Alan Alda for President
At the height of its popularity, which seems a very long time ago, the TV program West Wing functioned almost as a form of video catharsis for liberals and progressives. Sure, we had a deeply ignorant frat boy who somehow weasled his way into the Oval Office, which was an embarrassing stain on our national pride and our sense of ourselves as a smart, progressive people. But at least we always had the whip-smart, Nobel-winning, wearing-his-heart-on-his sleeve Jed Bartlett to fall back on, a reminder of the kind of best-of-us brilliance we could have in the White House if only we were better at selecting presidents. For me, at least, it seemed more than a little pathetic to cling to such a thin reed in the face of the brutal reality, but if it worked for others, god bless 'em, I figured.
I haven't thought about that show in quite a while, and neither have a lot of others, judging by the fact that NBC recently decided to pull the plug at the end of this (it's seventh) season. I'm surely not alone in believing that the show lost most of its zing after the monomaniacal Aaron Sorkin (who nursed a nasty drug habit for years) stopped writing the scripts. Or possibly the show's central theme--that our best national qualities not only should but can be reflected in our highest leaders--finally created too much cognitive dissonance, given the brutal realities of the gang that now occupies the White House. Probably, it was some of each.
Still, I do flip across the show's repeats occasionally, and yesterday I stopped for a moment to watch. Alan Alda, who played a Republican Senator who hoped to succeed Bartlett in the White House, was accepting the party's presidential nomination, and he surprised his Democratic antagonists (who were watching on TV) with some uncharacteristic grace and eloquence about the office. He called the presidency more than a series of policy statements and political positions. "It's a stewardship, a sacred trust." Which of course it is.
But here was my next thought: do you think the deeply, even proudly unreflective George W. Bush has ever stopped for one moment in the last six years to considered his job in that way?