'West Wing' fares well

It was a very long run, some seasons better than others, but West Wing aired its final episode last night and it was fairly boring. The high point was probably when they are packing all the books in the Oval Office and the only book you see is a Michel Foucault volume, which brought much cheer to Macalester viewers. I pretty much ignored the show until I was deep into my Political Science courses, and when we needed some little ray of sunshine to show that politics was not the worst possible disaster all the time, Alison's ever-expanding DVD collection fit that need.

There was a pretty funny opinion bit in the Washington Post about how British Blairite/New Labour staffers were infatuated with the show because it showed them a much happier vision for government. When Whitehall Meets 'The West Wing':

The show portrayed the U.S. government operating much as Blair's young followers wished Whitehall could work. Instead of ideas having to fight their way up through the bureaucracy, they could be thrashed out by two bright young things and taken straight to the boss. During the fourth season of the show, Bartlet staffers Josh and Toby took inspiration from a chat with a stranger in an Indiana bar to devise a quick plan making college tuition tax-deductible. Fast-forward a few episodes, and it became the centerpiece of the president's second-term tax plan -- just like that.

The old joke goes that the British government has the engine of a lawn mower and the brakes of a Rolls-Royce. As the Blairites chafed against that system, "The West Wing" offered them a tantalizing vision of how life could be.

This longing was heightened by the similarities between Bartlet and Blair. They are both self-defined moral men with the ability to inspire devotional loyalty. They both think in world-changing terms and are married to dynamic, feisty, professional women. One of Blair's confidants even told the Daily Telegraph in 2003 that the psychology of the two leaders was strikingly similar. And both had as sidekicks hardened bruisers who had struggled with the demon drink (although Blair's partner was communications guru Alastair Campbell, not his chief of staff).


Of course, Blair would have stood with the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and joined the invasion of Iraq with or without "The West Wing." But the show can only have bolstered his team's eagerness to understand the U.S. position and its appreciation of America's potential for good. Its perceived influence led conservative British commentator Peter Oborne to denounce Blair and his team's deployment of the "techniques, and empty morality, of 'West Wing' to rewrite the Iraq conflict."


James Forsyth, an assistant editor of Foreign Policy magazine, is one more Brit who wishes he could be Josh Lyman.

Commenting on this Story is closed.

Tags for 'West Wing' fares well