The other day, I was browsing through Netflix on my Apple TV box (I’m what they call a “cord cutter”)–and I saw that all of the episodes of “The West Wing” were available for viewing.
Considering that the series was created by committed leftist Aaron Sorkin, starred an even more committed leftist (Martin Sheen), was consulted on by Clintonistas Dee Dee Meyers and Gene Sperling as well as Jimmy Carter’s pollster Pat Caddell, and aired on NBC, you would think it would be a hard left documentary of the way these guys think things ought to be.
And you would be wrong.
Sheen’s fictional President Jed Bartlett is probably what everybody—irrespective of their politics—wanted Barack Obama to become when and if he ever grew up.
However far to the left Sheen may be personally, his character is a very centrist Democrat who seems to always try and work with a Republican House Speaker–and is not afraid to use military force when necessary.
The theme throughout the seven years (1999 through 2006) the series ran was the White House doing or attempting to do the “right” thing, regardless of the politics involved.
And there’s one other thing that shows through clearly: No matter how far left the cast, crew, and creator of the show were, they spent seven seasons exhibiting a huge reverence and respect for the office and the White House.
They showed much more respect and reverence than the current occupants.
It was obviously big network TV, but there’s an interesting takeaway here.
For the most part, network prime time television is not constructed for the politicos (ABC’s “Scandal” being an exception). It is made to attract the largest number of people it can because the nets have to sell advertising; and to get the greatest prices, you need the largest viewership.
So, regardless of the politics of the cast and crew of the show, there was obviously some research done to find out what America—the America that watched prime time TV at the turn of the century—wants from its White House; and the answer was…President Jed Bartlett. And the odds are that is still mostly the case.
It would be interesting to ask both Karl Rove—who actually was advising President Bush during most of the time the series was on the air—and James Carville—who was Bill Clinton’s version of Rove—how they would have advised their respective Presidents to react to the various situations during the seven years the show ran.
My suspicion is that the answer is not too differently than the way the show was written.
So if the intensive research a television network does to please its audience is enough to make Sheen into a President who is acceptable to a majority of Americans, perhaps there’s a lesson here.
Another point to add into the mix is that during the last half of the series, the Democrats had begun to demonize President George W. Bush because his approval ratings after 9-11 were such that they were afraid they would never see the inside of the White House again.
So, in real life, Washington was beginning to disintegrate into the Harry Reid-driven, scorched-earth battle zone that it has become today.
On “The West Wing”, however, President Bartlett and his staff were still trying to do the right thing every week.
The disconnect appears to be that the “West Wing” version of Washington is what the mere public would like—not today’s Harry Hitler show.
Three years into the series, they did an inspired bit of television, where they brought Presidents Carter, Ford, and Clinton into the studio–along with many of their advisors and a little bit of Rove–and they talked about life in the West Wing while they showed scenes from previous episodes.
Clinton made the point that if you asked any of his former team how they were doing out of office, all of them would answer three things.
- They were glad to have some time for their families.
- They were making more money.
- They sure missed the work.
Ford and Carter said as much in different ways.
I’m not sure if it is the President, Congressional leaders, or the voters who have allowed the current toxic atmosphere to pervade Washington; but, whoever it is, it is ultimately the voters who will have the final say.
Those political consultants who run races ought to consider that a big network television show managed to survive some of the most difficult times this nation has ever seen by showing a Government that was much better on TV than the real thing is today. Is there a message for 2016’s candidates there?
Photo credit: François Pichard (Flickr)