In the last few months, my wife and I started watching the late 90s television series, “The West Wing.” It chronicles the stories of the President and his immediate closest staff as they navigate challenges of governing in this nation of ours. There are several reasons why I love this show and it is superior to other politically driven dramas. The chief reason is the treatment the show gives to the opposition party. Secondly, the simplifying of complex political powers, processes, and principles for the public. Lastly, the main character of the President has a certain approachability not found in other political dramas. It is for these reason that “The West Wing” is the best political television drama in the history of Television.
In the first episode of series we don’t even meet the President until the last five minutes of the episode. Played by Martin Sheen, President Jedidiah Bartlet is in middle of his second year in the White House. We spend most of the episode becoming familiar with the members of the White House Staff, like the Chief and Deputy Chief of Staff and Communications, the Press Secretary and their immediate subordinates. We know the President is a New England liberal Democrat with the Republicans in control of Congress. When he steps into the room to face a the leadership of religious organization, he commands the room with his presence. He explains his position on the topic with clarity and a slight partisanship against the people he is meeting about an issue that was not even in discussion at the start of the meeting. He does all this while quoting the Bible like a devoted Christian would. He supports his staff and does not throw them under the bus because of a stupid comment. In private he makes sure that the officer in question, deputy Chief of staff Josh Lyman, knows that he is upset with his actions and it should never happen again. This and plenty of other events make this partisan president a very relatable man to both liberal and conservatives alike. He skirts a line that while his policies are everything a conservative would stand against, his honesty and forthrightness makes them want to cheer for him to succeed. This show would not have done well if the President and his staff could not be relatable and cheered on by member of the Republican party.
As a government teacher I love how I can educate both students, parents and others about the powers, processes and principles of our government, even if you don’t agree with me on policies. This show does a good job of this too. A recent episode we just watched started with a senator filibusters on the floor of the Senate over a proposed bill. Throughout the episode we hear snippets from the White House staff of how a filibuster works and why it exists. The episode even goes into minute details of parliamentary rules and law making in Congress. It educates the public of how our system of government works. As an educator I appreciate this aspect of the show. it not only entertains but informs the public. There are very few shows out there that do that any more on primetime. Let us recognize “The West Wing” for their role in educating the American public about its government.
The last and most important reason why I love “The West Wing” and consider it the best political show in the history of television is the even handedness it gives to both sides of the political aisle. Many times in this day and age, in entertainment media shows one side or the other is viewed or portrayed as unreasonable, illogical, immoral, unethical, or characterized in the worst possible light. “The West Wing” never stoops to that level. The major characters (who are Democrats) may not always like the Republicans (majority in Congress during the show), but they are never portrayed by the show as a caricature of what they really believe. They are not portrayed as racists, homophobic, poor hating, white people. The show seems to go out of their way to educate the public on the general principles of the conservative Republican Party at the time the show aired. Not even news media today will do that with either side of the aisle. Both Conservative and Liberal news sources go out of their way to show the other side in the worst possible light and angle, thereby dividing us even more against each other. The fact that “The West Wing” goes to such lengths to protect the image of the other side shows that it is heads and above any other political show today, either fake (House of Cards, Daily Show, etc.) or real (Major cable news network shows.)
“The West Wing” is one of the best political drama on television. This is because it is able to portray both sides of a political debate in a reasonable and even handed way, making neither seen as unreasonable. It also educates the viewers on the nuances public policy and its creation within our federal government. Lastly, the President is approachable by people regardless of their politics and political beliefs. It is for these reasons that if a person wants to watch a political drama they should watch this show. Whether you are a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, conservative, liberal or moderate you will enjoy this show. Make this your next bing show. Watch it with a friend, it will certainly give rise to many a political debate and discussion between those watching about the actions taken by the President and his staff.
Questions? Comments? Concerns? Class dismissed.