Why do you want to be the President of the United States? (The West Wing S3 E7 Review)

Power should be confined to those who are not in love with it. – Plato

the_west_wing_season_3.jpgGONE QUIET, The West Wing Episode 7 from Season 3.

Directed by Jon Hutman

Episode written by Aaron Sorkin.

Story by Julia Dahl, Laura Glasser

As the 2016 US election came to an end, I couldn’t help but go back to my all-time favorite Network television show, “The West Wing”. The fantasy world of Aaron Sorkin/John Welles feels a lot safer to me than the actual reality of a Donald Trump presidency. No, this is not a Donald Trump bashing article. If you want to ready one, I’m sure there are 1000s to choose from in a quick Google search. My question is why Trump actually wanted to be the President?

Is Trump simply attempting to “Make America Great Again”? Or was their other reason why he ran? I think it’s an important question to ask even if Hillary won. And I’m sure Hillary didn’t run for 100% altruistic reasons.

In this episode of The West Wing, President Josiah Barlet (Martin Sheen) is having a day of waiting and contemplating. There is a US submarine filled with 1000s of Marine and Navy soldiers that’s missing in the Atlantic Ocean. It missed its check-in call and now the higher ups are wondering where it is. Barlet, a genius who is an expert at multiple subjects, is not an expert at Foreign Policy and the military. Barlet is more of a domestic policy president if you need to put a label on him.  In the 3+ years he’s been president, his knowledge has grown tremendously as he makes sure that his appointment cabinet and chief of staff (John Spencer) know what he doesn’t know.

In this episode’s conflict of the lost submarine, Barlet even invites his Assistant Secretary of State Albie Duncan (Hal Holbrook) to sit in the Oval Office to offer his 50 years of military expertise. Barlet doesn’t care for Albie and vice/versa but they make sure they put their egos aside for the sake of national security.

As the episode proceeds, Barlet’s key staff members mull over strategy for their re-election campaign. Barlet’s Republican opponent was asked the question of why he wants to the be president, and he failed miserably answering it. It is a tough question to answer “honestly”. And now the staff is attempting to come up with their own answer to that questions if/when Barlet gets asked.

The staff attempt to come up with a clever response, but nothing feels right. In the last scene, Barlet’s Press Secretary CJ Cregg (Allison Janney) asks her boss straight up: “Do you know why you wanted to be president”?

Barlet tells her that he’s been thinking about how we wants to answer this question all day – and he almost had it, but lost it in the end! The episode ends with Barlet, the man who’s smarter than all of us, not quite knowing why he wanted this job. But the genius of this episode is that the audience understands why. Seeing what he went through during the day, how he interacted with people and the conflicts that lay in front of him, not to mention the people he chose to have around him to execute running the country every day – gives us the answer.

For Barlet, this job is the ultimate exercise in intellectual stimulation. This is a man who can literally do 5 or 6 thing simultaneously. He is also an adapter and constant learner. Plus, he is an Obama-like communicator and can delivery a solid speech when need be. He has an ego of course, but it’s tame in comparison to Clinton’s and Trump’s. He’s not afraid to look bad or stupid in front of others if the right thing gets accomplished. He’s a genuine human being who wants what’s best for others. And because he’s a genius, he understands that perhaps his skill set would be good choice to run the country he loves.

Of course, Barlet isn’t perfect. He’s flawed just like the rest of us. But he understands how to do the right thing in his ideology. So the only complaint you’ll have about him is his political platform, which will always lead to subjective arguments. But his character is sound. And Clinton’s & Trump’s characters were the talking point of this election and the actual issues took a back seat. In fact, the issues weren’t even in the car.

Barlet isn’t a real person. He’s an Aaron Sorkin creation. Perhaps an amalgamation of FDR meets Clinton meets Eisenhower with a little bit of Truman mixed in.

The worry with Hillary Clinton is that she doesn’t apologize for her misdeeds quickly enough or not at all. A psychologist would summarize that she has the classic personality traits of someone who’s hiding something.

The worry with Trump is many things. He’s a man who seems to always be on the offensive. Never apologizes for a damn thing and seems to “stretch” the truth time and time again to suit his narrative. He’s a glass half-empty kind of guy. It’s going to be fascinating to see how he does, but also very scary. He seems to care too much about what people are saying or thinking about him. A psychologist would summarize that he has the classic personality trait of someone who’s simply a narcissist.

America needs Barlet. And they got Hillary and Donald to choose from. Not an ideal situation for 200 million people to choose from, which is why 80 million of them didn’t choose at all.

So hopefully a real “Barlet-like” politician is out there in 4 or 8 years. And they can be Democrat or a Republican. All we are looking for is someone who has character, and tries to do the right thing for everyone and not just for themselves.


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Remembering The West Wing

Once upon a time there was a show called The West Wing. It was about a fictional devout Catholic liberal who was the President of the United States, and his staff of idealistic but extremely intelligent individuals. The show ran for 7 seasons, mostly in the W. Bush era. As the righty Bush team of Chaney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Powell and all governed a nation, there was a parallel universe happening weekly on NBC lead by the lefty Jed Bartlet and his team of Cregg, Lyman, McGarry, Zeiger and all. Right away, I was on team Bartlet and it wasn’t even about politics for me as I was just beginning to understand things.

And around 50% of the North American population was on team Bartlet as well, which is what made The West Wing so popular. Josiah “Jed” Bartlet was a brilliant man who tried to govern as much as he could inside his ideology while attempting to play politics as well just so he could get things done. And he wasn’t afraid of showing his intelligence either as he assumed most people would want someone smarter than them as the person running their country. Bush W. did the opposite as he wanted everyone to be comfortable around him. The old saying was that you voted for Bush W. because he would be fun to hang around with if you invited him to a barbecue.

I’m not trying to go the easy route and hate on the 43rd president because that’s a little too obvious. I actually don’t think he’s that bad of a guy. After all he and I have a lot in common. We’re both passionate baseball fans and we both just stopped drinking when we realized that we weren’t getting the best out of ourselves in life. But The West Wing pointed out that you want and needed brilliant people in these power positions because it’s an extremely tough job. Perhaps Bush W. wasn’t on par with what we were seeing with The West Wing’s president. Perhaps, just perhaps, he wasn’t smart enough to have the job like Clinton, or Eisenhower were.

Of course it’s a television show and The West Wing was really about how the White House would run in a dream scenario. It’s real theme was really about how greatness and achievement always comes at some sort of cost. These people on the show were workaholics and they didn’t really have a life or understanding of human interaction. But they cared and they were smart and we perhaps needed them (in this fantasy world).

As creator Aaron Sorkin’s new show The Newsroom premiered its 3rd and last season yesterday, I am constantly reminded of The West Wing. There are a lot of similarities with the two shows: Office setting. Brilliant people. Fast dialogue while people are moving. Seeking the Truth. Sacrificing your life for a common good. Liberalism. Trying to fix a broken system. Etc… But The Newsroom is just not the same as The West Wing for whatever reason. I like The Newsroom a lot and I hoped it would stay on forever, but people don’t respond to it like I thought they would.

If you haven’t seen The West Wing, go back and watch it. There are some brilliant episodes and characters you’ll love. I reviewed every single episode awhile back. Take a look and listen to the Video Reviews:


– Matthew Toffolo