glass walls) was wonderful.

    I can’t decide who my favorite character was; probably “C.J.” (Allison Janney), the press secretary. Her character was the most believeable, I think. Leo, perhaps, intrigued me the least. I found his indignation too frequent and too over the top. Stockard Channing didn’t really strike me as the first lady type, but I suppose that was the point.

    I found even the sets interesting. I don’t know precisely how the TV West Wing compares to the real one but I did notice some modifications here and there, most notably the West Wing lobby. It was far more dramatic than the real lobby (but actually rather similar to the old lobby of the 1950s and 60s). The “secret” doors of the Oval Office were not secret on the set of the show; they were surrounded by moulding and, if I recall correctly, topped by pediments. Also, a number of important scenes in the show took place in the “Mural Room” whereas the actual White House has no “Mural Room”.

    Lots of memorable episodes; one of my favorites being the episode in which Donna finds out she’s become Canadian due to a revision of the US/Canada border affecting her home town. I was also intrigued by the scenario in which Bartlett temporarily yielded the presidency to acting president John Goodman (can’t think of his character’s name). Great show.

  13. DisturbedMary says:

    Peggy R said: The real evil of the Obama presidency is that it makes Hillary Clinton very palatable to the American public. Never mind that they espouse the same positions.

    In two sentences you summarize the 2012 season currently being written. Obama will not run for a second term. Boehner and the Tea Party will be blamed for driving him out of the WH. There will be a joyous Come to Hillary convention with old Bill by her side. Buckets of water will drop on the tongues of anguished progressives from the ceiling of the convention hall. A media chorus will be heard sweetly singing the praises of being palatable. The Bishops conference will step back from the line in the sand. The season will end on election night with America anxiously awaiting the new season to find out who won.

  14. irishgirl says:

    I saw bits and pieces of The West Wing when it was on TV. Besides its liberal political slant, the actors many times spoke their lines in such low and fast tones that it was hard to understand them! You had to turn up the TV volume in order to hear what they said!
    One episode I do remember was the one where Bartlett’s devoted secretary died (very suddenly, I think). The funeral service was held at a cathedral (looked like the National Cathedral in DC), and he really railed at God for taking her! He ranted and raved in his grief, standing all alone in the nave. [In Latin!]

  15. I obtained the boxed set about a year ago, and thoroughly enjoy it, despite the inane caricatures of conservatives and evangelicals, until about the fourth or fifth season when Aaron Sorkin left as the director/writer/whatever. That’s when the writing got worse, the characters more pathetic, and the self-righteousness became unbearable. By the last season, I couldn’t bear to watch it. That said, I second the good Father’s endorsement.

  16. Bruce says:

    Just watched the whole Series last year. My wife & I enjoyed it even though she hates politics. My favorite episode was The Supremes from season 5. Glenn Close as Evelyn Baker Lang and William Fichtner as Christopher Mulready reminded me of Scalia and Ginsberg. Scalia said on a 60 minutes interview about his friendship with Ginsberg that he attacks ideas not people.

  17. James Joseph says:

    Perhaps you would like a London Porter. Perhaps I should brew some.

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