Saturday, April 16, 2016

West Wing best scenes

While there are a select few out there who don't agree, The West Wing, which ran from 1999-2006 on NBC, is one of the better shows about politics and government, ever produced. As an undergrad at Whittier College one of my professors felt so strongly about this that he actually assigned the show as homework; this was before streaming services, so I vividly remember getting an exam question wrong that asked about "Leo McGarry" (I didn't do the "homework"). To this day I still think it was unfair for my professor to assign a TV show as required viewing. But years later I was given the boxset, and finally watched the show in its entirety. I have now watched all 7 seasons at least 3 times, and a few episodes more than others.

For this post I select what I think are the 10 best scenes from its 7 season run. Some of the scenes I select for their humor, and others for their savvy use of political science theories, or recognition of my field. Beware, SPOILERS ABOUND.

10.  S2 E19 Bad Moon Rising
In this scene, White House counsel, Oliver Babbish played by guest star Oliver Platt, complains about a broken recorder of his that won't turn off. In the next scene President Bartlet comes into Babbish's office to admit he has been concealing his relapsing remitting MS. Realizing this, Babbish picks up his oversized gavel and violently smashes the recorder.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Hilarious!

9. S2 E13 Barlet's Third State of the Union
In this scene, Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman discusses the results of a poll the White House put in the field. Here, pollster Joey Lucas describes what could be response bias, given the way the question was asked, or interpreted, to explain that the numbers aren't always right.

8. S2 E26 In This White House
In this memorable scene Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborn confidently approaches his counterpart Ansley Hayes for a debate on the fictious DC news program Capital Beat (think "Crossfire"). Both the host and Sam assume Ansley was sent to be an empty skirt, until she handily takes Seaborn down, when he incorrectly identifies Kirkwood as in California.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Score one for the matriarchy 

7. S2 E3 The Midterms
Here, President Barlet stops by the Radio Broadcaster event at the White House, and takes down a talk show radio host for her selective interpretation of the Bible. This scene is key to the series' story arc about President Barlet's religiosity.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Presidential leadership is more than brute strength and military might. 

6. S6 E18 La Palabra
Here, Congressman Matt Santos, who is running for president at Josh Lyman's urging, explains why he's willing to take out a second mortgage on his home in order to run in the presidential primary in his home state of Texas.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Identity politics in (subtle) action

5. S2 E2 In the Shadow of Two Gunman Part II
After being shot, Josh Lyman is experiencing PTSD. At Leo's urging, Josh sees a psychiatrist. Afterwards, Leo explains why he was so persistent in getting Josh help with this excellent story about a guy in a hole.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Sentimentality  

4. S7 E2 The Mommy Problem
In the presidential campaign to elect Bartlet's successor, Josh explains the 'Mommy Problem' to Congressman Santos, which is the theory that in times of crisis the public wants a father; when the public is concerned most about domestic issues the public wants a mommy. This reflects the idea of issue ownership, and agenda setting, which makes my political science heart sing!
WHY WE LIKE IT: Political science agenda setting manipulation

Unfortunately I can't find this video clip but here is the quote:

Josh: People think the campaign's about two competing answers to the same question. They're not. They're a fight over the question itself.

Josh: When voters want a national daddy...someone to be tough and strong and defend the country, they vote Republican. When they want a mommy, someone to give them jobs, health care...the policy equivalent of matzoh ball soup, they vote Democratic.

3. S2 E 22 Two Cathedrals 
In another display of President Bartlet's struggle with his faith, this scene shows Barlet cursing God after his longtime assistant and friend, Doris Landingham, died in a car accident.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Internal conflict

2. S1 E2 Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc
In this scene, Communications Director CJ Cregg explains that comments made by then candidate Barlet offended residents of Texas, and thus assumes that these comments are why they lost Texas. To which President Bartlet responds "Post Hoc Ergo Proper Hoc... Do you know when we lost Texas?" And CJ coyly responds, "When you learned to speak latin?" Bartlet: "Go figure."
WHY WE LIKE IT: POLITICAL METHODOLOGY: Correlation versus Causation. 

...and the unofficial greatest scene of The West Wing...

1. S3 E16 Dead Irish Writers
In this unforgettable display of political cunning, President Bartlet fools everyone, including his staff, into thinking he accidentally insults the Republican presidential nominee with a perfect gun metaphor, on local television in the swing state of Pennsylvania. Of Robert Richie President Barlet says, "I think we might be talking about a .22 caliber mind in a .357 magnum world."
WHY WE LIKE IT: Regional politics and message framing

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