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.
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.
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.
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