My roommate Pat and I recently, for some reason, watched the final season of “The West Wing” together on Netflix, which produced a number of arguments, speculations, and asides that I have compiled in an e-mail exchange for the inaugural edition of The Markley TV Club. I realize the final season of “The West Wing” in which plucky Texas congressman Matt Santos faced off against Republican straight-talker Arnold Vinick, aired like 27 years ago or something, but so what? Y’all didn’t get me and my roommate’s commentary until right now.
Markley: So it seems to me we're dealing with two primary issues here, the first of which is: was the Santos/ Vinick election the most dramatic in American history? We had a screwy electoral map, the first Latino candidate, the first pro-choice Republican of the modern era and—oh yeah, that's right: a near nuclear plant meltdown that changed the dynamic of the race and a VP candidate who died on the day of the goddamn election! Makes me yawn at 2000 and 2008.
Pat: Very true. The Santos / Vinick election borrowed the best parts of 2000 and 2008 (too close to call and minority candidate), and then used a VP candidate surprise death (we're coming back to this) and nuclear meltdown in a crucial swing state (this too) to trump the excitement of every US presidential election previous combined. I applaud Vinick for not contesting the vote in Nevada unlike Gore in 2000. In fact, I think Vinick's positive, congratulatory response was key to getting the nod as Secretary of State. It makes you think. Is Sorkin (I'm going to assume he is the mastermind behind everything even though he left after season four) trying to tell us that there could have been a cabinet seat for Gore had he not whined about a recount in Florida? We'll never know.
As you mentioned though, there were plenty of surprises along the way. A pro-choice, anti-religion Republican. A closet-creationist, anti-union Democrat. California voted for a pro-nuclear candidate two weeks after a near nuclear holocaust (How did Vinick manage to sway public opinion with just a two hour press conference?). South Carolina voted Santos despite everything we know about the history of race relations.
The biggest surprise for me, even bigger than a Democrat addressing teacher performance or the shoddy campaign signs, was the classless reaction to the death of the architect of the Bartlett presidency, VP Candidate and former Chief of Staff, Leo McGarry. Without McGarry, Bartlett doesn't run for president and go on to raise minimum wage, fix social security, and achieve a Middle East peace deal. Leo was forgotten within hours despite his enormous contribution to the country. Am I the only one that's outraged by this?
Markley: Whoa whoa whoa. First of all, bro, Vinick lost Nevada by a final count of 70,000 votes. Gore "lost" Flordia by 537 officially and had the Supreme Court allowed the recount to continue with a standard that allowed ballot counters to look for the true intent of the voter, would have won. Seeing as how Gore came out immediately against the disaster that was the Iraq war, I doubt he would have done well as SecState in the Bush administration, unlike the limp coward Colin Powell, who let Bush/Cheney march to war despite his huge reservations.
At any rate, enough re-litigating the 2000 debacle. Let's focus on two things: 1) Those Santos/McGarry signs were total garbage, topped only by the Vinick/Sullivan yard signs. It looked like the four of them were running for town council in New Philadelphia, Ohio.
2) Leo was also a major drag on the Santos ticket, and never belonged there in the first place. He was a recovering alcoholic with a bad heart who clearly would have had an affair with his campaign aide had he not dropped dead. Now Santos has a major uphill battle with the Senate to confirm Pennsylvania Governor, Baker, when he should have just put him on the ticket in the first place and locked up that state. Josh Lyman fell down on that one. Some people you run for office and some people you have run a person for office. Leo McGarry belongs behind the scenes, and I can't believe Oregon's fourth district would vote for that turd-in-glasses Will Bailey.
Pat: The campaign sign graphics were as pathetic as the one used for my class president bid freshmen year of high school. But Josh Lyman has a near perfect batting average when it comes to political decisions, all without ever sleeping or combing his hair. Josh knew that the top of the ticket would carry the general election so he just needed someone that could run the country. This perhaps brings up a larger point about a line of insignificant, unimpressive vice presidents: Hoynes, a serial womanizer; Russell, a hack politician by all accounts; McGarry, a lousy campaigner; and Baker, a guy with terrible glasses. This had to have been done on purpose to showcase the dynamism of the intellectual force, Jed Bartlett and the Latin sensation Matt Santos.
And I totally agree that the Oregon fourth would not elect Will "I love khakis" Bailey. But what gets lost in the shuffle is the tragic fall of the once promising political career of Deputy National Security Advisor, Kate Harper. I have to believe that Santos left her out of his incoming staff because of her embarrassing affair with the dud Will Bailey. Is that the type of judgment you want in the Sit Room?
Markley: Wow, Pat’s bid for class president. What was the platform—CVS sandwiches and fruit cups for the lunchroom?
Totally agree on the general terribleness of VPs from the Bartlett administration onward. The Democratic Party has to understand that even while they're nominating Nobel Prize winning economists and tall, dark drinks of water like Santos, they have to pay a modicum of attention to the bottom of the ticket and not just prop up the nearest warm body. Also, Will Bailey is not only a carpetbagger with terrible political instincts (supporting Bob Russell for president? Why not just go ahead and hand Vinick the election?), the fact that he bagged a babe with such impressive national security credentials is a testament to the general shittiness of male dating material in the Bartlett administration. Think about it: Toby's out, Josh is out, Leo's dead, the SecDef is a douche bag, and Charlie is sneaking out of the youngest Bartlett daughter's room at 3 a.m.
Speaking of babes: Is Helen Santos the hottest first lady in the history of the country? Should we even bother to look back through the history books or just call it a day?
Pat: First off, my laissez-faire approach to student government got me elected as class president for three consecutive terms until I lost famously senior year due to mounting voter discontent and a record low approval rating.
You bring up a good point about the scarcity of viable guys for women in the Bartlett administration. After Sam Seborn left and with Josh locked down by major babe Donna Moss, it's slim pickings for the ladies (Who's left? Babish? The guy's one bad jelly donut away from indicting Krispy Kreme). This is probably why CJ "The Giant" Cregg had to dip into the press pool with weirdly high maintenance reporter and Richard Dreyfuss look-a-like Danny Concannon. But back to Charlie, isn't his relationship with President Bartlett a little bit odd? He's in and out of bed with Zoey Bartlett the whole time and was partially responsible for her abduction by terrorists. Yet Bartlett endorses him at Georgetown Law and hands over to him the Bartlett family copy of the U.S. Constitution?
As for Helen Santos being our country's hottest first lady, I have to disagree. Although I'll admit she is good looking and a definite improvement to Abby Bartlett, her general displeasure about everything going on around her puts her behind Jackie O on my list (I'll save you my argument for Angelica Singleton Van Buren). Give me a First Lady with class and style (Hey Helen, nice pearl necklace at your husband's inaug. Please smile every now and then.)
But can we talk more about Progressivism made flesh, Toby Ziegler? The guy can recite the constitution from memory, and protects civil liberties at any chance. So why is he so angry all the time? Does the injustice of a closed society anger him to the point of yelling at everyone that passes by?
Markley: You won't get any argument from me that Helen Santos needs to take Xanax and chill the hell out. "Oh the Secret Service replaced our windows with bulletproof glass!" Lady, your husband is the first Latino candidate for president in American history. What did you think was going to be involved? Jesus Christ.
Okay, you're right, I got annoyed thinking about the First Lady-elect. But Toby Ziegler? The greatest policy mind of his generation? Toby's angry all the time because he was there on the front lines of the Civil Rights movement. He's the quintessential flower power baby boomer, who instead of selling out and voting Reagan, got into government and attached himself to the most promising presidential candidate since FDR. Can you imagine taking Toby's Columbia class? The debates on the use of drones or warrantless wiretapping alone would be worth the hefty Ivy League tuition.
And all this brings me to the most important question of all: If you're running for president, and you can have only one guy in your corner, who you got? Josh Lyman, Bruno Gianelli, Toby Ziegler, Leo McGarry, Mike Novick from "24" or Doug Stamper from "House of Cards"?
Pat: Great question, one that deserves a lot of thought. But first, we can't be completely certain that Toby goes on to be an esteemed professor at Columbia University and not an expatriate living in the Republic of Colombia (a country in desperate need of Toby's skill set for democratic governing).
If I'm running for president, and I can only have one guy in my corner (and Frank Underwood is not available or has not killed me yet), I choose the political bulldog and ex-consigliere, Bruno Gianelli. The only blunder on his resume is the Vinick campaign, but without the nuclear meltdown, Vinick wins Nevada, giving him the election. What Bruno was able to do for Bartlett's reelection campaign is nothing short of remarkable. Bartlett assassinated the Qumari defense minister without declaration from Congress and lied to the American public about a life-threatening illness. What does Bruno do? He comes out and orchestrates a landslide victory. It's very hard for me not to go with Josh Lyman here, though, especially with the sweet back pack he rocks in clear defiance to the bureaucratic norm. Also hard not to go with the versatile utility man and Chief of Staff to House Majority Whip, Doug Stamper. Sure, Stamper can play damage control with the best of them, but does he have a fifty state strategy? Does he know when women have been over sampled in exit polling? In the end, Bruno gives me what I need in order to win the general election: experience, muscle, mafia ties.
Markley: That is the most ridiculous answer in the history of American electoral politics. Bruno Gianelli is a mercenary, a gun for hire. He has no backbone or convictions. He's just a guy who knows how to goad the electorate into doing a particular candidate's bidding, and he doesn't care if that's pushing an anti-gay marriage agenda to shore up the Republican base or downplaying the extrajudicial assassination of a defense minister from a country that appears to have no exact geographic coordinates (no wonder they're so dangerous). Bruno's a glorified Doug Stamper. You want a body buried? Sure, get me Stamps. You want to win an election on principle with a strong governing mandate, line me up baby boomer extraordinaire Toby Ziegler or the guy who took a retiring Matt Santos from a Texas district and engineered the greatest upset in political history. I guarantee you the "Markley for America" campaign would decimate you in the general election given our preferred consultants.
Pat: No one would ever write "Markley for America" on a cocktail napkin, unless it was part of a made up scribbled address from a chick you met at a bar. And there is no way you could ever carry a general election regardless of who is calling the campaign shots. You want to get rid of private schools, eat dogs, and tax top earners at 90%. Even if a human centipede doctor combined Toby, Stamps, Bruno, and Josh into one person to run your campaign, you would still never come close to winning. Although I will concede that you would probably lock up Massachusetts and New York. But an anti-private school, pro-dog eating, tax the wealthy platform and a centipede super person campaign manager will not resonate anywhere else.Copyright © 2015, RedEye