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TV’s Best and Worst Fictional Political Campaigns

A professional political consultant and TV critic hands out letter grades.

by
David Forsmark

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March 20, 2013 - 12:00 pm
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Most Overrated: The West Wing

I have to confess I didn’t watch much of this show, after the first episode featured a group of antisemitic “conservative” teachers (as though that’s a bigger problem with conservatives) and President Martin Sheen, I mean Josiah Bartlett, telling a bunch of conservative pastors (in real life, Israel’s best friends) to “get your fat asses out of my office.” That easy, clichéd slander was enough for me.

This show was constant liberal wish fulfillment throughout its run, like any production from the much-overrated Aaron Sorkin that directly deals with politics. Knock down straw men that represent liberal nightmares about conservatives, then be all self-congratulatory for taking on the “tough issues.”

In 2002, President Bartlett’s campaign was against the typical Republican candidate, a stupid, Southern right-wing governor, so it was an easy victory — despite the fact that the most recent president was someone that Hollywood considered a stupid, Southern right-wing governor. And a year after 9/11, the central issue seemed to be green energy; and, of course, liberal goodness and farsightedness won the day because the president had the good sense to embrace it.

In 2005, the show presented the “ideal” Republican candidate. The one that liberals supposedly fear the most. A pro-choice moderate played by… wait for it… Alan Alda!

His most triumphant moment is his refusal to go to a conservative mega-church and a declaration against religious tests. But, alas, he is a Republican, so of course he is most afraid of a dynamic Latino candidate on the Democrat side, the idealistic Jimmy Smits, and uses immigration as a wedge issue to hurt him in his own primary, leading to this slapdown by a close aide:

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But aside from the constant liberal fantasy, there are two things that anyone who has ever worked for — or even with — government has to find laughable. First, the idea that government at any level doesn’t move with the speed of a glacier.

And second — adding to the ponderous pretentiousness of the show — did the White House not pay its light bill? The noirish atmosphere may be dramatic, but government buildings are anything but dimly lit, and their favorite type of lighting tends to be fluorescent.

During the run of The West Wing, every successful Republican for president in a generation had run as a conservative, while every successful Democrat had run disguised as a moderate. Of course, 2012 changed all that…

GRADE:  The Show Overall — C, the Campaign — D

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All Comments   (9)
All Comments   (9)
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One scene of 'Political Reality' from the West Wing was when they were trying to run a new tax bill through congress. With the obligitory 'Tax On Millionaires'. And they couldn't get the CBC (Congressional Black Caucus) to go along with an increased tax on inheritance. To the plaint of "...but Why wont they...?" The adult in the room (Leo) tells them that "...the first generation of Black Millionaires is getting ready to die."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You've omitted another show that seems to try to be accurate about politics. The show is Treme, created by the same David Simon who created The Wire. Its focus is New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Although politics is a relatively minor aspect of the show, Simon makes strong efforts to accurately portray the politics of the city and state governments as they make noises about rebuiiding but actually accomplish very little.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
WHAT is a "political consultant"? A "professional political consultant"?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I was with you until I got to the "Viola" moment. Urk.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I'll agree with the statement that The West Wing was *usually* liberal, but it did have its moments when conservatives were made to look good, and liberals not. This is one of the most memorable, but there were others:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D93295KpIZw
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Ahh, yes, the beautiful and brilliiant Aynsley Hayes.... One of the few times I've seen a Republican portrayed as intelligent rather than a go-along to get-along hack.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
you open with the Most Overrated and your first clause of your first sentence is "I have to confess i didn't watch much of this show,"

i have to confess,i didn't read the rest of the article
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Then you missed out on a great article.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It's an OK article, but a pretty dumb thing to say. The West Wing was often biased, and always to the left, but it did have its moments of balance, believe it or not. I'm definitely a conservative, and yes I was sometimes annoyed by the politics of the show, but I watched regularly anyway. They actually had scenes where liberal values were challenged, and sometimes left things hanging, and they didn't always resolve issues in the fashion liberals wanted. One memorable scene involved a "tax-on-the-rich" that Toby Ziegler (actor Richard Schiff) wanted passed because, as he kept repeating, it only would affect a tiny percentage of the population. At the end of the show, Bartlett vetoes the legislation "because the rest of the voters want to *be* in that category, not penalize it."

They also had conservative characters at times, usually not part of the regular cast, and not (for the most part) as prominent as the main characters, but they were there and not always monsters. If there was a bias, it was that the conservative characters who were good were always portrayed as bucking the party's leadership (usually nebulous insiders who were never seen) while the show's main characters were portrayed, for the most part, as the Democratic Party's inner circle (he was the President, after all).

One of my favorite scenes in the whole run of the show was when Josh (Bradley Whitford, essentially the mainstay of the show throughout its run) confronts a Republican aide to Speaker-of-the-House-turned-Temp-President Glenallen Walken (wonderfully played by John Goodman), suggesting that the Republicans are going to take advantage of the situation that's landed their guy in the White House temporarily, and the aide (wonderfully played by Zeljko Ivanek) essentially tells him he's a jackass, because the Republicans are in awe of what Bartlett's done, and besides they're fully aware that if they try and politicize things it'll blow up in their faces. It's an excellent scene.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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