**WARNING: THIS POST INCLUDES SPOILERS FOR “THE WEST WING.” IF YOU STILL HAVEN’T FINISHED THE SHOW, PLEASE GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER, IT’S BEEN 17 YEARS.**
The West Wing premiered in September 1999, embodying the fast-paced, chaotic, rewarding lives of White House employees. The show received multiple awards throughout its seven season run, which was hailed as exceptionally written and cast, and remains popular today. I still refuse to call Martin Sheen anything than President Bartlet (long may he reign). The entire series is available on Netflix, so you can rewatch the harrowing shooting at Rosslyn, bite your nails as you wait for Zoey to be found and curse those Republicans making everything harder. Throughout its seven seasons, viewers watched a re-election campaign by the incumbent President Bartlet and the final season centered around a youthful Hispanic Democratic candidate versus a seasoned Republican candidate.
The idyllic, principled campaign in season seven is a far cry from the current 2016 election we are experiencing/suffering through. Despite the obvious differences between the two (fictional television show versus a real political campaign, a tough choice between two excellent, strong candidates versus a forced choice between the lesser of two evils), the campaigns connect with certain similarities and differences.
One of the long-lasting conflicts of The West Wing is President Bartlet’s failure to share his multiple sclerosis diagnosis when he was running for office. As the information began to leak during his first term, serious questions about trust, capability and fraud were discussed at length. The issue would cause Bartlet to question a second term and his opponents to attack him for his lack of disclosure.
During the 2016 campaign, health issues have been at the forefront as both candidates are well over retirement age. Clinton came under serious fire after deflecting a coughing fit as insignificant before it was discovered that her doctor diagnosed her with pneumonia, a fact she neglected to tell the public. Her capability to continue was questioned by Trump as she collapsed at a 9/11 memorial service. Trump’s own medical records were released not long after Clinton’s incident.
Immigration was a central topic to the Santos campaign in the fictional world of The West Wing. Matt Santos, a Congressman from Texas, was the first Latino candidate to run for office. As such, he received somewhat unwanted focus on the subject—pressure from his constituents, pressure from the Democratic party and some serious stereotyping. He stated that he did not want to run as the brown candidate, but as the American one.
In 2016, immigration has become a central issue. Most of the attention on the subject has come from Donald Trump’s “we will build a wall” comments, the antithesis of Reagan’s “tear down this wall” speech in 1987. While he was at it, Trump went a step further, stating that the immigrants coming to the United States are not “good people,” but criminals and rapists. Interestingly, reports are stating that more Mexican immigrants are leaving the country than entering. The decrease could come from President Obama’s increase in border security during his term.
As a rule of thumb in politics, vice presidents join the candidate’s ticket for their votes. VPs have famously come from states with heavy electoral sway (Texas, California) or swing states, getting the candidate that extra push over their competitor. The West Wing embodied that particular campaigning philosophy, grabbing John Hoynes (Texas) and Bob Russell (Colorado) to help their electoral map despite the fact that Bartlet was not a fan of either.
In 2016, the vice presidents play an integral role in helping their candidates win. Tim Kaine is a popular Senator from Virginia (a swing state with 13 electoral votes) and Mike Pence is the governor of Indiana, a state that usually swings Republican with 11 electoral votes. While Pence has caused Trump a few issues within the last few weeks, disagreeing on climate change and stating that Trump will accept the election result, Pence gives Trump a boost with his job creation and economic record in Indiana.
Age became a pivotal factor in the Santos v. Vinnick race of season seven. Matt Santos was a young candidate in his early forties with young children. His youth and vigor served him well throughout the campaign, especially when he participated in Marine reserve training (who knew flying planes could look so good?). On the other hand, Arnold Vinnick was older, widowed with grown children. The fast-paced, non-stop campaign trail became difficult for Vinnick as he developed a cold toward the final weeks of his campaign, not to mention the bruising on his hands due to the thousands of handshakes.
In the 2016 campaign, age is equally as important. Both candidates are several years over the average age of 54 years old. Hillary Clinton is currently 69 years old while Donald Trump is slightly older at 70 years old. The age factor of both candidates has called their capability into question. The national retirement age is 62 years old in the U.S. With the future president of the United States several years older than the age that many people stop working, will the president be able to handle the daily stresses, travel, and mental sharpness required to take on the day-to-day activities of the leader of the free world? Should we be taking a closer look at the vice presidents this election season?
At the end of the day, The West Wing is a fictional television show, written by genius Aaron Sorkin. The show stayed popular and relevant because of the dynamic cast, the lovable characters and the appeal of their fast-paced walk and talk. More than that, in comparison to our current political situation, the characters in the show had character, morality, ethics, ideals, drive and good intentions. These qualities are sadly missing in our real-life political jungle of Washington, D.C. All I can say is #BartletforAmerica.