Musings on “The West Wing” and Idealism with Dad

Spoiler Alert: I describe some stuff from “The West Wing”. If you want to watch the series without knowing what will happen, you have been warned.

A few days ago I had the pleasure of spending the day with my mum. We were working on a craft project. Without her help it would not have turned out nearly as, well, perfectly, as it did. That is not the point of this post, however worthy a topic mother/daughter bonding is.

Over dinner that evening we sat with Dad and watched a few episodes of “The West Wing”. I adore the show. I’ve seen every episode at least twice, and when my sister and I were figuring out a birthday present for Dad last year we opted for the DVDs. He had never really seen the show and it was our filial duty to expose him to the wonders of President Bartlett and Josh Lyman. This spring he has finally started the show… With Mum.

Let us pause for a moment to explain something about my father: he believes in the system. It’s not that he believes that it is infallible, far from it. What Dad believes in is the ability of every citizen to have a voice. He believes in equality, justice, and civic duty. If you don’t vote in his house, you get yelled at and generally guilted. That senator that was elected that we didn’t want? It’s YOUR fault that he won the election! (Ask me how I know? I was in college, forgot it was election day, AND didn’t have a ride to the booth even if I hadn’t forgotten. I’M SORRY MUM AND DAD!) Anyway, Dad really believes in this stuff. He reads the Declaration of Independence to us every July 4th. One year we were in Washington D.C. for the 4th and we went to the National Archives and Dad peered over the original and tried to read it to us (good thing he’s read it so many times he has it almost memorized). While Dad would never say that he “doesn’t care who you vote for, just vote”, he emphatically believes that voting is the epitome of adult responsibility. Well, that and not killing people. The point is, Dad sees wonder in how our system is set up. And he passed it along to me.

Maybe it shows why we both are drawn to history. Maybe it shows why we both became (or in my case, nearly became) history teachers in public schools. Maybe it shows why we both became disappointed in and un-enamored of the public school system. Whatever it shows, Dad and I are political junkies. And “The West Wing” fuels our addiction.

I first found out that Mum and Dad were watching the show when I saw Mum the first time after they started. “Hey Beth,” she said. “I want to vote for Jed Bartlett. Can I?” My response was along the lines of “Welcome to the club, your shirt will be delivered later this week.” Since then I have received updates from both my parents and my sister (who has seen the entire series through and through) about where they are, what just happened, oh my gosh I hate that guy, etc.

Well, two days ago I got to watch the episodes with the government shut down. With my dad. And you know what? It turns out that we watch the show the same way.

Dad hushed me and Mum whenever we started chatting (even though it was usually about the show). He would also take in a deep breath and hold it when something dramatic was clearly about to happen. (“Oh hey. It’s raining with thunder. Something serious is about to happen! Have you noticed how it’s always raining in D.C. when something big is going to happen?”)

Well, the talks going back and forth about the budget and the extension to work on the budget made Dad talk to the T.V. He was righteously outraged that Josh wasn’t a part of the talks, annoyed with Angela for taking Josh’s place, and relieved when Donna got to be in the room. And then Bartlett ended the discussions and walked out. And Dad kind of cheered. It wasn’t really a cheer, because government shutdowns are awful. They’re bad for everyone. What Dad was celebrating was Bartlett being Bartlett. He was celebrating a president not being dragged around by childish and selfish senators. He was celebrating the president standing up for the people and for what he thought was right. He was celebrating the checks and balances of power built into the system.

Now, I don’t know how many of you have seen the series, so let me fill you in. They shutdown the government because they couldn’t agree. There was $100 billion between the White House and the Senate. The White House gave their $50 billion in compromise, and the Senate didn’t. Instead they demanded the White House give more… and more… and more… and more. So the President said no. The leader of the senators, Haffley, was sure the President would give in. Well, by the fourth day it was not clear if Haffley was right. Something had to be done though, so the President decided to go to the Hill, be the bigger person, and try to talk to the senators again. AND HE ENDS UP WALKING THERE! The senators think it’s just a cheap stunt, and they make the President wait 7 minutes out in the hallway. So the press gets pictures of Bartlett sitting quietly, WAITING! And then Josh suggests that Bartlett has waited long enough… so they LEAVE!!! So the Haffley looks like a buffoon and Bartlett wins. It’s great.

Well, during all the mishegas Dad watched rapt. And when Bartlett got up and left he basically punched the air. He kept saying “Haffley is like Gingrich in the 90s! He ended up looking like an ass and Clinton was the good guy!”

Dad’s reaction to the episode made me so happy. I loved seeing that I am like him, and I love seeing him so wrapped up in something. We began discussing why we love the show, and it turns out it’s because it makes both of us want to change careers and DO SOMETHING. For me “The West Wing” makes me want to go to law school, go to D.C., and kick people’s butts. Dad wants to be Toby, I want to be Josh, and Mum? She wants to be C.J. Dad and I laughed at her talking about it, because she wants C.J.’s clothes. But hey. The show has something for everyone.

And what it has for Dad and me is hope and motivation to try and see good in the country.

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