We Win! We Win! Four More Years!

T.A. Barnhart

Let the land ring with huzzahs.  The greatest president of the past forty years, Josiah Bartlett, is being succeeded by Texas Congressman Matthew Santos.  Santos, whose father was a barber and whose mother a domestic worker, was convinced by Josh Lyman to take on the challenge of running – and he won.  Despite Santos' inexperience and ethnicity, they defeated California Senator Arnie Vinick, and the White House remains in Democratic hands.  Santos also proved to have quality coattails: the Dems took back the House of Representatives, sure to be a great boon to the nascent Santos Administration.

There were many factors behind the Santos victory.  The most important, of course, is that Aaron Sorkin and John Wells, the two men responsible for "The West Wing", are on our side.  When Sorkin developed the show, Clinton was president but under tremendous, relentless attack from the wingnut Christofascist brigade.  Sorkin's idea was simple and wonderful:  What if the president was not only the most intelligent person in the room but also morally upright?  What if the great liberal ideals of the past century were in the hands of a man who would fight relentlessly for them?  What if we had a president in whom we could feel nothing but pride?

Martin Sheen - Re-elect the president My favorite campaign button in 2004 was a picture of Martin Sheen, who played President Bartlett, with the simple phrase:  "Re-elect the President."  Amen.  In 2004, this is what we wanted so desperately, a president who was smart and who we could trust.  In John Kerry, many of us had a candidate we admired but for whom we had more hope than faith.  His failure to respond to the Swift Boaters and his varying stances on Iraq gave us cause for doubt – doubt that proved to be well-founded.  Instead of having a man worthy of the office, we got four more years of a lying, treasonous idiot who has proven himself worthy of only this: spending the rest of his life in federal prison – or on trial in The Hague.

I'm not going overboard here, and I'm not living in dreamland.  George W Bush is not worthy of the office held by Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR and JFK.  (He is, perhaps, worthy of Tyler's office, I guess, but at least Tyler was honest in not even wanting to be president.)  The years of Bush's presidency are years of shame and horror; the cost in human suffering and death will prove even more terrible than Reagan's eight years of indifference to life and humanity. 

Most of us are raised by our parents and teachers to be nice people; in the public domain, we are pressured to reasonable and decent.  I think I am being both reasonable and decent; I refuse to be nice.  George W Bush should be impeached first thing tomorrow morning and put in prison by dinnertime.  Our country should be ashamed for every day he is allowed to continue as our leader.

This is why I love "The West Wing" and will miss it terribly.  As I watched the "Election Day" episodes the past two weeks, I saw the energy and possibilities a campaign for office generates.  I got a big taste of that two years ago when I organized the Benton County canvass for Kerry and did the BC Dems campaign website.  I was devastated on election night (but not as much, quite honestly, as when Dean was brutalized by the party in the primaries).  Now I am busy with so many things: providing free web services for local candidates, chairing the BC Dems Fund raising Committee, serving on several other committees, and being a part of Sam Sappington's campaign committee (HD15: SamforHD15.org).  Watching Santos win, albeit in this lovely fictional world created and controlled by liberals, reminds me of what is possible on November 7, 2006: Joy and victory.  When we pull off our victory in House District 15 (and by god, Jon Isaacs, we'll do it with or without Future PAC), I can imagine that only the birth of my two kids will seem more special (my wedding day doesn't count cuz it didn't take).  I am constantly reminding myself of the possibility of that night: Winning.  Seeing the numbers on the TV, in the paper, up on the wall of our campaign headquarters, Sappington with a victory and a seat for the Dems no one expected to win.

We cannot run these "hopeless" campaigns based on rationality.  We can only do this because we are crazy dreamers; but as Jimmy Buffett, one of the good guys, says:  "If we weren't all crazy we would go insane."  Amen.  Sam's campaign is hopeless, but so seems also the campaign to remake this world into a sane and decent place for my sons to live in.  The energy in this world flows to destruction and pain, but I honestly believe that can be changed.  I know it has in my own life, and I know it has in many places.  I cling to this hope.  But the world – the people in the world – won't change from chasing destruction to honoring life because those working for this change were sensible or nice.  The world becomes a place where life is honored when people let their dreams overwhelm all else.  Kate Wolf sang "Give yourself to love," but before you can do that, you must first surrender to hope, and that requires a dream.  A lunacy you can believe in.  A story you can tell with hope.

"The West Wing" was a seven-year story of hope, and stories are what create the world: not facts, not power, not religion or ideology or the forces of nature.  Stories create the world, the stories we tell and the stories we believe.  Everyday, I am telling myself the stories that teach me hope.  In all i do – walking to the library, riding my bike to the store, poking at the computer, laying in bed waiting for asleep – I am telling myself the stories that are re-creating my world.  I tell myself stories of hope and possibility.  And then I go and live out the story because there just is no other way.  The best part is that I have no idea how the story will end.  That ignorance frees me from Truth and chains me instead to hope. 

"Once upon a time...."

  • Gil Johnson (unverified)

    I think many of us would have voted for Martin Sheen, knowing he is just an actor, over George Bush. But I have to say my favorite to succeed him was Alan Alda.

    The West Wing was probably the biggest fantasy ever to be shown on TV, but wouldn't it be nice to live in such a fantasy?

    What is really galling is that NBC is dropping the show. Is there some way we can protest en masse? What's poor Lawrence O'Donnell going to do? Will John McLoughlin ever invite him on his show anymore?

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    There were many factors behind the Santos victory. The most important, of course, is that Aaron Skin and John Wells, the two men responsible for "The West Wing", are on our side.

    Nice theory. Except that if John Spencer had not died, Vinick would have won tonight.

  • Wesley Charles (unverified)

    Seven rambling paragraphs lauding the exploits of a TV president, and not even the best one. Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) is a wimpy weasel compared to President David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert - "24"). Unfortunately, President Palmer was killed in this season's opening episode . . .

    Sam Sappington beating Andy Olson? Fantasy indeed . . .

    • Wes
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    I'd like to gently point out that the creator's name is Aaron "Don't Check My Bags If You Please, Mr. Customs Man" Sorkin, not Skin.


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    jeez, for the first time in all my posts, i tried using Movable Type's spell check. what a disaster. it not only respelled Sorkin's name, which i had correct, it changed "Dems" to "De ms" and many other stupid things. and i kept clicking "ignore". what a pain. but fixed. thanks for the warning, tjoe.

    (fergawdsakes, it changed Jimmy Buffett's name to "Buffet" -- the one "t" is a mortal sin to parrottheads!)

  • LT (unverified)

    I agree with much of what TA says, except that every episode opens with the credits which contain "Created by Aaron Sorkin" over that picture which I swear is posed to be a JFK picture!

    I have worked on "impossible" campaigns--Jim Hill in 1980 being perhaps the most well known. Carter conceded early and the recount said Jim lost by something like 60 votes--and he won 2 years later. So take heart all those of you who have been told your state legislative race is "impossible".

    For none of you is it 1980 when not only had a Democrat never won House District 31 but people were called "delusional" (among other things) for thinking Jim Hill--a black Democrat--had a chance in the world.

    Having met Andy Olson, I suspect his challenger has a chance in this election year. Just as I think all the Democratic challengers in Marion County have a good shot.

    Much as I hate to say this, once John Spencer died, of course they had to cancel West Wing. He was the soul of the show. I know it is only a show ( as was the original Star Trek only a TV show)but it gave political people the opportunity to use stories from the show to explain politics to their non-political friends or to make a political point. There is no reason for a legislator or other public figure not to get their explanation of something out in the press--as Leo said to Bartlett that one time "I don't see a shortage of cameras and microphones in this building".

    And in tribute I want to repeat part of that great monologue from the beginning of the 2nd season. I videotape all episodes (in case the phone rings or something)and I audiotaped this part so I could listen to it multiple times.

    It is the flashback to Bartlett and Leo on a cold New Hampshire night, the night Josh had first seen Bartlett speak (he made the trip after Leo had said to his "but I'm working for Hoynes" that he should go be a spectator anyway "because that is what sons do for old friends of their fathers").

    Leo was saying Bartlett would be a great president and Bartlett said "why are you doing this? Hoynes would make you national chairman!"

    Leo said "Because I am tired of it, year after year, having to choose between the lesser of WHO CARES! Setting the bar so low I can hardly look at it, trying to get excited because someone can speak in complete sentences. They say a good man can't get elected president in this country. I don't believe that, do you?"

    So to all of you working on any campaign, if you see in your candidate any of what Leo saw in Bartlett, don't let anyone tell you they can't get elected.

    One other thing--about some W Wing characters who only had very small roles. There were some slick political operatives up in New Hampshire with Bartlett, there was Leo, and there was Toby.

    Skeptical Josh was sitting in the back of the Grange Hall or whatever it was doing a crossword puzzle, half listening. Then a dairy farmer complained about a vote that (Congressman?) Bartlett had cast which had cost him money--dairy supports or something. Bartlett used some candid language to admit he had voted against the interests of dairy farmers, because he had to in the national interest. At that point, Josh looked up and started paying attention--he had found the real thing.

    We have the real thing among many of our candidates here. I have seen some of them be as brutally honest as Bartlett was there. (I think that is also what attracts people to Ben Westlund.)

    After the speech, Toby was afraid he would lose his job. The slick consultants were spinning like crazy--they'd make sure that Bartlett's candor never got into the national press. They were trying to get Toby fired at the same time. Leo looks at the slick consultants and says something like "it is time to make a change" and then names off the slick consultants. He tells them their work has been appreciated but that it is time to move on without them. He then looks at Toby and says "don't screw up".

    That also applies to Oregon politics. We don't need people acting out of the consultant's handbook, we need genuine people in touch with the voters. I will miss West Wing terribly. However, it seems appropriate that unless there is a change in the scheduling, the episode which is Leo's memorial service will be Easter night. Looks like National Cathedral where Mrs. Lanningham's funeral was held.

    But I do believe we can all bring the spirit of those folks into our political involvement. They probably discussed more substance in that TV show than was discussed in the 2005 legislative session .

    In the same episode as "don't see a shortage of cameras and microphones", Leo gives a speech where he talks about "people who showed up to lead", people who stand up for what is right and not just what has political advantage. He says "if there are walls, we are not going to walk into them but run into them; not be afraid of issues but put issues front and center and make THAT our legacy!".

    I know ordinary folks who are looking for solutions, not ideology. Too many incumbents seem startled when asked specific questions like "nice idea, how do you intend to fund it?". That is a question I don't think Andy Olson was prepared to answer when he appeared at the DD forum in Salem.

    Money is nice, but debating incumbents on the issues is better. It costs no money for a person to walk up to a House member in the district (or call on the phone if that is possible) and ask something like "OK, if you support Jessica's Law, how do you intend to pay for it?" --a specific question. My experience is that they have heard from so many ideologues that they are prepared to give their soundbite answer to an expected question but not to answer an unexpected but concrete question such as that one.

    Tonite's election came down to Oregon (nice touch) and Nevada. Santos couldn't remember having been in Nevada more than once, but that decided the election. You may not know what decides the election you are working on now. It could be as simple as "my friend was very impressed, so I agreed to go to a neighborhood coffee and liked what I heard". Word of mouth advertising may never appear on a consultant's horizon, but it can be more powerful than any "ad buy".

    One more thing: I am glad that in the end Vinnick was the voice of conscience he had been earlier and refused to challenge the results. And wasn't he the one who said sometimes candidates don't win, history just happens?

  • Robert Canfield (unverified)

    "But I do believe we can all bring the spirit of those folks into our political involvement."

    I wish it were possible to bring the spirit of those fictional TV characters into political involvement. But it was, after all, a TV show. Fantasy. An Illusion.

    The West Wing, or the "Wonk Wing" as it should have been named, was a fantasy world. It was just as real as the daytime soaps.

    Unfortunately, real politics look more like the daytime soaps than the West Wing ever looked like real politics.

  • Mike Selvaggio (unverified)

    Just a small anecdote to describe the type of people that make the show... running a field crew in Ohio in 2004, we missed the fall premeire amidst all of our late nights. After a quick call to NBC, the producers thought it was terrible that actual campaigners should miss the season opener, so they express-mailed us a commercial-free tape of the show before the next episode aired. They're good people.

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    since someone voted for a different best fictional president...

    my brother is the t.v. writer for the K.C. Star, Aaron Barnhart; he also has a terrific website, TV Barn. he loves "24", has made it his best show of the year a few times. i hate "24". i felt totally ripped off by season 1; the only good part was when the babe offed Jack's wife. otoh, Aaron can't stand WW. he gets lots of dvd sets gratis for review, so has sent me his copies. he says he doesn't like the rapid-fire dialog, but i've always suspected he isn't comfortable with the liberal-heart-on-their-sleeve politics. he used to be a Reagan neo-con youth; he's come from the darkness to the light, but i think he's probably a moderate. we both grew up in Billings, Montana, but i spent 5 years in England and have since been in Oregon and the Left Coast. he has spent his years since high school in the Midwest, Chicago & KC (a couple of years in DC). i think that's where our differences probably lie.

  • LT (unverified)

    Unfortunately, real politics look more like the daytime soaps than the West Wing ever looked like real politics.

    Somewhere, in 3 decades of political involvement, I have met people very much like Josh, CJ, Toby, Sam, Leo (or with characteristics of one or more of those).

    And if you think of the evolution of Charlie over the years (didn't he originally come to apply for a low level job but because he heard something which gave him a clue maybe the president left his glasses in the residence got the job as personal asst. to the president?) there are a lot of Charlies who have at sometime in their lives been integral parts of campaigns.

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    As someone who wasn't able to watch the show last night and recorded it to watch today or tomorrow, I'd like to point out that it is extremely inconsiderate to reveal plot developments of a show/movie/book without at the very least a spoiler warning and preferably putting the pertinent information below the fold.

    I know it may seem trivial, and in the grand scheme of things, it is; but I'm actually pretty pissed off that I won't be able to properly enjoy the biggest climax yet for WW, a show I've loved and followed religiously for the past 7 years. Thanks.

    Bad form.

  • TiVo Changed Everything (unverified)

    I second Nate's comments.

    Much like September 11th changed the way we think about national security and necessitated a preemptive unilateral attack on Iraq, TiVo has changed everything as it relates to television viewing. Your posting of the key plot development in the headline really shows you have yet to grasp that we are living in a totally different world than before TiVo.

    Why do you hate America?

    ps. I am serious about the fact I think this was bad form.

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    See, Jenson!

    Turns out TA posts inappropriate stuff too.


    Who knew that writing a short throw away about a damned TV show that is principally a Democratic Wet Dream could draw such serious commentary.

    "24" on the other hand, is a show with a mission. I can't wait for Jack to blow someone's kneecap off, or see his girfirend screaming in the interrogation chair.

    To paraphrase an old movie title How I learned to quit worrying about the damned US constitution and Love Torture.


    Now that's a show with a purpose.......

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    It's not even about TiVo. I think most of us have had VCRs for about two decades by now...

  • Smith & Wesson .357 (unverified)

    Sorry, but I thought this entire post was stupid because if the liberal Democrats ever hope to get their butts in the White House again they better stop daydreaming over such crazy tripe as West Wing and 24 and get busy finding some real viable REAL LIFE CANDIDATES that might just stand a chance in hell of winning.

    If the Democratic Party doesn't have their head so far up their own behind that they have enough sense to distance themselves from Hillary and all things Hillary as well as all DC career whores like John Kerry and Leiberman and Mr. Al "I Invented The Internet" Gore and get with some new blood with bold visions and no baggage ...well, they might just have a snow balls chance in hell of doing something worthwhile.

    I blame the Democratic Party as much for the last 4 years of Dubya as I do Dubya and his magic vote machine Florida!

    I have 2 words for you: Mark Warner

  • Off The Road (unverified)

    "That ignorance frees me from Truth and chains me instead to hope." - T. A. Barnhart

    This one sentence above perfectly epitomizes everything that I loathe about liberal Democrats. You'd rather wrap yourselves in ignorance and wallow in the "hope" of your flawed vision than simply open your eyes, smell the gut pile of Truth and walk in the sunshine of enlightenment.

    You want to learn about Hope? Real Hope? Go out and kill, pluck and grill a live yard chicken. In that one simple sacred act you will learn all that you need to know about all the great secrets of the Cosmos. And you'll be a better human for it too. Don't be prey.

    Savor Life and respect the blood trail.

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    I'm + 18 hours in Korea and unfortunately the whole surprise was blown by TA

    Thanks TA for being an idiot...

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    actually, i'm sorry not to have given notice of spoiler status. i hate spoilers, and i am not being sarcastic here: i wish i had remembered i was writing about a show that had just appeared. i should have said something. sorry.

    <h2>and may i compliment you on beinga decent person about it, Mr English. Nate, for you i am sorry. it just didn't occur to me (and it's literally been years since i wrote about a current tv show).</h2>

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