Tuesday, November 04, 2008


It’s time to get the “West Wing” DVDs out again. Seven Seasons and 156 episodes of, in this author’s eyes at least, the best long drama series I’ve ever watched on TV.

It tells the story of an unlikely, intellectual, admirable, youngish, radical, morally driven, liberal and left leaning Democrat who manages, against the odds to get himself into the White House, and stay for his allotted eight years. Yes I know in reality, it’s really a soap, but it’s a bloody good one. The stories are ones you can believe in, ones which actually happen to politicians in the real world. Often they happen first on the “West Wing”, and then you find them being played out in real life sometime later. How often have I felt that nagging “déja vu” flash of “Which episode did Blair/Brown/Bush look at to get their inspiration and strategy for what to do in the here and now?” It’s no wonder that a poll in the USA once resulted in more people thinking Jed Bartlet was the US President than George Bush. For many people, and not only Americans, the sad thought there was “If only”.

Inevitably, there are differences. Josiah Bartlet was actually a white Martin Sheen playing a very clever New England Nobel Prize winner, who knew how to play chess and knew what a “shibboleth” was without asking one of his advisors. Obama is not quite the same colour, is not from the same background, and has not yet won a Nobel prize, and to be fair, has not yet won the election. But you’ve got to be impressed with his eloquence.

As I write this a few hours before the Mid West polling closes, you can’t help feel that there’s something very important in the air tonight. A feeling of America potentially starting anew, starting afresh. A feeling of throwing off the dragging, dirty cloak of Iraq and Afghanistan, the terrifying corporate greed and seeming lack of concern for the Man on the top of the Minnesota Omnibus - if only they had them.

Of course, the structure of the American Political system is designed to be labyrinthine. The constitution is meant to be cumbersome, with elegantly and intentionally loaded checks and balances. Deliberately set up this way by its founders in the last quarter of the 18th Century, it has remained remarkably stable since that time, often resulting in a very slow system of change in the country. There is the real chance tonight that Democrat majorities will exist, not only in both houses of Congress, but also in the White House, leading to ground breaking changes in social welfare, tax redistribution and more equitable health insurance in the US over the next few years if Obama finally gets there.

Jed Bartlet never had that option – he was always fighting the Republicans on his liberalising agendas. But then, that was designed to create the tension for good television, and this is real life.

Granted whoever wins, they will be facing the grimmest introduction to a Presidency for decades, but it surely offers a once in a lifetime opportunity for great things to happen.

I wonder if they will.



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