I’m watching the West Coast broadcast of the live debate episode of The West Wing— from what I understand, Jimmy Smits (as Democratic presidential candidate Congressman Santos) and Alan Alda (as Republican presidential candidate Senator Vinick) were given position papers and extensive background on their characters to prepare for the debate. That is, they’re participating in a live episode as if they were actually their fictional counterparts. So, rather than this live episode being an exercise to see whether dramatic actors can do a live performance of a prewritten script, it’s an experiment whether two dramatic actors can improvise a political debate– something even real-life candidates barely do.
The West Wing is a great show for many reasons, but one of the most interesting ones is that although they have focused on a Democratic White House for over six seasons, that even if you don’t necessarily agree with the policies and ideologies championed on the show, when you watch The West Wing, you feel like those who work in government feel a sense of duty and, at the end of the day, truly believe they have the best interest of the country and the American people in mind. How close to the truth that really is, I don’t know, but as we watch the rest of the campaign this season, I can’t help hoping that Vinick will win the presidency and that we will get to watch a Republican West Wing. Because even though what side of the culture war I’m on is so very clear and my own distaste for the Republican party could hardly be greater, I think showing a positive, uplifting Republican White House might not only be an interesting writing experiment for the West Wing writers, but an interesting experiement for the rest of us.
The episode is over now. I am slightly concerned that there might be people out there who will think that Smits and Alda are actually running for political office.