War Rooms

For all the comparisons of Barack Obama to seventh season West Wing Democratic candidate Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits), I always thought a better fictional comparison was with the show's first President, Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen).

Both were brainy-but-charismatic former academics with a gift for rhetorical flourish; both were written off as underdogs against a well-financed Establishment machine that got behind a centrist DLC Democratic Senator; both overcame initial funding deficits by organizing a crack team of professionals to invent new ways of playing old games; and like the fictional Bartlet, Obama now stands on the verge of history.

Bartlet (from the second season "In The Shadow Of Two Gunmen"):
What began at the Commons in Concord, Massachusetts as an alliance of farmers and workers, of cobblers and kinsmiths, of statesmen and students, of mothers and wives, of men and boys lives two centuries later as America...

Obama (Monday):
In this election, we cannot afford the same political games and tactics that are being used to pit us against one another and make us afraid of one another. The stakes are too high to divide us by class and region and background; by who we are or what we believe. "Because despite what our opponents may claim, there are no real or fake parts of this country. There is no city or town that is more pro-America than anywhere else -- we are one nation, all of us proud, all of us patriots. There are patriots who supported this war in Iraq and patriots who opposed it; patriots who believe in Democratic policies and those who believe in Republican policies. The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a Blue America-- they have served the United States of America.

Enjoy this moment. For all the anxiety swirling around this election, I more and more think we should, per this graphic, chill out and not miss the opportunities unfolding before our eyes: to watch the neocons go crazy; to observe four decades of corrupt discourse unravel; and above all, to enjoy the rise of a once-in-a-lifetime political figure, to watch the audacity of hope become a real and palpable thing.

Obama is a confirmed Trekkie, so I don't think he'd mind an allusion to Star Trek II, and Kirk's remembrance of Spock's favorite line: "There are always possibilities." The great gift of this campaign-- a gift spearheaded by the candidate, but shared by everyone-- is to remind us of this, to offer imaginative possibility at a moment when the future feels closed off, and therefore to dream up the idea of America all over again.

UPDATE (1:58 a.m.): One of my favorite moments on The West Wing, from "Noel": Josh is recovering from being shot, dealing with his post-traumatic stress. It's Christmas, and he has recently freaked out at a Yo-Yo Ma concert, and smashed his hand through a window in his apartment. A psychologist played by Adam Arkin is called in to treat him, and at the end of their session reveals to Josh what set him off: the music a brass quintet that was playing in the White House lobby. "At this moment, in your head, music is the same as--." "--As sirens," Josh finishes for him.

"So that's gonna be my reaction every time I hear music?," Josh asks. "No," says Arkin's psychologist, shaking his head.

"Why not," Josh asks.

"Because," Arkin responds, "we get better".


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