Before Aaron Sorkin was known for writing HBO hits like The Newsroom or writing Oscar-Winning movies like The Social Network or writing leaked sexist emails, Aaron Sorkin was known for writing The West Wing. It was a show that spanned much of the Bush Presidency (1999-2006), depicting a fictionalized America that loosely tied into our own, albeit with a Liberal-leaning administration run by the heroic fictional President Josiah Bartlet. Now, almost 15 years after the final episode, The West Wing is gearing up for a reunion show. It's reportedly a staged theatrical production of the third season episode "Hartsfield's Landing," intended to benefit "When We All Vote," a non-profit, nonpartisan organization co-chaired by Michelle Obama and designed to increase voter turnout.
My only question would be, "Why?" except I already know the answer, "Ugh." It's the same "ugh" that comes from watching Nanci Pelosi and Chuck Schumer wear kente cloths or seeing a bunch of actors denounce their racism in a self-tape with a black and white filter.
The West Wing isn't just liberal fantasy porn. It's liberal fantasy porn from 20 years ago. It portrays a universe in which one good speech filled with soaring rhetoric and an impassioned argument could convince Republicans to "do the right thing." Even back then, it was the type of thing you could only take seriously if got yourself blitzed on a jenkem-like mixture of idealism, naivety, and sniffing your own farts. But fast-forward to 2020, and The West Wing feels so divorced from the realities of current politics that it might as well be a cooking show on the planet Glarglack. Look at this clip, and maybe you'll see what I mean:
Here we have Josiah Bartlet defeating his opponent on an issue of policy by providing a more nuanced discourse regarding that policy. Could you imagine a debate ever going down like this in the era of Trump? Trump would just call him a bozo, then his base would accuse Bartlet of running a secret pedophile ring, and we'd be back at a standstill. Then Fox News pundits would report it as a resounding win for Trump.
See, the thing that liberals never understood back then, and many still fail to see now, is that politics isn't like The West Wing. It's like Veep or Game Of Thrones. It's a power struggle. Trump and the Republicans understand that. Meanwhile, Michelle Obama stages a The West Wing reunion and says things like, "When they go low, we go high," and earns herself raucous applause ...
... but Trump still gets elected.
The West Wing is a fairytale about good vs. evil disguised as a realistic portrayal of Washington D.C's inner-workings. It sold many different fantasies, one of which was that politicians ever acted in good faith, but the other big one is that policy could be achieved if you just "did the right thing." When the characters faced opposition, the solution was to always summon their inner good-guy strength like Goku charging up for a Kamehameha, and then deliver an earth-shattering speech that changes hearts and minds through its pure goodness. Sometimes our heroes would have to dig even deeper into the recesses of their inner good-guy-ness, and then do the right thing harder than they ever deemed possible, like this:
It's a wonderful thing to see a leader make an admission of guilt, but again, this has as much basis in reality as Goku blasting a hole through the moon.
Maybe this is fine as escapist television, but the problem arises when the Chuck Schumers or the Michelle Obamas apply this good-guy vs. bad-guy dichotomy as an actual ideology in our real world. It sucks for two main reasons, one of which is that if you're a politician that sniffs your farts long enough to actually assume you're "the good guy," then you end up not doing enough self-reflection and listening to realize that wearing a kente cloth in a show of solidarity for Black Lives Matter isn't actually helping.
But the real reason this is stupid is that "good vs. evil" is as much a political ideology as "Colonel Mustard" is a way to go camping. It just doesn't make sense. They're not connected.
Donald Trump could never exist in The West Wing universe because that's a reality in which people start with moral principles and then fill in their political ideologies to fit those principles instead of our world, which works the other way around. Seriously, try and imagine Donald Trump in The West Wing. It's impossible. He would never get elected. He'd say one hypocritical thing, Josiah Bartlet would toss him in a verbal cement mixer, then Trump would get booed off the stage.
But he's our President now, and that's partly because his only opposition thought that just "being the good guy" was enough to beat him. It's the same strategy that Joe Biden is using now, and it's infuriating to see. Yes, the Democrats might still win this time around, and that might lead them to think their way of thinking was correct, but they'd be wrong, and there's no better person to explain their logical fallacy than Josiah Bartlet:
My point in this isn't to say that The West Wing shouldn't ever air a reunion special. I mean, if you like the show, then you like the show. But it makes me cringe that Michelle Obama would attach herself to it, especially in an effort to get people voting. If there's one lesson that Democrats should have taken from the past four years, if not that past 20, it's that real life isn't The West Wing.
Also, you want us to sit through a staged theatrical production of a single-cam TV show? Blegh.
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Top Image: NBC