Somehow in the midst of the pabulum that feeds the witless minds tuned to the inanity that is the Bravo Channel, there is two-hour window of enlightenment most weekday mornings as the seven seasons of The West Wing are broadcast. This fabulously well-written show that detailed the lives of fictional President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet, his family and staff ran on NBC from September 1999 through May of 2006 still delights the mind no matter how many times an episode airs. With a gifted cast that grew in plot development each season, the show’s run was as good as it got for fictional television for me.
Yes, it is understood that there are inaccuracies and that it is doubtful that any real staff could possibly be as gifted, bright and devoted as those on the show. I don’t care. The show draws you in, challenges the mind and leaves the viewer wondering what could be. After every episode, I was always anxious to see more. There was a human side to all the characters that developed as the years passed. I would hope there would be the same in any White House staff. The fact Bartlett’s Presidency did not go all that well makes identifying with the characters even easier since any real Presidency is inexact at best.
My wife was already a fan when we began to date. By then, I had already missed the entire first season. Since I love the political process, it was an easy sell. We would tape and watch the episodes as time permitted which is still true today. In syndication, our DVR helps us skip past all the Bravo ads for the Real Housewives of Heaven Knows Where, the screaming chefs, frazzled designers and awful comedians that numb the mind quickly. Daughter, Kelly, already deeply involved in Kansas political causes, is an addicted viewer thanks to Netflix. Hearing Martin Sheen, who played Bartlett, advertising for Midas still throws me. “Why would the President do that?” was my initial reaction.
I’m a fan because I hope the idealized series is closer to reality than real life allows. The argument over clean versus dirty coal that came up today is much the same as is being fought right now in Kansas. The battle lines that separate Republican from Democrat seem just as real, muddled and bloody as they are today. There are examples of fear mongering and even the dirty works we always hope don’t happen but down deep know they do. Throughout the seven years, every show character stumbled and faltered but also made real contributions to the process of Democracy that makes our country the greatest in the world.
In a recent episode, a talented North Korean pianist made it secretly known to the President that he wanted to defect. A battle of wills amongst staffers over ideology and harsh political reality finally forced the President to ask the pianist not to defect due to secret high-level negotiations taking place between the two countries over nuclear arms. After the pianist painfully submits of his own accord, a saddened President talks in the Oval Office with his director of communications. The two shared the same passionate desire to see the pianist find his freedom in differing ways. While the communications director wanted to see the pianist defect, the deeply saddened the President told a story. He knew the pianist had discovered the real meaning of freedom, the freedom to make a choice.
“There’s a Korean word, Han.” the President quietly said. “I looked it up. There is no literal English translation. It’s a state of mind, of soul really. A sadness, a sadness so deep no tears will come. And, yet, there is hope.”
The West Wing reminds me that while politics in our country at times seems so sad no tears will come, there is still hope. Deep in my soul, I know that is freedom.