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Binge Watching 109 Hours of The West Wing

The past week has seemed so unreal. For those of you reading this in the future when all history has been destroyed, let me fill you in. The United States of America elected into the office of the President an orangutan troll, and a bunch of truth-denying spineless gits into their Congress.

So the only thing that seems sane right now is to binge watch ‘The West Wing’, the amazing, uplifting Sorkin drama filled with good men, hope, and optimistic dialogue. ‘The West Wing’ ran from 1999–2006 on NBC, in the time when people were tired of Bill Clinton and elected into office George W. Bush, a president so wildly mocked that everyone thought that the US had hit rock bottom with its choice of president. Yet, like a battered woman who only can ever date abusive boyfriends, the US broke off its last healthy relationship and chose to get into a four year relationship with a bully.

The West Wing was a great show because it made politics – a field reviled so much that the US Congress now has a lower approval rating than gonorrhoea – look cool and fun. It achieved this by showing a small group of thoughtful, commited people changing the world, in a nod to Margaret Meade. This meant that people routinely went beyond party affiliations, beyond their own petty egos in an attempt to make the world better. For instance, when Sam and Toby offer a Republican congressman a number of standard Republican demands in exchange for his vote to sustain the President’s veto on repeal of the estate tax, he refuses the perks, yet votes to sustain the veto because the repeal of the estate tax made him ashamed to be a Republican. When a young Republican lawyer made Sam look like a fool on national TV, the President hired her because he admired her viewpoint. The same person, Ainsley Hayes, then turned Sam around on a policy in order to help small businesses, and Sam listened to what she had to say because she made a point.

The same theme also flows through in ‘Mr. Willis of Ohio’, an episode which throws the Constitution of the US out the window in terms of how members are elected to Congress, but still makes for great drama because Mr. Willis of Ohio enters into a room with no preconceived notions, listens to an argument, and votes his conscience at the end of the episode.

When the President’s daughter is kidnapped, the President invokes the 25th amendment and transfers power to the Republican speaker of the house. While I must say that the Speaker did end up bombing a lot of countries in a nod to G. W. Bush, he did get the President’s daughter back, and walked away from the office with no regrets. ‘The nation’s best served by seeing only one President at a time.’ A Republican politician walked away from his seat in Congress to help a Democrat President. I don’t ever see this happening in the real world today.

When Senator Stackhouse filibusters a bill for improving healthcare benefit, it isn’t because he just wants to obstruct the President, but because he genuinely believes that the government should add another 47 million dollars to autism research. The President, instead of trying to push the bill, decides to help Sen. Stackhouse with his filibuster, reopen the bill, and add the additional funding. ‘Screw the print deadline.’

When the Ayatollah of Iran arranges to fly his son to the US for a life-saving surgery, the President refuses to use this as leverage for diplomacy against the Ayatollah. ‘Imagine a big red cross on the plane.’ When the only doctor available for the surgery is one whose parents had been tortured by the Ayatollah, the President convinces him to go ahead with the surgery, without threats, but by appealing to the doctor’s humanity.

Even the Presidential debates were substantive. I especially loved how President Bartlett shut down Gov. Ritchie, who was quite the caricature of a Republican back in the day, but appears almost reasonable by today’s standards. I loved how he explained that ‘unfunded mandate’ were two words, not one long word. I loved how this was the thing that sealed his re-election. I see the presidential debates today, and I see a smart, articulate woman with a history of service being voted out in favour of a person who cannot use words with more than three syllables, someone who has no idea of what he is talking, and delivers empty promises. The West Wing harks back to a time when people realised that they had to choose the smartest kid in class to be president, not one they could share a beer with. Seriously, what’s the craze Americans have with sharing a beer with someone? It appears that no one can be elected president in the US without putting disgusting things in his mouth, which makes me wonder how long until the US elects an adult-film actor for the role?

An extra-judicial killing by the President troubles him so much that he needs to see a psychiatrist for the resulting sleeping disorder. I may be an Obama fanboy, but I still never saw him lose sleep, or even blink as his administration green lit multiple extra-judicial executions of people using drones, so much so that children in Pakistan are now afraid of clear blue skies.

I could go on and on about The West Wing, and how it has become relevant today. That would require that I go over each episode, one by one. Luckily, Joshua Malina and Hrishikesh Hirway are doing just that. I would strongly recommend their podcast The West Wing Weekly, where they go through an episode each week, with lots of #TrumpAiYiYi over the past few weeks.

PS: Even though the title of this post suggests that I’m binge-watching, I would like to clarify to people, especially my parents and my boss, that I am not binge-watching anything right now; that simply makes for a better title.

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