Here’s my third post on my “people (even politicians) are people” theme…
Two nights ago, as I was still thinking about my arguments on Cynthia Hardy’s radio show in opposition to the cynical approach to politics, I saw an episode of “The West Wing” that illustrated my point.
It was the 10th episode in the 5th season, “The Stormy Present.” Here’s a synopsis:
Bartlet clears his schedule to attend the funeral of a former President whose conservative views often clashed with his own while he monitors a potential firestorm in Saudi Arabia as freedom protesters threaten civil war and surround a worker’s compound that includes dozens of Americans. Elsewhere, Josh mediates a post-Civil War fracas between a representative from North Carolina who demands that her Connecticut counterpart return her state’s copy of the Bill of Rights — stolen long ago by a Union soldier — and C.J. is flustered after meeting a Pentagon scientist whose security innovations could threaten privacy. En route to the funeral, Bartlet shares sobering thoughts with two other men who appreciate the weight of the Oval Office — Speaker Walken and ex-President Newman.
Toby Ziegler is on the plane carrying the president, along with officials from the administration of the former president, to the funeral. Toby is tasked with writing a eulogy for Bartlet to deliver at the funeral. Toby is a basket case. He’s deeply appalled at being on the same plane with these people he regards as dangerous wing-nuts. He spend most of his time on his cell complaining to his colleagues back in the West Wing about what hell it is to be in the company of such people. He’s sincerely stressed out. He gets into Air Force One’s liquor supply and gets too wasted to be much good in writing the speech. (Looking back, I’m not entirely sure who DID write it in the end.)
But there are a couple of good scenes in which Bartlet reveals that, while his overly partisan staff may see the previous GOP administration as the embodiment of evil, he has learned to get over that. He has come to value his predecessors as the only human beings on the planet who understand what he is experiencing as president. He has come to see past the ideological differences and political competition between the parties. He, and especially the former presidents, are past that.
There is a good scene with a former Democratic president who’s along for the ride who talks about how furious he was at Bartlet, and was going to call him up and chew him out… until he was talked down by their conservative Republican predecessor.
I got really disgusted with Toby watching this, as he seemed to embody everything that was bad about hyperpartisanship today — he was so wrapped up in his hostility toward the opposition that he couldn’t function, which made him a metaphor for everything wrong with Washington today.
But the human connection and understanding between the current and former presidents held out hope of a way our system could work, if the parties, staffs and interest groups could just shut up for awhile, and let people listen to each other and work together, deliberately…
If you have Netflix, I recommend you go back and watch this episode.