A few weeks ago, I wrote about the new Netflix TV series House of Cards, expressing that I strongly dislike the show, comparing it to a political drama that I did like, very much, the 1999–2006 series The West Wing.
Well, I’ve started to re-watch The West Wing, and last night I caught an episode that inspired a thought about why I liked the show so much, and I suspect that many fans of the show might feel the same.
As you know, that is, unless you’ve been living under a rock for a long, long time, the U.S. government is all kinds of fucked up. We either have one party in power that trashes everything, or we have the other party “in power”, but actually nearly powerless to get anything substantive done, because they are too busy cleaning up the mess left by the previous party in power and face absolute obstruction by the opposition to anything they want to do. We have a deeply entrenched and polarized two-party system, third parties face prohibitive disadvantages to challenging that system, and BIG money heavily influences elections and policy.
It’s ugly, and it’s easy to lose all faith in the entire system, even the people who make up that system, like, say, President Obama, whom we believed in and supported, who made us feel hope again after eight long, dark years of the Bush II era, only to hit the brick wall of our governmental dysfunction.
Enter fictitious President Bartlet, his Chief of Staff Leo McGarry, Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman, Communications Director Toby Ziegler, Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborn, Press Secretary C.J. Cregg, whom we get to know in ways we can’t know the real world administration, we laugh at and with them, we occasionally cry with them, and suddenly we remember that these are merely human beings. Sure, they screw up from time to time, in fact they screw up badly from time to time, but they care, they work ridiculously hard, and they have the best of intentions.
The final scene of last night’s episode is a perfect example of this. It’s a scene that starts in the Oval Office and ends in the Chief of Staff’s office, it very well may be that there have been scenes like this in real life, but we’d never know it because those are two offices where we’re NEVER allowed to be a fly on the wall.
Anyway, I think we who love The West Wing love the show because, though it’s not an all-out, sugar-coated fantasy where the administration you like does everything right and everything goes well for them, we’re at least given comfort that at least there are real human beings in there trying to do good. It’s about possibility and hope, two things seemingly in short supply from our real world perspective, looking in on our government.
Happy Weekend, everyone!