David Rodeback's Blog

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Saturday, August 27, 2005
The West Wing

I've been a bit under the weather for the past couple of days, so I turned to my collection of The West Wing on DVD, which presently consists of the first three seasons. I found a comfortable chair and simply vegetated for a few hours.

Once in a while, someone who knows both my politics and my fondness for that particular NBC drama asks about an apparent incongruity: How can I, as a political conservative, lap up so devotedly a drama about a liberal president with liberal ideas and a very liberal staff? (Maybe someone also wonders how I could even watch a series that began with a staffer having just - accidentally, as he put it - slept with a high-priced call girl, and then vigorously defended his indiscretion as nobody's business but his own. First, it was relatively discretely done. Second, that particular view is very common, particularly in that fictional staffer's real political party. Third, that story line is not representative of the series as a whole.)

The West Wing routinely has some of the best, most intelligent writing I have seen on a screen, large or small. The cast is superb. Yes, sometimes it's a little preachy, which we expect in politics, but it doesn't talk down to the audience at all. Moreover, alternative viewpoints, including mine, often get a better, fairer hearing there than they do in the network news. In some ways, the portrayal of actual politics is a tad idealistic and, necessarily, slightly simplified - but not much. For a political junky like me, this is high-grade stuff. For me, at least, nearly every episode is enjoyable the fourth or fifth time, let alone the first.

And in case you're wondering, President Bartlet's politics, which are still somewhat to the left, are not nearly so far left as the politics of Martin Sheen, the actor who plays the President.

That's why I'm thoroughly and unashamedly hooked on the show, and have been since the first season. But back the other question: How can I stand the politics, and how is it even okay for me for me hear so much from the other side? Because I am an adult. I not only can hear and consider opposing views without being seduced by them (unless they make more sense than my own, which occasionally happens); I actually need to be aware of and understand intelligent arguments on all sides of issues.

On the latter point, for what it's work, I have read and studied literally thousands of pages of the fundamental tracts of communism and socialism, in many cases under the tutelage of scholars who at least partly embraced them, without myself being enticed toward them. (The writers of such works tend to identify real, important problems and issues, and then come to solutions which violate human nature and simply do not work, and which tend to kill masses of people in the process. That is not seductive to me.)

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