We've been watching a lot of The West Wing on DVD lately and now we're into the 7th and last season. It aired originally in 2005-2006. The main story line is about the election for the president who will succeed President Bartlet, and the two competitors for the office are respectively, a Democrat who wants to talk to the voters like they are intelligent and capable of understanding the complexities of political policy, and a Republican with a long history in the Senate who is not loved by the right-wing of his party. Did I mention that the Democrat is also a member of an ethnic minority who eschews the idea of being the "minority candidate?"
I am not the first to notice that this election looks a lot like the election we are having now.* However, I am wondering if the resemblance between this fictional election and our real one is not entirely coincidental. I am not proposing that this is a conspiracy, with plot lines written by Hollywood screenwriters, nor am I suggesting that life imitates art. Instead, I am wondering if this similarity is a product of the spirit of the time. I am wondering if this election is not about two men with ambitions to lead the country, but is really about a nation and its need to see its long-felt desires given form and played out in a national drama.
Now, you may be thinking, isn't this what an election really is? A set of narratives about a particular country that compete for prominence? And aren't the main characters, who are both the protagonists and the antagonists depending on the narrative, supposed to be well-drawn and their arguments multi-layered and nuanced? And isn't it the one who understands us, our contradictions, and what we strive for the best the one who should triumph in the end? Isn't this what happens in all elections?
Perhaps, but never before the 2008 election did it feel like this for me. Perhaps, back in 1992 it felt a little like this, but that election was really just a challenge to what had been incumbent for 12 years. The 2008 election isn't like that. We have to go back to a time before I was born to see an election in which at least one challenger was not a part of the previous or incumbent administration. What that means is that in some way, for the last two generations, we were always voting to oppose the previous rulers. Now, we have two new guys with two new ways of seeing things. We are being given something wholly different than we've been given before, and that is exciting because it means that we are in the midst of a real shift. The campaigns are right: whatever we choose next, it is going to be a change. What is completely amazing, is that The West Wing articulated everything we wanted well before the campaign began.
*If you Google The West Wing, you will come across this idea very quickly. It just proves exactly the observation that my friend Herm once made -- you have this really amazing idea that you think is entirely original, and then you read about it a week later in the "Picks and Pans" section of People.