02 December, 2008

Palin and the Bartlet Psychosis

I’m going back to the old standby of The West Wing as a means of belatedly critiquing the political landscape during our recent election. Thankfully, the circus has left town and I was hesitant to even drag the tired subject back up to the surface of my mind, but I think there is an interesting discussion to be had around these issues. As the Republican Party begins the herculean task of reconstituting itself I feel compelled to vent my fear of a looming Palinocracy within the party walls. A few scenes from The West Wing came to mind and I’ll share them here:

BARTLET:
Let's go ahead and say the Republicans nominate Ritchie.

TOBY:
They will.

BARTLET:
First of all, I'd stop for a moment and say, you know, 'why?' I mean they got some serious guys in the field. Kalmbach, Daniel, Wesley?

TOBY:
Democrats had a lot serious guys in the field, and they nominated you.

BARTLET:
That's true.

TOBY:
[moves a chess piece] Check.

BARTLET:
[responds with a move] You think the strike against me is nobody likes the smartest kid in the class.

TOBY:
I don't know, sir. Being a smartest kid in the class is a pretty good pitch, it's not a strike unless you watch it as it sails by.

BARTLET:
I don't do that.

TOBY:
Check.

BARTLET:
And I'm not a snob.

TOBY:
I don't believe you are.

BARTLET:
If a guy is a good neighbor, if he puts in a day, if every once in a while he laughs, if every once in a while he thinks about somebody else and, above all else, if he can find his way to compassion and, and tolerance, then he's my brother, I don't give a damn if he didn't get past finger-painting. What I can't stomach are people who're out to convince people that the educated are soft and privileged and out to make them feel like they're less, then, you know, 'he may be educated, but I'm plain-spoken, just like you!' Especially when we know that education can be a silver bullet, it can be the silver bullet, Toby! For crime, poverty, unemployment, drugs, hate...

TOBY:
Who are you trying to convince?

BARTLET:
I'm saying I don't watch the pitch go by.

CUT TO: INT. THE OVAL OFFICE - NIGHT
Bartlet pours himself coffee at his desk.

TOBY:
Abbey told me this story once. She said you were at a party once where you were bending the guy's ear. You were telling him that Ellie had mastered her multiplication tables and she was in third grade reading at a fifth-grade level and she loved books and she scored two goals for her soccer team the week before, you were going on and on... And what made that story remarkable was that the party you were at was in Stockholm and the man you were talking to was King Gustav, who two hours earlier had given you the Nobel Prize in economics. [laughs] I mean, my god, you just won the Nobel Prize and all you wanted to talk about to the King of Sweden was Ellie's multiplication tables!

BARTLET:
[approaches to sit across from him] What's your point?

TOBY:
You're a good father, you don't have to act like it. You're the President, you don't have to act like it. You're a good man, you don't have to act like it. You're not just folks, you're not plain-spoken... Do not, do not, do not act like it!

BARTLET:
I don't want to be killed.

TOBY:
Then make this election about smart, and not... Make it about engaged, and not. Qualified, and not.
Make it about a heavyweight. You're a heavyweight. And you've been holding me up for too many rounds.

Toby lays down his king on the board to retire. Bartlet stands and turns to walk out.

BARTLET:
Pick your king up. We're not done playing yet.
Later in the same season President Bartlet runs into Governor Ritchie at a play that both men are attending to support Catholic Charities.

ROBERT RITCHIE:
Mr. President.

BARTLET:
Governor.

RITCHIE:
You enjoying the play?

BARTLET:
I am. How about you?

RITCHIE:
We just got here. We were at the Yankee game. We were, you know, hung up in traffic.

BARTLET:
Yeah, I know. Listen, politics aside, and I don't want to make a big deal out of it, but you probably insulted the church, and you can head it off at the pass if you speak to the Cardinal tonight.

RITCHIE:
Well, I didn't mean to insult anybody.

BARTLET:
No.

RITCHIE:
And it's a baseball game. It's how ordinary Americans...

BARTLET:
Yeah. [beat] No, I don't understand that. The center fielder for the Yankees is an accomplished classical guitarist. People who like baseball can't like books?

RITCHIE:
Are you taking this personally?

BARTLET:
No. Something horrible happened about an hour ago.

The two find a place to sit across each other.

BARTLET:
C.J. Cregg was getting threats so we put an agent on her. He's a good guy. He was on my detail for a while, and he was in Rosslyn. He walked in the middle of an armed robbery, and was shot and killed after detaining one of the suspects.

RITCHIE:
Oh. Crime. Boy, I don't know.

BARTLET:
[sighs] We should have a great debate, Rob. We owe it to everyone. When I was running as a governor, I didn't know anything. I made them start Bartlet college in my dining room. Two hours every morning on foreign affairs and the military. You can do that.

RITCHIE:
How many different ways you think you're gonna find to call me dumb?

BARTLET:
I wasn't, Rob. But you've turned being un-engaged into a Zen-like thing, and you shouldn't enjoy it so much is all, and if it appears at times as if I don't like you, that's the reason why.

RITCHIE:
You're what my friends call a superior sumbitch. You're an academic elitist and a snob. You're, uh, Hollywood, you're weak, you're liberal, and you can't be trusted. And if it appears from time to time as if I don't like you, well, those are just a few of the many reasons why.

Music plays inside the theater.

BARTLET:
They're playing my song.

Bartlet stands and heads to the stairs, but he turns to Ritchie before reaching them.

BARTLET:
In the future, if you're wondering, "Crime. Boy, I don't know" is when I decided to kick your ass.


I certainly hope that the Republican Party chooses not to head down the Ritchie path with a coronation of the same Sarah Palin we observed in this election cycle. I don’t have a problem with ignorance, but I have a big problem with flaunting ignorance as a virtue, as if being intellectually engaged in world affairs was somehow a mark of elitism rather than prudence. Even David, who was certainly “unengaged” at the time of his anointing, was elevated because of humility, not because he saw his lack of gravitas as a blessed diamond to show the world.

2 comments:

clarky pooh said...

Intelligence and the executive.

I don not doubt the intelligence of any modern American president.
Nor do I doubt the good intentions of any modern American president.

From Hoover to FDR to Bushes to Clinton to Obama all these chaps want to do “good” and do “right’ not to mention being pretty bright.
We are coming into the ten year mark for Yale, Harvard, and Columbia being able to send alumni donation requests to 1600 Penn Ave; these cats are smart. Maybe not always well spoken but I bet Einstein didn’t give a lot of speeches. The “good” and “right” part is where the discussion lies…and always has. The Constitutional convention was not the static painting that hangs in the capital, we fought, we discussed, we hashed it out, smoked some hash, and then fought some more. Tom Jefferson was a bright cat bought in his book he calls his black slaves a sub-race, and wrote a version of the Bible free of all the “supernatural” bits. You can combine smarts and the want to do good, it ain’t the smarts that cause the cock-ups. It is the idea of Good, and it is history that we think we know. The New Deal did nothing to stop the depression, in fact it caused a deeper depression with-in the depression, The Great Society didn’t work, Hoover saved millions of lives and pushed us into a modern area of civic engineering, slavery in the U.S. is not noteworthy when compared to all other countries at the time, the middle class is not shrinking, pile up all the bodies of deaths caused by Muslims and Christians in the name of God, and pile up all the bodies caused by bad science and Nihilism and see which pile is higher for the 20th century. Not that body counts are the judge but it is used as an example.

I think Palin is probably a smart cookie, I didn’t doubt the intelligence of any of the three major candidates this year; I read all three autobiographies and I could tell they had it going on upstairs.
I think they all have well thought out ideas, it’s just some of the ideas are bad. At no point did we talk about that in this campaign…instead we got age, experience, race, gender, and an economy that is very little affected by government. I call all of it misdirection.

this was one of my fav. episodes

Matt said...

See, that's the thing that drives me crazy. I agree that Palin might be more intelligent than was displayed. What irritates me is the conscious pandering to the anti-intellectual crowd with the aw-shucks personality act. There is a segment of the right in this country that honestly believes that a couple of years spent at Harvard makes you worthy of contempt.

Sarah Palin might be smarter than I think, why didn't she act like it? The fact that a head-fake towards ignorance is seen as a political PLUS is really scary territory for conservatives to be operating in. I personally don't want the opposition to take an intellectual hike for the next 4-8 years (definitely 8 at the current rate). It seems like they're retreating to the culture wars mindset and I'm not a fan. Put the smart conservatives front and center who can make a case and argue its merits without turning it into a wedge.

Christianity has always had an appeal in that there are rational ways to approach its depths. While the mysteries are there, Aquinas did an admirable job of presenting truth robed in rationality (a God-given trait often wrongly attributed). The Republicans would do well to put a fresh, rational, well-argued face onto their ideas and retreat from the black/white morality aspect of their rhetoric. That's not to say that certain issues aren't moral absolutes, only that it is precisely those kind of issues that benefit from a less dogmatic approach.

This was also one of my favorite WW episodes, one of the best of the more dramatic offerings. The humorous episodes are still my all-time favs but I liked most of the dramatic stuff around the campaign and election plotline.