A Few Bad Writers


Gene Healy bids good riddance to The West Wing:

Can you picture a young John Dean in the Bartlett White House, rubbing his hands together at the prospect of "using the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies"? A young Bill Moyers demanding that J. Edgar Hoover find homosexuals on Barry Goldwater's campaign staff? Could even a Dick Morris or a David Addington walk the halls with saintly C.J. and noble Toby? Not likely.

It's not that every White House staffer should be played as Gollum-with-a-briefcase. But the West Wing writers wouldn't even entertain the possibility that anybody gets corrupted by proximity to power.

And then there's Martin Sheen's President Bartlett. He's some sort of Catholic theologian-cum-Nobel laureate in economics—you know, the sort of guy we usually get for the job….

The West Wing was, above all, a Valentine to power. And despite the snappy repartee and the often-witty scripts, it was a profoundly silly show. It managed—in 21st century America—to be markedly less cynical than Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

I can't agree about the alleged wit and repartee. Otherwise, amen.

NEXT: 25 Inconvenient Truths for Gore?

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  1. I have to agree.

    I tried with the West Wing. I really did. But it was like Dawson’s Creek in suits – People just don’t talk like that.

    The other show which gets too many plaudits and is a steaming pile of dung is ER.

  2. I’d like a new White House show that just rolls around in the corruption. And, for good measure, after a couple of seasons it can flip the parties around and show that the corruption’s mysteriously still there! Maybe they could call it Down and Out at the Real White House.

  3. I love this little bit in the Ezra Klein piece to which Healy links: “It laid bare a peculiar, and possibly temporary, quirk of liberals: their aching desire to believe the best of their opponents.”

    Um, what?

  4. I was surprised that the democrats didn’t nominate Martin Sheen in 2004.

    In all seriousness, the West Wing is a lot like 24. They’re obvious fantasies in today’s world. We wish we had someone in the white house who was as honest as Martin Sheen’s character, and we wish we had Kiefer Sutherland defending us from terrorists.

    Oh, and Pro Libertate, I would watch that show every week. SOmeone should pitch it to HBO or something.

  5. just keep telling your yourself: it’s just a tv show. try not to take it so seriously.

  6. For a show about the government, I’m looking forward to “Big Brother: White House”

  7. Never did manage to watch an entire episode. Always assumed it was a Democrat-in-denial fantasy piece. Did I miss anything?

    Didn’t know Sorkin also wrote The American President but I should have guessed. I was hoping for an assassination in that movie (and in fact I secretly wish Michael Douglas to die a painful death in all his movies) but that would have made it a libertarian fantasy piece.

  8. Now that Deadwood is almost over, I’d love to see a show where Ian McShane plays a Nixon-esque President.

  9. I don’t even own a television.

  10. Never could stand the show myself. But I guess it deserves some kind of credit for surviving while similar efforts to create a DC fantasyland quickly tanked. (Especially that awful James Garner SCOTUS show — “Let’s go out there and make some history!” Gak.)

  11. “It laid bare a peculiar, and possibly temporary, quirk of liberals: their aching desire to believe the best of their opponents.”…Um, what?

    I’m going to get so blasted for this but I watched the show occassionally and actually liked it…in an alternate-universe-that-can’t-possibly-happen way.

    To answer this particular statement, Bartlett wasn’t always a saint and the Republicans were frequently shown in a fairly positive – if not downright ingratiating – ways. Remember the show where Bartlett had to temporarily give up the presidency to the Republican senate leader when his daughter was kidnapped?

    In the real world, I don’t think John Goodman’s character would have given it back.

    In general though, what I liked about it (no, not the preposterous characters) was the (occassioanally inaccurate but more often close to the mark) civics lesson about how certain aspects of government worked and how the Constitution factors in.

    I don’t think any other show has ever come close to that kind of educating people on just how the blinking hell the friggin guv-mint operates…except of course…Schoolhouse Rock.

  12. madpad: I agree that The West Wing showed Republicans in a positive light; I disagree that liberals in general want to see only the good in their opponents. This really doesn’t resonate with my experience of liberals. The tendency to believe that one’s opponents are either misguided (and that they will change when presented with new evidence) or pure evil seems like a permanent aspect of democracy, if not human nature. This American Prospect writer is deluding himself if he thinks his party is different in that respect from any other party in the history of mankind.

    And I’ll add my vote to yours: I liked the little miniature civics lessons, too. Not enough to watch beyond the first two seasons, but still.

  13. Pretty much every political tv show seems like a steaming pile of dung after having seen Yes, Prime Minister

  14. John Goodman had a role on The West Wing? Sorry I missed that one. For me, I’ll always think of him as that grizzled vet in The Big Lebowski – “Life does not stop and start at your convenience, you miserable piece of shit.”

    More Lebowski fun here: The Big Wazowski

  15. Liberals really do believe in the good in their opponents. There’s a vast difference between left-wingers and liberals. The far left, like Chomsky, Ward Churchill,Lenin et al. think that most Americans above a certain income bracket or with white skin or equipped with male genitalia are basically evil. These left-wingers, not coincidentally, tend to despise “West Wing.” Liberals on the other hand do tend to believe that all people are basically good at heart. My parents are this way, as true Adlai Stevenson liberals they sincerely believe that most conservatives are just misguided souls who would become liberals if only someone could teach them the way the world really works. Steve Sailer had a good quote on this attitude talking about that quintessential liberal Garrison Keillor – Minnesotans like Keillor tend to be politically liberal because they are so personally conservative by nature and nurture that they can’t imagine anybody else might need to be restrained by law or tradition. This sums up the Aaron Sorkin world view pretty well. Actually libertarians tend toward this view as well – put the right incentives in place and almost everyone will do the right thing. The difference is that liberals believe that only government can teach people to choose the right incentives, whereas libertarians believe that government creates distortions that cause the wrong incentives, hence get rid of government and people’s natural virtue will emerge. Real conservatives, much like the far-left, tend to believe that people are naturally bad and need the government and/or other authoritarian structures (tradition, religion, etc.) to hold them in check. In my experience liberals tend to be naive about just how nasty their comrades on the far left really are, hence the failure to respond adequately to Communism in the 1930s to 1950s or to recognize the virulence of the current anti-Americanism on the left fringes.

  16. (wondering why my earlier comments didn’t go through..oh well)

    mk, you may want to try

    A Very British Coup

    House of Cards

  17. I’d like a new White House show that just rolls around in the corruption.

    D.C. Legal!

    Oh, and speaking of rolling in corruption, when will Reason fix its servers so I don’t have to post this multiple times to get it through?

  18. D.C. Vice.

  19. D.C. Legal

    Is that a spinoff off Boston Legal where Alan Shore is nominated for A.G. only to find that while he’s the baddest of the bad in Beantown he’s a rank amateur in D.C.?

  20. Denny Crane!

  21. Maybe they could call it Down and Out at the Real White House.

    Or Melrose Place @ 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

    The problem I had getting through a WW episode was the same one I had with An American President. I simply couldn’t believe that most of the conflicts they thought up were that big a problem.

    Like in AAP, where the big hassle was that the widowed, handsome, virile, heterosexual, male, liberal president (Davis) fell in love with the single, gorgeous, sexy, heterosexual, female, liberal lobbyist for environmental issues (Benning). This is a problem? I can just see the publicity character (Fox) bursting in with, “Reelection’s in the bag! Who can vote against a man in love?”

  22. Hey Vanya,

    I like your analysis!

  23. Since we’re being “pragmatic” here, I’ll pose a practical question: Is there any 30% of the electorate in this country that would support a party that simultaneously opposes both gun control and drug prohibition? I’d be really, really surprised (and really happy) if that were the case.

    So, until you throw one of those issues under the bus in the name of pragmatism, you’re going to keep losing elections. But neither a party that supports handgun bans, nor a party that supports the War on Drugs, is a libertarian party in any real sense of the term. Under current conditions, it would seem, it is impossible for a libertarian party to win elections.

    The only hope is to change the current conditions. Try to build that 30% who will agree on basic libertarian issues, whether by education, by influencing the major parties, or by some other method. TBH, I don’t see how having a Libertarian Party now helps any of those efforts.

  24. Minnesotans like Keillor tend to be politically liberal because they are so personally conservative by nature and nurture that they can’t imagine anybody else might need to be restrained by law or tradition.
    This sums up the Aaron Sorkin world view pretty well.

    Except that Sorkin (if American President is any indication) is a big fan of gun control…

  25. At least Geena Davis has nice gams. Seriously, I watch the earlier West Wing episodes the way I watch the better Twilight Zone installments: as entertaining, well-written fiction with an at-best-tenuous connection to anything in the real world.

  26. Vanya made some good points. Not everyone in power corrupts and not every freedom is taken away because of corruption. The Bartlett administration might had been completely devoid of absolutepowercorruptsabsolutely types, but he did drastically take away the American people’s right to guns, money, and speech not to better themselves but because they thought it was what was best. I think that the show didn’t have too many evil corrupted characters as Sorkin wanted to make the point (effectively, I might add) that whatever you where on the left, right, center, up, down, or alien-conspiracy-nut-played-by-the-Lawyer-from-Scrubs, at the end of the day your political affiliations does not change how good, or intelligent of a person you where. Between Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and The West Wing almost every movie and TV show portrayed people up in Washington as amoral slick fat cats (which to me is the same as a movie portraying all CEOs as evil plutocrats) what the West Wing did was call to attention that their are a lot of people in Washington that might be doing the wrong (or right) thing for people in the country, but are doing it because it is what they feel is best for us.

    Also, as an aside, I have a warm place in my heart for TWW as I most likely wouldn’t even be on this site if it where not for the show All of my life I’ve had liberterian tendencies, but this show was what thrusted me through the door. For some reason almost everytime they presented a straw man argument against some liberal position (gun control, wealth redistribution, Equals Right Admendment) the West Wingers did a poor job in defending their points. The one that stood out to me the most was this little bit;

    On the dry-erase is a wage/employment comparison among a guy who unloads boxes who makes minimum wage; a public school teacher who makes upwards of $41K; and a doctor making $150,000. The column below the salary lists the percentage of that salary that gets taxed, and Will explains the “Progressive Tax,” which means that the higher salary gets taxed more. Check. Will adds that the Republican tax plan announced last Friday has the minimum-wage worker and the schoolteacher paying the same taxes as before, but now “the doctor gets $4,500 back.” Under the Democratic plan, however, only the doctor stays the same, whereas the cheaper labor gets a refund on their taxes. But how then, you may be asking, do we “finance the tax deductibility of college tuition for the box unloader and the schoolteacher?” The answer: “The ?ber-wealthy….Ask a CEO making $16,400,000 a year to give us another 1%.” He tells them to work on it for an hour and then he’ll be back. But on his way out, one of the Laurens mutters, “what about the doctor?” What’s that, you say? She repeats, and elaborates as well: “The doctor got into medical school. He had to work hard to do that, and presumably the CEO has some skills, the value of which the market has placed at $16,400,000.”
    Makes perfect sense right? Here was the lame response Will gave…
    “The answer to your question about why the MD should accept a greater tax burden in spite of the fact that his success is well earned is called the veil of ignorance. Imagine before you’re born you don’t know anything about who you’ll be, your abilities, or your position. Now design a tax system.”
    …and volia! I’m a libertarian

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