Monday, April 10, 2006

The Legacy of The West Wing: How Things Ought to Be...

On Sunday night, the greatest show in television history began its final farewell to America. After seven seasons, the show is winding down. In a mad swirl of drama and classic idealism, we watched as Leo McGarry mirrored John Spencer's too early departure from this world. We watched as an eerily familiar election night played out, both sides wondering if they would need to file lawsuits after the polls closed, a razor thin victory, and a news media extremely hesitant to announce the results of exit polls or call the election for either candidate.

Perhaps the integrity and strength of character shown by both candidates was a little unrealistic--after all, politicians are not known for always taking the high road--but it showed us what elections should be like in this country.

Our elections should be positive, not fraught with tension and negative campaigning.

Our elections should be clean, not filthy with corruption, conflicts of interest, and fraud.

Our elections should be between Americans of quality, not battles between megalomaniacs.

Our elections should be about making America better for Americans, not about dividing Americans in order to make life better for a tiny handful of wealthy business owners.

The West Wing is fairly idealized fiction, but for one hour a week for over six years, it has given us a glimpse of what American politics could be, with a little integrity, honesty, and heart. For those of us deeply pained by the current direction in which this country is moving, it is a necessary and beloved escape from reality. For me, it is a peek at possibility.

There really are Josiah Bartlets in this world--men and women who, though imperfect, have a deep and abiding love for this country and its people, a desire to perform a vital public service, and the ability to do so with honesty and an open-mind not guided by political dogma alone.

There really are politicians out there who understand what they have been elected to do, to represent the will of the American people, and want to fulfill this sacred duty. There really are American men and women serving in public office who know that when it comes to matters of public policy, their job is truly to put their own opinions and needs aside and listen to the people.

If this television phenomenon taught us anything, it showed us that there is something of American politics left to save. There is a tiny shard of truth and hope and beauty and idealism buried beneath the surface of grime and mud and lies and nastiness and corruption and pragmatic indifference to which we have become accustomed.

The West Wing will soon be a thing of the past, added to our DVD collections and pop-culture trivia, but its message is one that will be carried into the future.

Katherine Brengle