Good Government? | Sojourners

Good Government?

Scripted hope in "The West Wing"

Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing is a wonk-world of pure imagination. It’s compelling, intelligent, fast-paced, and seductive.

NBC’s new Wednesday night poli-drama has the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) up in arms in response to episode two, when fictional president Josiah Bartlet (played with ego-centered magnanimity by Martin Sheen) wants to bomb Syria off the map for downing an unarmed U.S. Air Force jet. Says ADC president Hala Maksoud, "By creating a fictional story that blames a real nation and people for such a heinous crime, NBC has slandered an entire nation in the most unfair manner possible."

This episode, titled "A Proportional Response," shows the impact of Just War theory in limiting the military response of the powerful. The president is finally talked down by his chief of staff (played brilliantly by John Spencer), who reminds Bartlet that a more reasoned response "is what our fathers taught us." While it is a far cry from active nonviolence (activist-celeb Sheen’s preferred mode), it is nonetheless a sharp new architecture in the exurbs of network TV.

Sorkin, the creator of another talk-box hit, Sports Night, is known for his frenetic literary dialogue, quick quips, and tight emotional maneuvering. Perhaps his swill of choice, Yoo-Hoo chocolate drink, gives him the edge.

Emmy-winning director Thomas Schlamme sparks the small screen with a rich visual field. The Oval Office (thanks to visual consultant Jon Hutman) looks like the real thing. When Air Force One isn’t really Air Force One (and it often is), it’s a very good Virgin Atlantic 747 imitation. The deputy chief of staff Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) totes Elizabeth Drew’s current Beltway bible The Corruption of American Politics: What Went Wrong and Why under his arm.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2000
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