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Worst Wing

Mises Daily: Tuesday, May 22, 2001 by

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Although I am hardly a television junkie, I am quite aware of the grand success enjoyed by the new NBC Wednesday-night drama, "The West Wing." At the recent Emmys, it received more awards than any other drama, and it apparently has a huge and faithful following.

The star of the show is Martin Sheen, who plays President Josiah Bartlett, a left-wing Democrat who, like Superman, fights for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Unlike Superman, who had only to contend with the evil Lex Luther and kryptonite, Bartlett must do battle with blood-sucking Republicans, pro-life idiots, a few wayward Democrats, and those awful business corporations that insist upon providing shoddy and dangerous products, polluting the environment, and making obscene profits. And of course, these folks support those dastardly Republicans in Congress who want tax cuts for the rich.

Conceived during the administration of Bill Clinton, "West Wing" is the Hollywood leftist's dream: Clinton’s policies without Clinton’s awful character flaws. Unlike Bill, Bartlett would never think of being unfaithful to his wife (played by Stockard Channing), and his secretary, the late Delores Landingham (always called Mrs. Landingham during the show) serves as the liberal conscience to Bartlett, unlike Clinton’s Betty Currie, who helped cover up the Monica Lewinsky affair and Lord knows what else that came through that Oval Office.

I had always resisted watching this show, as I believe the Josiah Bartletts of this world are quite destructive. I finally gave in to my morbid curiosity, however, and watched the season finale on May 16. I’ll not watch the show again. It is simply the worst kind of state worship.

First, let me say that "The West Wing" is a marvel of acting and moving photography. I may not care much for Sheen’s politics, but the man is a good actor, and he plays his part well. Likewise, the other main players are quite believable. As for the production of the show itself, I can see why it wins awards. From camera angles to lighting, "The West Wing" is one of the best television shows I have ever seen. It is what is said, unfortunately, that makes this show truly horrible.

Through flashbacks, we learn that Bartlett attended an exclusive prep school run by his reactionary WASP father, who is oppressive to his Catholic son. Not only that, but Bartlett’s headmaster/father, like those reactionary conservatives in Congress who will fight desperately against President Bartlett’s attempts to make America a free and decent place, has all sorts of policies that oppress workers and, especially, women.

It is at this prep school that the young Josiah first meets Mrs. Landingham, who immediately convinces the idealistic lad that the school needs to employ "comparable worth" in employee pay scales. This is a neat trick, since the scene takes place during the 1950s and comparable worth did not become part of policy discussions until thirty years later. At any rate, Mrs. Landingham reappears as Josiah’s secretary, who keeps him on the leftist straight-and-narrow path.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Landingham dies in a traffic accident. Although this is not due to an evil conservative plot, she is dead all the same, and now the grief-stricken President Bartlett must bury her. (The unfortunate Mrs. Landingham, it turns out, was eulogized on the floor of the California General Assembly by a heartbroken Democratic assemblyman who lauded her by declaring that she was a "great American'' whose "contributions to the nation were too numerous to count.'' )

After the funeral service at the National Cathedral, which was Christian non-denominational, the president asks that he be left alone in the huge sanctuary and that the doors be sealed. After everyone has cleared out, he goes into a blasphemous rage against God, calling him an SOB and a "feckless thug." Spouting various Latin phrases of worship, Bartlett attacks God for not giving his administration more support, declaring that he is in God’s "doghouse." In his final act of defiance, Bartlett stages the same silent protest that he gave against his oppressive father (who surely voted Republican) by lighting a cigarette, then stomping it out and leaving it on the floor. This protest, however, does not take place in a prep school chapel, but in the hallowed National Cathedral. This is what must pass for the leftists’ version of the DEEP-THINKING politician.

Not all of Bartlett’s rage is directed against God. After all, there are conservatives who want to poison children, and Bartlett is faced with other problems the day. A reactionary general in Haiti has staged a coup against the "democratically elected" president (supported, of course, by the noble Bartlett) and now has surrounded the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince with well-armed troops.

On the home front, Congress is balking at Bartlett’s federal suit against tobacco companies. A majority of committee members who oversee funding for the U.S. Department of Justice don’t want to provide the necessary funds to continue the suit. As one of the White House staffers points out, the poor, powerless government is being outspent by Big Tobacco, an entity that, in the staffer’s words, commits thousands of "homicides" with its products. (Two Democrats on the committee also opposed the suit, but, unlike the Republicans, who are bought and sold by Big Tobacco, their opposition is "ideological.") We are a long way from the original Hollywood tough guy who proved his mettle by lighting up.

To make things worse, Bartlett is fighting multiple sclerosis and decides the disease is too debilitating to run for reelection. However, just before he is to go to the press conference at which he will make his announcement, the late Mrs. Landingham appears to remind him that forty-four million Americans don’t have health insurance, and that U.S. prisons hold three million people. (Actually, the number is closer to two million, and the majority of those people are guilty of violating state and federal drug laws. Mrs. Landingham does not deal with that issue, however, and the dead apparently are not able to make accurate calculations.) Thus, America needs to employ socialized medicine and empty its prisons.

Furthermore, Mrs. Landingham reminds Bartlett that 20 percent of U.S. children are born in poverty and face a bleak future because those evil conservatives won’t fully fund public education. The president finally declares that this nation needs $137 billion in new school construction NOW. Having been thoroughly energized by his now-dead secretary, Bartlett reverses himself and decides to run for reelection.

People who believe in a free society and private property have found time and again that Hollywood in particular and the entertainment industry in general clearly support growth of the Leviathan state. "The West Wing" is simply another extension of the Hollywood fantasy that all that is needed to have a Great Society is to seize private property, disarm Americans, and attack religion—especially Christianity. The government that can best accomplish such feats is the ultimate embodiment of Greatness.

There is another way to view "The West Wing," however. The show is nothing but statist propaganda. That it is packaged in something handsome does not change the message any more than Goebbel’s ability to use propaganda made Nazism less brutal or Stalin’s propaganda machine made his government any less murderous. 

Josiah Bartlett may be attractive to viewers who see a man of Great Compassion. When one uses the state as a weapon to plunder one group of people in order to give to others, however, that person is simply, to use Bartlett’s own words, a "feckless thug."

Indeed, Hollywood, for all of its antireligious bias, has not finally rejected religion. To Hollywood, God is the leftist state, and the leftist state is God.

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William Anderson (send him mail) currently teaches economics at North Greenville College but will move to Frostburg State University for Fall 2001. See Anderson's outstanding Daily Article Archive