Wednesday, September 08, 2004

My New Obsession

I've suddenly become hooked on The West Wing.

Michael could be blamed thanked for getting me hooked on other shows I previously never thought I'd like. I was never a Quantam Leap or X-Files fan until he lent me videotapes of several episodes.

I've never had a chance to watch this show before, although I did make a point to watch the "Isaac and Ishmael" post-9/11 episode they aired a few years ago. I also saw part of the episode where the President curses God in a cathedral for letting his secretary be killed in a car wreck.

Bravo is showing reruns, and I happened to be flipping channels the other day and caught the last half of a mid-4th season episode. I can't believe I've purposefully resisted watching until now....

I'm not sure why I'm so fascinated by this show, but I believe it's coming to me. To those unfamiliar (and really, so am I by all accounts, having not seen the first 3-1/2 seasons) is this is the story of President Josiah "Jed" Bartlett, and his senior staff in a fiction White House set in today's world. The issues are real - there was no 9/11, but terrorism and current events are a major backdrop to the setting.

I think one huge reason I've gotten into it is I've never quite gotten a grasp on how the White House works. Now, obviously this is a fictional show and it can't be 100% accurate by former Clinton Press Secretary is (or was) a consultant so I would imagine a great deal of the situations and day-to-day issues that are depicted are pretty accurate. I'm going to assume that the White House of Presidents Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II are or were pretty close to what I'm seeing.

And if what I watch on The West Wing is fairly similar to what goes on in the real White House, I find it difficult to believe that, while I don't consider GWB anything close to the Angel of Grace his supporters make him out to be, neither could he be the Spawn of Satan his detractors claim he is. I just don't think the structure of the Administrative Branch, and how it deals with the Legislative Branch, would cause something like that to happen. There are hundreds of people who work in the White House, either in Communications, Legal Affairs, etc etc that messages and policies are filtered through both to and from the President and his advisors. It's impossible to believe every one of them would be complicit in all the evil schemes a number of Democrats seem to think are being perpetrated by Bush. Not that anyone sould deliberately disobey orders, but I think it unlikely that a culture of deception would exist up and down the rank and file.

Again, caveat this by the realization the GWB White House may be nothing like this. President Bartlett is a Democrat. His staff are (mostly) all Democrats. If the show were about a Republican president, it might have been quite different in style and tone. Dee Dee Myers was with Clinton, so the show as it exists is probably modeled very closely to that version.

There are moments on the show I've seen so far - and I'm sure there are plenty more on the episodes I haven't seen - where the President has been faced with a difficult decision. There was agonizing, and second-guessing, and yes, politicking. Obviously it's a drama, so there's going to be dramatic moments and tension, but I find it hard to believe that Bush, Clinton, or Bush hasn't gone through these same moments. Life and death decisions such as invasions, missle strikes, etc aren't made in a vacuum by robots. I'm sure the popular vision of Clinton by Republicans is him lounging in the Oval Office chair with a goofy grin on his face, ordering the bombing of Kosovo with Monica Lewinsky on his lap and smoking a cigar. Similarly, the vision of Bush II is of him hovering over a big pile of green toy Army Men and playing war games while ordering the invasion of Iraq (or the alternate version, with Dick Cheney pulling his marionette strings). These visions, while fanciful, are not close to the way any President makes life-or-death policy decisions where the future of the nation could hang in the balance. It's just not the way humans work in the real world.

The point is - don't demonize or, er, angelize the people in power. They're humans, just like us. They have tough decisions to make, just like us, and regardless of whether they're rich, weak, strong, pliant, whatever - the government doesn't run in a vacuum. There are checks and balances beyond the ones written into the Constitution that keep things from falling overboard.

You know, I didn't intend to go off on a tangent like this - honest, I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed watching the West Wing. Now, I guess I know why.

UPDATE: Does anyone in the Knoxville area want to lend me Season 1, 2, or 3 on DVD so I can catch up?

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