The West Wing Revisited

(This post contains spoilers)

Regular readers of this blog will know, I’m a big Aaron Sorkin fan (If you’re not a regular reader, now would be a good time to get started, there’ll be a quiz at the end). The West Wing, specifically, is one of my favorite television shows. I don’t fit particularly well into the political spectrum, but most folks would say I’m a liberal.

As a result, I have a lot of conversations with liberal friends, and they say things like: “I wish Jed Bartlet was our president” or “I wish the White House was more like that”.

At first, I totally agreed. The staffers on The West Wing’s White House seem so diligent, and care so much, and don’t seem like completely amoral jerks, and that seemed like a solid upgrade.

However, I’ve come to the hypothesis that probably Jed Bartlet’s White House looked like a shit show to those on the outside. That what makes The West Wing’s White House seem at all appealing is the “behind the scenes”.

To test this hypothesis, I’m going to rewatch The West Wing, noting only the events that are known to the general public. Anything that’s a “behind the scenes” will go unnoted. What constitutes known to the general public?

To give a sense of things I’ll consider not public:

From behind the scenes the Bartlet White House looks pretty great, how does it stand up to this challenge? I’ll attempt to go through the entire seven seasons, probably at a pace of a few episodes a week.

Without further ado… the Pilot:

The President is in a bicycle accident while on vacation. At the same time, Josh Lyman disparages the religious right on national television (on a program that appears to be similar to Meet the Press). A meeting is set up with several leaders from the Christian right, it’s stated that this will be a press item, but given how badly the meeting goes, it seems unlikely it receives any coverage.

Josh’s conflict with the religious right appears to basically end here, for the general public this probably seems incongruous as he goes from being about to be fired to perfectly fine, with no events that are public.

Mandy Hampton, a political consultant who worked on the Bartlet campaign, is hired by a Democratic senator; in real life I highly doubt this would be newsworthy or noted by the general population.

Finally, 1200 Cubans leave Havana on rafts headed for Florida. About half are turned back by weather, and of the remaining half, many perished, and about 200 make it to Florida. This plot line isn’t discussed any further, I suspect in real life the White House would receive flak from both sides: for not helping the refuges, and for allowing “illegal immigrants” entry to the US.

All in all, I suspect this episode captures what will be a regular theme: public conflicts are resolved with private meetings, and so the plot line, for the general public, appears to make no sense.