If you're like me, you used to love The West Wing, nearly a decade ago. (My God, it hurts to think that almost nine years have passed since it premiered.) It launched at the end of Bill Clinton's presidency, but for many of us it really took off after George W. Bush took up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
For millions of Americans, it was entertaining and escapist. Eventually, it jumped the shark, as all good shows eventually do. It wasn't so much that the show became contrived and unbelievable, but that reality itself did.
From the start, of course, it was pilloried by John Podhertz. It was derided by Peggy Noonan. She called the show "a left-wing nocturnal emission--undriven by facts, based on dreams, its impulses as passionate as they are involuntary and as unreflective as they are genuine" in her Wall Street Journal column, which was kind of ironic, since she also worked as a writer for the show. But whatever.
When The West Wing first premiered, it was a world slightly better than ours, but something to aspire to. But five years in, it was like watching a presidential version of Bizarro Jerry. It was just too painful.
Its ratings tanked in the last few years, even as they pulled stunts like a live TV debate between the two candidates running to succeed President Bartlett. I guess TV shows like Cold Case and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition did it in. I might have caught a few episodes that last year or two, but never enough to draw me back in.
And that's why I never realized that life was setting up to imitate The West Wing.
The clearest similarity is between Barack Obama and Jimmy Smits’ character, Matt Santos, the principled three-term Mexican American congressman from Texas. Just like Santos, Obama is tall, young and brown with a smart attractive wife and a couple of small children. Nobody gave Santos much credit as a presidential candidate because of his short congressional career, but after some early stumbles the people fell in love with his vision and judgment.
Hillary Clinton’s role is a twist on the plot. Instead of the not-so-bright Vice President “Bingo Bob” Russell, it is as if smart and aggressive first lady Abby Bartlett is running for president. Clinton, like the fictional Vice President Russell, began the race as the presumptive Democratic nominee that not many people loved but had all of the early advantages.
The only role left open in our real life remake is that of Jed Bartlett, the fictional president on the television show with the Wisdom of Job to head off a crisis. In Season Six of the West Wing, the contest for the Democratic nomination is so close that it goes to the convention. The Democrats are faced with the prospect of a split convention and mayhem. Sound familiar? The only person in the party who has the standing to bring everyone together around one candidate is the sitting president, played by Martin Sheen.
Imagine that. Life imitates art.
Yes, it's in the Politico. So sue me.