Sunday, October 19, 2008

Let Obama be Bartlet

Okay, to get this blog entry you need to be fan of the great Aaron Sorkin series The West Wing, which ran on NBC between 1999-2006. Much has been made of the close comparison between the seasons 6 and 7 character Matt Santos (played by Jimmy Smits) and Barack Obama -- their biographies are similar, and their rhetoric is quite parallel. The writers of this story arc clearly admit they were looking to Obama's senate race in Illinois in 2004 for inspiration. They even had a moderate "maverick" Republican senator, Arnold Vinick (played by Alan Alda), who was Santos' venerable opponent for the presidency. Rumor has it that the writers of TWW were set to have Vinick win the election, but when the actor John Spencer (who played Santos' running mate, and who was the beloved Bartlet consigliere Leo McGarry) died mid-season 7, the writers felt it would be too much of a downer to lose McGarry and also have Santos lose. See this amazing video from February 2008, and this piece from the Guardian UK.

But it seems to me that President Jed Bartlet is closer in spirit to Obama. Bartlet, you might remember, was a Nobel prize winning economist who was an academic teaching at Dartmouth College before being encouraged to run for congress from New Hampshire. He then went on to be governor. And Bartlet was a thoughtful, inclusive, executive leader -- a liberal's wet dream for President. Thus it all played out in the alternate universe that once a week kept liberals therapeutically soothed during the dark years of W.'s presidency.

Now back to the real world: we have a brilliant, thoughtful, apparently dispassionate and unflappable candidate against an irrascible and moderate maverick. My greatest concern is the absence of the political and executive experience which Bartlet possessed. Other than deftly running the contentious Harvard Law Review (no small task), I just don't know what an Obama presidency might look like. I can only hope that if Obama wins, he will take to heart Leo McGarry's famous line, written on a legal pad to his soulmate Bartlet at a low point in Bartlet's presidency: "Let Bartlet be Bartlet."

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