Media: February 2010 Archives

In defence of the West Wing.

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bartlett.pngMy friends over at Bright Green Scotland have decided to take the West Wing to the mat because it creates, we're told, "a particular type of politics. And that type of politics is poisonous." 

The grave sin cited is triangulation, the tacking between left and right which Bill Clinton popularised for the Democrats and which Obama is currently reviving. I'm sure I can't have been the only one who thought Hope wouldn't mean restarting America's nuclear programme, halted over 30 years ago after the Three Mile Island disaster.

Democrats triangulate, this is true, and it's both deplorable and possibly inevitable in one of the world's most majoritarian electoral systems. 

Republicans, conversely, have grown better and better at governing without compromise: did "W" listen to Democratic concerns on the Hill about the Patriot Act or other such obscenties?

Even on Obama, the case for the defence can be made. Obama's flawed and watered down healthcare reforms passed by just 215 votes to 210 last year: both Josh Lyman or Rahm Emanuel would be right to regard this as about the narrowest acceptable margin for error. Would it have been better to let a true public option go down in flames? Perhaps, but it's hardly a clearcut decision.

Curiously, and it's impossible to do this without spoilers, nowhere in the piece is there any actual critique of the Bartlet administration's policies. The reality, the imaginary reality, is that Bartlet sticks very close to a whole range of true liberal flagship positions, several of which are to the left of Obama's Presidency. Bartlet's sound on gays in the military and speaks out against the homophobia of the quasi-Biblical right, he risks American lives on a genuine effort to achieve Middle East peace (rather than a bogus "surge" in Afghanistan), they take on "clean coal", his administration tries to get a nuclear test-ban treaty through, campaigns to preserve the estate tax on the richest, etc etc.

President Bartlet doesn't follow the recent Democrat pattern. Sure, sometimes he accepts less than he wants because the numbers aren't there in Congress, as Obama has done - but something over nothing is hardly cause for such excoriation.

The real target here should be actual Democrats, not the fictional West Wing. It has its cheesy moments (did I mention it's American TV?), but it gives people a genuinely inspiring view of politics driven by progressive impulses to improve people's lives. Sure, it's more centrist and more militarist than I would like, but by American standards Bartlet would truly have been a radical leftist.

Peter's critique of the show also includes the following: "Every time someone talks about how their party would bring 'good governance', you see the influence of the West Wing." If someone can explain how this is a bad thing to campaign for I'll be delighted. I look at Westminster's corrupt pork-barrel house-flipping politics and think good governance has never been so urgent.

Finally, I never wanted to be Josh. His judgement was pretty poor throughout, not least for letting Amy Gardner slip through his fingers.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Media category from February 2010.

Media: January 2010 is the previous archive.

Media: March 2010 is the next archive.