Will Obama Be A Bartlet?
Network television is terrible these days, but I don’t care. The awful re-runs of shows that stank to begin with, the endless reality twaddle featuring pathetic individuals debasing themselves for a 15 minute shot of shame, the holiday fare that at best is only fair, at worst gluttonous, and almost always too often aired, none of this bothers me. I have “West Wing.”
For reasons I can no longer recall, I never caught this show while it was airing. So now I can get it at my local library, all six seasons of it, and watch them nightly, one after another, to help get me through this long winter of my television discontent.
One very interesting element of this show is the fact that the issues it discusses — and there’s a lot of such discussions amid the personal joys and angst of the show’s main characters — are so contemporary. Americans have been arguing about these same tax, social, and foreign policies issues for a very long time, and here is President Josiah (Jed) Bartlet, and his gang of exceptionally sharp-tongued but endlessly fallible West Wing helpers, grapling with them week after week on TV years ago — and night after night on my own set today.
This makes the show seem very, very contemporary. And the 19th show on season one struck me as especially so. It was when President Bartlet and crew decided it was time to “let Bartlet be Bartlet.”
His first year in office had been a disappointment until this moment. His only major political victory was getting a Latino on the Supreme Court (I’m not making this up. This was actually part of that show’s first season). How to bring back the president’s popularity so he could govern effectively into the future with a troublesome Congress, that was the big question faced by these TV characters. How to allow him to carry out the president’s most important agenda items (he was a liberal Democratic president, you may recall).
Here’s the strategy they came up with to meet this challenge. President Bartlet would henceforth fight for his real agenda and not try to compromise with all the vested interests fighting to keep real change from occurring. An approach, I’ve heard from other fans of West Wing, carried through in future episodes of this series. Bartlet becomes Bartlet, battles for truly significant and humane changes, and ultimately is recognized as a great American President.
Now, as I watch our own President Obama facing the future after accommodating all manner of special interests on key legislation such as the health care bill, I’m wondering: Is Obama a real-life Bartlett? Is he a bright, articulate, well meaning guy who settles for the best he thinks he can can get in a tough political climate, or a president who fundamentally reshapes the Republic for the better?