My West Wing, Myself

Last year, some of our writers took on recaps of The West Wing while some of our regular recap shows were on hiatus during the doldrums of bad summer TV. That got me thinking about the show again after a long time, so when the DVD boxed set went on deep discount, I couldn’t resist picking it up. I’ve started watching the series again after not having seen it in many years, and it struck me how my choice of favorite character has changed over time alongside my increased interaction with the political world.

In truth, I love almost everyone in President Bartlet’s West Wing, but a few have stood out ahead of the pack for me over the years. It’s funny how much I see my own experiences and attitudes reflected back in my favorites. And truly, I love them because they’re who I identify most with.

SAM SEABORN

a man in a dress shirt with a tie leaning against a wall. an american flag is in the background.
Check out that beeper on his belt. Remember those?

When West Wing first debuted, I was a freshman in college, around 18 years old, a bright-eyed, fresh-faced, eager young political science major volunteering on my first presidential campaign. (I was about as obnoxious as you might imagine, times ten.) Of course I loved Sam Seaborn, the principled, idealistic speechwriter played by Rob Lowe. I loooooved Sam. I wanted to be him; I wanted to marry him. I thought the world would be a better place if there were more people like him working in politics instead of the tired old hacks who had lost their vision for what politics was all about. Sam was like me, the kind of person who would loudly proclaim, “I want to make the world a better place!” on their college or job application cover letter.

JOSH LYMAN

a man with a white shirt and tie leaning in the doorframe of an office. he has a piece of paper in his hand and you can see a desk behind him.
Knowing Josh, that paper probably contains a sarcastic dig at Sam.

Of course, eventually I had to graduate from college and get a job out there in the real world. Once I started working in politics – my first job in the field was for the local Democratic party organization – I discovered that Josh Lyman was actually my favorite. He was talented, funny, and sarcastic. He was always the one stuck working long hours and sleeping at his desk, just like me! He took things much more personally than any of the other West Wing residents, held a grudge so the president didn’t have to, and gloated like nobody’s business. Josh was brilliant and still idealistic about the role of government, but he was unforgiving in the pragmatic way he worked the system to his advantage. At the end of the day, everything was about making Bartlet look good and not about his own talents.

TOBY ZIEGLER

a balding man in a suit and tie sitting on a chair smoking a pipe
Toby "There Is Literally No One In The World I Don't Hate Right Now" Ziegler

And of course, there’s Toby Ziegler. Toby is a morality tale about that thing that happens to you if you stay in politics too long or get screwed too often. Toby Ziegler, my embittered, misanthropic patronus. He trusts no one. He tries not to get too excited about anything for fear of being disappointed. He couldn’t care less if someone’s feelings were hurt after he told them EXACTLY what he thought without any sugar coating. Interestingly enough, Toby was still an idealist underneath it all about what the government should be doing for its people, but has very little faith left in humanity. Which, after the year I have had is exactly how I feel, as a matter of fact.

So what about you? Do you have a favorite West Wing character? (I know, I know; I’m going to be flooded by a chorus of “CJ IS OUR QUEEN!”) Has it changed over time? I know we have at least a few political scientist readers. What do you folks think?

Images courtesy NBC/Universal

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BaseballChica03

Political hack. Word nerd. Stays crispy in milk. Oxford Comma user. Blogger since 2001.

5 thoughts on “My West Wing, Myself”

  1. Oooh so this is the perfect venue for me to brag that, as a college student at GW, I watched them film the scene for the 2nd inaugurational ball when Josh and everyone throw snowballs at Donna’s window. BRADLEY WHITFORD WHILE WEARING A TUX, WAVED AT ME. Rewatching old episodes now, it’s lots of fun to play “are they actually in DC, and if so, where.”

    Also, Toby reminds me so very much of my father, both in appearance and attitude, that I can’t quite identify with him? I love Josh so very much and am similar to him, and, of course, CJ IS MY QUEEN. Also, Danny Kincannon and Charlie Young and Donna and Mrs. Landingham and it truly is the best television show to ever television. I never liked Amy Gardner as much as I should, because a college boyfriend had a big ole crush on her and I was way jealous. Now, I realize, I would probably be Amy if I would be anyone. Or that intern who sold the moose meat to pay rent. That’d be me.

  2. I find myself continuously torn on this issue. CJ is awesome, yes. But I hold a special place in my heart for Josh and Toby. They are battling for the top spot.

    My favorite West Wing relationship though? DEFINITELY Charlie and President Bartlett. Those two, UGH. ALL MY FEELINGS.

  3. Oh how I love this post. I am soo glad you got the boxed set! I love watching West Wing on a whim.

    Of course, CJ is my queen. But as I’ve fired off email after email to Indiana’s State house, freaking out about the creation science bill that’s on the floor right now, I keep going back to an scene between Leo & Toby- prayer in school was up for debate, Leo wasn’t sure it was a big deal, and Toby unleashes about it. Leo ends the conversation with, “What did they do to you?”  And I think about my daughter’s school, where it’s ethnically diverse, and they haven’t figured out how not to like each other based on ethnic origin or religion, and I think, let’s not do that to these kids. Please let’s not do this.

    ANYWAY. CJ is till my queen, because she evolves into deftly managing the men in the West Wing.

     

  4. I love all of them. I got the DVD box set for my husband for Christmas and we’re already partway through season three. I love every damn character. Toby is my patronus too. Donna’s character arc is amazing. CJ is, obviously, my queen, but so are Abby and Mrs. Landingham (I basically cried for a solid hour as soon as I realized we were rewatching the episode where she buys her new car). I wish there were more shows about smart people!

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