Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 00:48 | SYDNEY
Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 00:48 | SYDNEY

Projector: The West Wing


Sam Roggeveen


17 December 2007 16:37

The NY Times reports that Barack Obama has a head of steam:

The campaign of Mr. Obama, which slogged uncertainly through a period in the late summer and fall, alarming contributors who feared that he might have missed his moment, is now brimming with confidence as he delivers a closing argument to Iowa voters. His speeches are noticeably crisper, his poise is more consistent and many supporters say they no longer must rely upon a leap of faith to envision him winning the nomination.

It so happens that just as we reach the final few weeks of campaigning before the early January Democratic primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire, in our household we've been re-watching season 6 of The West Wing, which shows Democratic presidential candidate Matthew Santos (played by Jimmy Smits) and his campaign manager, Josh Lyman, going through the same political process. The coincidence is made all the more compelling by the parallels between Santos and Obama — they're both liberal Democrats, come from racial minorities, and are telegenic, articulate and self-deprecating. 

The West Wing sold itself as an attempt to show us the real inner workings of the White House. But although the character of President Jed Bartlet had obvious flaws and his leadership had shortcoming, The West Wing's creators wrapped his presidency in enormous grandeur and awe. The same went for Santos as he moved from outsider candidate to nominee to president.

It made for great drama. But the mythologising of political leadership has its dangers, none more so than when real leaders inevitably fall short, we are bound to feel badly let down. We don't see much of that in The West Wing, but it is something to remember the next time you see Barack Obama and think of Jimmy Smits.

NB: 'International Policy Projector' is an occasional series that looks at international policy themes in film and TV.