It’s interesting to look back on The West Wing now with years of distance. Much like MASH before and The Wire after it, Aaron Sorkin’s political opus tackled actual societal issues, complemented by heightened personal drama straight out of Melrose Place. Donna and Josh, will they or won’t they? The first daughter’s been kidnapped! Someone pardon Toby, please. But still, sandwiched between the romantic entanglements and verbose walk and talks, the series’ best moments reflected current events. Jeb Bartlett and his fictional administration faced real dilemmas on an episodic basis. It’s how we imagined our White House to be. Or how we imagined we wanted it to be.
The upbeat Bartlett administration contrasted starkly against the cold and conservative Bush regime. In dark times of war and emptiness, a literary-spewing TV president and his clan of merry elves gave us something to root for. An America with balls. Leaders with heart and integrity. Fictional or not, Jeb Bartlett was our golden goose.
Until we got the real deal.
In 2004, two years before The West Wing took its final bow, a whip smart Chicago lawyer turned heads when he gave the keynote speech at John Kerry’s Democratic National Convention. Most of us met Barack Obama for the first time. Four years later, the young senator broke through the crowd of political Been Theres and Done Thats and hit the West Wing with his declaration of hope and American resurrection. You know the story. You know the accomplishments. You know the failures too. You know his tenacity and his hesitancy. So does he, I’m guessing. Embracing his best impression of President Bartlett, President Obama wrote his own story.
But in comparing JB and BO, one key difference must be clarified: Barack is a real person.
Real people disappoint. We’re flawed, even when we try our best. Sometimes we make mistakes. We pander for the greater good. But it’s in our objective, our motivation, that we must search for the truth. Therein lies our answers. 2008 left people searching. In 2012, we continue to face enduring times, but we have progressed. As a nation, we are rebounding, slow as it is taking. But all that’s beside the point. The point is not in the failures or even the successes. The point is in the objective. The dedication. Team Bartlett taught us to believe. President Obama’s taught us what it means to believe. Progress, forward momentum, is journey and not just a destination.
Now in this important presidential race, incumbent Barack Obama faces The Other Guy. The Other Guy hesitates. The Other Guy wavers. The Other Guy misleads. No, I’m not talking about Mitt Romney (there’s plenty to read out there and make your own assessment of the Republican challenger’s politics and character). In this case, I’m talking about fear. Fear is The Other Guy. It is the enemy of progress. A shark in the sea of hope. And Tuesday, an acceptance of man’s lowest common denominator, fear, is President Obama’s greatest opponent. And as Americans, is it our’s too.
Learn from Bartlett. Apply to Obama. If you’re wavering or thinking of sitting the election out, choose to continue onward instead. Vote and vote like you live; with your head and your heart.
“Jed, what are you thinking about?” “Tomorrow.”