I can't believe it, but I found myself recently pondering the good that might come from the election of a Republican to the White House.
Don't worry. The vast right wing conspiracy hasn't stolen my soul. That will never happen. I think a young man who isn't a liberal is heartless and a mature man who isn't a raving progressive populist is both ignorant and soulless.
And this is, after all, an entertainment column of sorts. So I'm talking about The West Wing on television, not the actual West Wing, which has had its soul stolen by the vast right wing conspiracy. If you happen to be reading this publication, you hardly need this columnist to tell you that.
The fact that the TV Oval Office has been occupied by a highly intelligent, humane and decent Democrat, Josiah Bartlett, has been a source of solace to me. But by the end of the fourth season, with its cliffhanger ending of his daughter Zoey being kidnapped by Arab terrorists, the show was close to jumping the shark, as they say in show biz hipster lingo.
But in the recently-finished season, number six, The West Wing regained its dramatic and political currency as it went back out onto the hustings with the primary races to determine who might replace Bartlett as president. The drama was reeled back to the realm of the real and the issues that matter returned to the forefront (as they should out among the populace).
Of course the show won me back with the Democratic dark horse, Texas Congressman Matt Santos (played by Jimmy Smits), who clinched the nomination. I'd like to think that a Hispanic man -- and one with principles and character who cares about the greater good of our people -- could reach candidacy for the highest office. And demographics suggest that this may not be as remote as one might think.
The dynamic between Santos's principles and the play-to-win approach of his campaign manager, former Bartlett aide Josh Lyman, made for good drama and spotlighted some of the glaring flaws (of many) in how we choose candidates and officeholders. The pet Santos cause of lengthening the school year to help improve our troubled public educational system and compete with the many other nations whose systems now outperform ours was a policy initiative that, at first blush, makes real-life sense.
That Santos is married to an Anglo woman tempts dramatic twists that I expect will be played out in the upcoming election during season seven. And what right-thinking populist wouldn't want a family that embodies multiracialism and multiculturalism residing in the Executive Mansion (because after all, paramilitaries on the border aside, America remains a melting pot)?
Santos is just what I'd like to see in the real White House. But so was Bartlett. For six seasons we've had a generally honorable and sometimes even laudable example of what the opposition, at least as things stand in real life, might be like in the White House. So maybe, as they say in the political game, it's time for a change.
That's why I'm betting that the Oval Office goes to Sen. Arnold Vinnick (R-Calif.), played by Alan Alda. What better alternative vision is there beyond a damn good Dem as president but a Republican who might offer telling contrast from the spoiled knucklehead we currently call president and the cabal around him?
(Do note that, as a good liberal -- and one who has never and likely never will vote Republican -- I don't oppose Republicans per se, even if I'd like to see much of the current crop shipped off across the River Styx to their deserved fate.)
My gut tells me that the casting of Alda -- who played the anti-authoritarian Hawkeye Pierce on M*A*S*H and is often scorned for being a sensitive if progressive male -- as the sometimes flinty and highly pragmatic Vinnick foretells the results of next season's West Wing election. But maybe I'm just hoping that the crew behind The West Wing knows that the show's agitprop potential would only be heightened by having a good Republican in the Oval Office. (And yes, I do still believe there can be good Republicans, despite recent evidence to the contrary.)
So at least in the dramatic realm of TV, for the first time in my life, I'm (provisionally) flipping that lever in the voting booth in the "R" column (and voting electronically in the last election made me so miss the curtained booths I first voted in). Because maybe the best way over the next three years to show what's wrong with the Republican in the White House -- though the evidence should be obvious to anyone with a brain -- is to elect a Republican on The West Wing.
Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.