LadyGhosts of TV Past

Ladyghosts: The West Wing 1.19, “Let Bartlet be Bartlet”

Once upon a time, in the mythical land of Bartletstonia, there lived an obnoxious new media consultant princess named Toe Pick. An established lover of panda bears and Dickensian costumes, the fair princess plowed through the hallways of Castle West Wing in sharp plum suits and with ice in her veins.

One day, before Toe Pick was brought into the Castle West Wing fold, she carved out a hateful screed on a hefty and quite likely cumbersome slab of stone outlining all of King Jed the Fighting Irish’s flaws. Word got out and New Media Consultant Princess Toe Pick was pilloried among her peers as they walked and talked through the great hallways of Castle West Wing.

And that’s all I’m writing about Toe Pick.

“Let Bartlet be Bartlet” opens with a great scene between Toby and Sam, wherein Toby asks Sam to change the line, “As I look out over this magnificent vista,” in the President’s speech to the National Association of Trout Fisherman because the event will likely be indoors, due to rain. Sam disagrees, swearing a nice lady at the Coast Guard said it would be a beautiful day.

Sam, as it turns out, is wrong.

Cut to the senior staff walking and talking their way through several minutes, leading to Bartlet addressing the trout fishermen, who are indoors, with, “As I look out over this magnificent vista…”

During the earlier walk and talk, we learned that two people are resigning from the FEC (Federal Election Committee) which gives Bartlet a moment to be excited and Josh and Donna something to explain to us later, as they are wont to do. I enjoy a great deal of the policy wankery on this show, so it’s interesting to hear how the committee which determines how campaigns are financed is a full on partisan rodeo. I know the show gets a lot of heat for using Donna as a tool for knowledge, but I always appreciate the little tidbits I learn about the side of government we don’t see normally.

CJ is giving her briefing, which is about the White House Easter egg hunt and egg roll, sponsored by the party boys at the egg council. In her spiel, she drops the following line, which I think applies to all of us Persephoneers:

CJ: The theme of the Egg Hunt is “learning is delightful and delicious” – as, by the way, am I.

In another side plot, Margaret, Leo’s faithful assistant, sent an email forward about calories in the raisin muffins in the mess and brought down the entire White House email network. Her explanation to Leo is delightful. I’m a big fan of Margaret, not only because she’s a sassy ginger, but also because she can been completely hilarious with a straight face. As she’s talking, Josh comes in to tell Leo he has two potential candidates for the FEC vacancies, both of whom are in favor of aggressive campaign finance reform, and thusly will be completely unacceptable to the Republican leadership.

Meanwhile, Toby and Sam are speaking to members of the DoD and military agencies about allowing gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military. (Dear West Wing, we still aren’t there yet, a dozen years later.) The military types are aghast at the prospect. Sam lays it out when asked what he thinks the consequences of allowing gays and lesbians in the military to say they’re gays and lesbians will be. Sam makes a joke, the military fellow essentially tells him the military won’t change. Sam counters that if anyone in the military disobeys a direct order from the Commander-in-Chief, they’re on their way to a court martial. I love it when Sam gets self-righteous about anything but saving hookers who don’t really need saving. The military counters by saying it takes an act of Congress to revise the Military Code of Justice, which clearly states that sodomy is a crime. So no matter how many laws and orders and whatnot happen, the military won’t give a shit or do anything to make the situation better. Ah, old, entitled, American white dudes, making the world a little better for themselves and their friends at the expense of anyone who isn’t in the club for 200 years and counting.

Josh is at the Capital, talking about the FEC vacancies with another group of old rich dudes (this time, however, they’re not all white, so that’s something), who have, I might add, very nice offices. With butlers, and fancy china.

The smugness in the room is blinding.

When Josh reminds the table that it’s within the president’s job description to recommend people to fill vacancies on the FEC, smug dude #1 says if the White House attempts to embarrass the party leadership by recommending someone the leadership didn’t pick, they’d take it out on the White House by docblocking any thing the White House tried to do about anything until the end of Bartlet’s term. Yay! The “Do it our way our we’ll pay you back with retribution 100x more ballsack than is necessary” style of negotiation among powerful people gives me such a warm feeling inside.  The leadership also threatens to bring all of the programs the Democrats are opposed to to the table, including school prayer, pension busting and the ace up their sleeve, English as the national language. It’s not racist if it’s the law, amirite? Josh asks if it wouldn’t just be easier to not confirm Bartlet’s choices, and the Smugs say it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun as  grinding government to a halt because their wittle feewings are hurt. And they’d block the nominees on top of being spoiled turdblossoms. This motivates Josh to actually fight for the nominees, whereas before he was pretty certain there wouldn’t be a prayer of getting them seated. Since Mr. Smug was such a tool, Josh feels more inclined to throw his tool down on the table and actually make this a real fight.

Charlie catches up with Mrs. Landingham on her way to lunch to tell her the president is disappointed that he’s got a salad for lunch instead of a sandwich. Mrs. Landingham chastised Bartlet earlier for having a rather immature attitude towards vegetables, so she thinks Bartlet should suck it up and eat his damn salad. She’s also wearing an adorable plaid rainhat.

Back with Toby, Sam and the military bigwigs, Sam is explaining that since DADT was enacted, the number of people expunged from the military has gone up 92%, countering the military’s cries of, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” and, “DADT is just fine the way it is.”

Toby gets called out of the room to talk with CJ about that person I’m not writing about, and then heads into Leo’s office. He meets Admiral Fitzwallace on his way out of Leo’s office, and Fitz asks Toby who the military folks are who are meeting with Sam. Toby tells him Sam is trying to come up with a coherent position on gays in the military; Fitz chuckles and tells Toby to tell Sam to tell Fitz when Sam figures it out.

Donna gives Josh the information she’s gathered about English as the national language, including some bits on James Madison, and Josh yells at her about making him a social studies report. She fires back that she didn’t make him any such thing, which he’d know if he actually looked at it. She complains that everyone is biting everyone’s head off today, and acting like they’ve already lost. Josh softens and apologizes for being a tool, then enters his office to talk about that thing we’re not talking about.

Sam is berating the military fellas with stories about service men and women who were discharged under DADT because they admitted being gay when asked, in therapy or in their personal diaries. Is the military in the habit of reading soldiers’ diaries? That seems like a bit of overkill. I know individuality is not really a quality the military is going for among the service people, but are they allowed to police the private thoughts of the people who serve? I’d think putting their asses on the line would earn service people the right to write about what they see, think and feel about the whole thing without fear of having it made public.

The military fellas are yelling back when Fitz comes in. I’m going to let his words do the talking:

Major Tate: Sir, we’re not prejudiced toward homosexuals.
Admiral Percy Fitzwallace: You just don’t want to see them serving in the Armed Forces?
Major Tate: No sir, I don’t.
Admiral Percy Fitzwallace: ‘Cause they impose a threat to unit discipline and cohesion.
Major Tate: Yes, sir.
Admiral Percy Fitzwallace: That’s what I think, too. I also think the military wasn’t designed to be an instrument of social change.
Major Tate: Yes, sir.
Admiral Percy Fitzwallace: The problem with that is that what they were saying to me 50 years ago. Blacks shouldn’t serve with whites. It would disrupt the unit. You know what? It did disrupt the unit. The unit got over it. The unit changed. I’m an admiral in the United States Navy and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff… Beat that with a stick.


Here are CJ and Danny talking about The Thing. They are adorable, and the mystery of who in the press has The Thing is solved, because Danny admits it’s him.

Back with Sam and the military, the congressman in the meeting tells Sam that if Bartlet were really serious about overturning DADT, he wouldn’t send Sam to a meeting with people who can’t and won’t do anything about it, he’d be rallying the whole party. Sam admits Bartlet isn’t doing that, and the lesson of the episode — “Wow, we’re getting nowhere but we sure do talk a lot” — hits him as well.  The meeting is declared a waste of time and everyone leaves.

Margaret is accused of hacking by White House tech support. This is in 2000, so it’s possible “hacking” meant sending an email forward. I should tell my dad, he’d be surprised to know that he has mad hacking skillz. She’s explaining all of this, and the muffin calorie conspiracy, to Toby, and asks him to take one of those muffins down to the lab to see for himself. Toby plays along for like five seconds.

Toby goes into Leo’s office to break the bad news that the White House approval rating has dropped five points in a week to a whopping 42%, while the numbers rating the White House as unsatisfactory are skyrocketing. This, and all the other events of the episode, lead the team to realize the title of the episode. It’s time to let Bartlet be Bartlet, and stop kowtowing to everyone who looks at them funny. I know of another administration that could use this message. Leo is convinced by the senior staff after hearing about how terrible all of their days were going, and goes in to speak to Bartlet. Bartlet, looking exhausted and about five years older than he did in the opening scene, has read The Thing. Leo gets Bartlet on board the Fuck This Noise Express with the following:

Leo: You want to see me orchestrate this right now? You want to see me mobilize these people? These people who would walk into fire if you told them to. These people who showed up to lead. These people who showed up to fight. [points at Charlie] That guy gets death threats because he’s black and he dates your daughter! He was warned: “Do not show up to this place. Your life will be in danger.” He said, “To hell with that, I’m going anyway.” You said, “No.” Prudent or not prudent, this 21-year-old for 600 dollars a week says, “I’m going where I want to because a man stands up!”

After a heated discussion, after which the president realizes that maybe he’s pulling Leo to the middle, rather than the other way around, the entire senior staff is brought in for a moving, if somewhat cheesy scene:

Leo: Listen up. Our ground game isn’t working; we’re gonna put the ball in the air. If we’re gonna walk into walls, I want us running into them full-speed.
Josh: What are you saying?
Leo: Well, you can start by telling the Hill the president’s named his nominees to the FEC. And we’re gonna lose some of these battles. And we might even lose the White House. But we’re not going to be threatened by issues: we’re going to put ’em front and center. We’re gonna raise raise the level of public debate in this country, and let that be our legacy. That sound all right to you, Josh?
Josh: I serve at the pleasure of the President of the United States.
Leo: Yeah?
CJ: I serve at the pleasure of the president.
Sam: I serve at the pleasure of President Bartlet.
Leo: Toby?
Toby: I serve at the pleasure of the president.

Join us next week, to see how this works out for them when Sally J takes on episode 1.20, “Mandatory Minimums.”


By [E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

3 replies on “Ladyghosts: The West Wing 1.19, “Let Bartlet be Bartlet””

A bit cheesy as you said, but definitely totally emotional. I spent pretty much the entire time from Leo’s Come to Jesus meeting with Jed to the speech with the staff to the end credits crying at how awesome this is.

And really, with how much Toe Pick was hated I would have thought that there would have been a much bigger focus on running her into the ground with this review.

Ha! I’m busted. I didn’t write about her much because I was surprised at how much I sympathized with her this episode, and my brain couldn’t process it. On previous watches, I always took the WH side of the battle, but on this particular watch I found myself angry that everyone was giving her the shaft.

I write about a lot of TV, it’s been a revelation to see how writing about what I watch changes how I view it.

If you’re a Mandy fan, I’m sorry I’m so glib about her, I really don’t mean to do anything but poke gentle fun. I’ve loved a few widely despised characters, I know it can sting a little when other people hate what you like. And now I don’t even know if I still hate her. So confused.

Oh no, definitely not a Mandy fan. If anything, since I started watching TWW late and had to go back to watch the first season, I found Mandy even more grating and annoying just because I knew how well the rest of the cast meshed together. I just thought that with the Mandy hate that the episode where she gets her ass handed to her would be a high water mark (though you’re right, they may have been a bit hard on her).

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