A few years ago my wife and I binged on The West Wing on Netflix. I think we finished all seven seasons of the series in less than a year. I will not bore you with the reasons why I love The West Wing here because I already wrote an article on that; give it a read. Then this year I thought we had a show in the same vein as The West Wing in Designated Survivor, but unfortunately, it fell short of my expectations.
The plan during the first few episodes was the write a blog article on each episode and discuss the public policy issues the new president in the show faced each week. However, as I watched, I got frustrated with the cloak and dagger storyline that was developing around the terrorist attack on the Capitol building that starts the series. That is not what I wanted in the show. However, it was also during watching these first few episodes that the idea for this set of articles was born.
The point of this series of articles is to retrospectively go back and view The West Wing series, not to tell you a blow by blow narrative of each episode, but to analyze the public policy questions that each episode raises from a political scientist’s perspective. This series will also serve as political commentary on these issues and how they relate to us today at the period of each article’s publishing date.
This article will not start with the first episode today. Since many of readers may not have watched the series, this article will help the reader to the introduce the major characters in the story. The ones we see on a regular basis. When new recurring characters appear on the show, they the article will describe their character and role within the White House and the West Wing. This article will also seek to set up the primary setting of where the stories take place, i.e. the West Wing of the White House (Hence the name of the series).
Martin Sheen plays the President of the United States (or POTUS) in this series. President Bartlet is a member of Democratic Party that supports the party platform but believes in both social and economic conservative ideals (He is pro-choice, but does not like abortion. He believes in less government spending, but feels taxes need to be raised to deal with deficits). Jed is a devout Catholic, and his faith shows up visibly in many episodes. While he is the titular character in the West Wing of the White, he does not always play the main role in each episode.
The Executive Assistant to the President, Mrs. Dolories Landingham is portrayed by Kathryn Joosten and Kirsten Nelson (in a flashback episode). She is the top secretary to the President of the United States. Within the series, the viewer can tell that there is a history between President Bartlet and her. In fact, she was his assistant throughout much of her and his career. The President can often be heard yelling her name for something that he may need in the oval office. In the current Administration, one Madeleine Westerhout is the personal secretary to President Trump.
Chief of Staff, Leo McGarry John Spencer plays the Leo McGarry who is the White House Chief of Staff. The Chief of Staff is to control access to the president. He sets the daily agenda for the president and is one of his closest advisors. Leo is the person who plants the idea of in the mind of Jed Bartlet to run for the office of President. He is a recovering alcoholic and one of the President’s closest friends.Reince Priebus, former Chairman of the Republican National Committee, serves as the chief of staff for President Trump as of the publishing date of the article.
Nicole Robinson plays the Magaret Hooper, the Senior Assistant to the Chief of Staff. Her role as Senior Assistant includes responsibility for management of the office, and to have reader’s digest condensed of all human knowledge to assist her boss. She is quirky and funny against Leo’s grave demeanor. She comes running to Leo’s office whenever he hollers her name, which is a running gag in the series.
Bradly Whitford plays the Deputy Chief of Staff, Josh Lyman. The Deputy Chief of Staff in The West Wing is in charge of coordinating the political maneuvers of the President of the United States. He has often seen as the liaison between the White House and Congress, due to his time as Chief of Staff to former Senator and current Vice-President, John Hoyes. In this role, he coordinates that the White House has the votes needed in Congress to pass their legislative agenda. A man by the name of Rick Dearborn seems to play this role in the current Trump Administration.
Janel Molony plays as the Senior Assistant to the Deputy Chief of Staff, Donna Moss. She is the gatekeeper to Josh’s office. We learn early on that Donna quit the administration at the beginning of its first term only to return before where the series starts. She is from Wisconsin and represents the attitude and perspectives of the people in middle America. Donna is often a foil to Josh and his east coast liberalism. Moreover, she plays the straight man to Josh’s jokester character. It is unknown to the author who currently serves in this position in the current White House.
Richard Shiff plays the White House Communication Director, Toby Ziegler. The job of the Communications Director is “responsible for crafting and coordinating the message of the White House on behalf of the President of the United States” (The West Wing Wiki, n.p. 2017). He is also one of the chief speech writers for the President along with his deputy. He is one of the few staff that have been with the Jed Bartlet since the start of his campaign for President. He also has no problem speaking truth to power, though it gets him into trouble sometimes with the other members of the White House Staff. In the Trump White House, Sean Spicer is the interim Communications Director.
Rob Lowe plays the Deputy Communications Director, Sam Seaborn. He works below Toby Ziegler and acts as the chief speechwriter for the president. Toby is very much an idealist and gets into political spats with both Republicans and Democrats alike during his time in the series. He also has several romantic relationships during the series as well. Currently, Jessica Ditto serves in this capacity for President Trump.
Allison Janey plays Press Secretary, Claudia Jean (C.J.) Cregg. The Press Secretary works under the White House Communications Director and serves as the primary spokesperson for the Administration. She addresses the White House press corps on daily, if not hourly, basis to fill them in on any information the government and administration might have regarding current events. Sean Spicer is also the Press Secretary for President Trump, besides being the Communication Director.
CJ also has an assistant too that shows up quite a bit in the show too. She is Carol Fitzpatrick and is portrayed by Melissa Fitzpatrick. Carol is the gatekeeper to CJ’s office. Not much is know about her through the show, but she does encourage CJ to have a personal life outside of work.
While many of the episodes take us outside of the friendly confines of the White House, much of the action that takes place during this series occurs in the aforementioned West Wing of the White House. The West Wing connects to the White House through a series of interior hallways and an outside collande. It was first designed and implemented under FDR to mirror the East Wing added by this cousin Teddy Roosevelt. It houses most of the staff that directly serve at the whim and will of the president. Therefore this series is a workplace drama for those people who work in the West Wing of the White House. It is a building cramped with offices and cubicles for the staff to work and serve the needs of the President and his office. The West Wing also houses the iconic Oval Office of the president and what is known as the Situation Room. The Oval Office is the president’s working office but also ceremonial meeting place with heads of state from other countries. The Situation Room is where all the military action takes place. Here is where the heads of different security branches of the U.S. government meet to discuss and decide on the options the president has for using the military around the world. It is in this room that President Obama ordered and observed the military action that led to the capture and death of Osama bin Laden.
Again, thanks for reading and your time. Questions? Comments? Concerns? Class dismissed!
Bulava, Adam J. “Why I Love “The West Wing”.” The Government Teacher. WordPress, 19 July 2015. Web. 03 July 2017. (Linked Article in the Introductory Paragraph)
“Tv Show the West Wing Characters Cover Photo.” 9 Cover Free HD Facebook Covers. 9COVER – Free HD Facebook Cover Photos for Timeline, 8 Apr. 2013. Web. 03 July 2017 (Source of article’s featured image).
“Secretary to the President of the United States.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 09 June 2017. Web. 03 July 2017 (For information about secretaries to the President).
“West Wing of the White House.” White House Museum. White House Museum.org, n.d. Web. 03 July 2017 (Pictures of the West Wing and general information about the setting.
“West Wing Wiki.” Fandom. Wikia, n.d. Web. 03 July 2017 (A source of general information and pictures used in the post).
“White House Office.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 01 July 2017. Web. 03 July 2017 (A source of general information about the current people who serve in the West Wing of the White House).