24 Aug 2017

gridlore: One of the penguins from "Madagascar," captioned "It's all some kind of whacked-out conspiracy." (Penguin - Conspiracy)
I just finished one of the semi-regular binges of The West Wing on Netflix. Still an amazing show even after several complete viewings. Yes, there are some extremely weak storylines, and some characters who were forgettable (Oh, Mandy, where did you go?) But all in all it remains one of the greatest achievements in American television.

For those of you who missed out, the show follows the trials and tribulations of the staff working in the West Wing of the White House under President Josiah Bartlet of New Hampshire. Originally meant to be a starring vehicle for Rob Lowe, who played Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborn, he was quickly overshadowed by a stellar cast and left the show midway through the run.

But I'm here to rant about what happens near the end of the run. The series began about a year into Bartlet's first term, so seasons 6 and 7 were largely devoted to the campaigns to replace the outgoing Administration. On the Republican side, the board was run by Senator Arnold Vinick, R-CA (Alan Alda) a grandfatherly moderate with an incredible pedigree on foreign affairs. The GOP forces him to chose an evangelical anti-choice governor as his running mate.

On the Democratic side, things are more complex. There are three contenders, and one spoiler waiting in the wings. Vice-President John Hoynes, who was forced to resign due to a sex scandal; Vice-President Bob Russell, thought to be a dense political nobody who was forced on Bartlett by the Republican Senate but who turned out to have a brilliant political mind; and Rep. Matt Santos (D-Texas), former mayor of Houston who was about to leave politics out of frustration under Josh Lyman, the White House Deputy Chief of Staff, convinces him to run for President.

Long story short. The three candidates come to the convention with none of them having enough delegates to win on the first ballot. An insurgent drive to draft the Governor of Pennsylvania erupts. Finally, Santos is told that he has to throw his weight behind Russell for the good of the party. He turns his concession speech into a rousing call for the delegates to reject the orders of party leaders and vote for themselves, wins the nomination, and here's where it all goes wrong for me.

There remains the question of who Santos' running mate will be. Josh Lyman walks up to his old boss, former White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry, who had been sent to bring order to the convention and taps him for the role.

Which is TERRIBLE politics. Horrible! Here's why:

Leo is a recovering drug and alcohol addict. He spent time in a rehab facility while serving as Secretary of Labor. This came out early in the Bartlet presidency, and only a last minute deal prevented the public from learning that Leo had fallen off the wagon, hard, during the first campaign for the Presidency. There's your first line of ads. Not even dirty, as it's an honest question, here's a drunk who popped Valium, can we trust him?

Secondly, Leo helped conceal the fact the President of the United States has multiple sclerosis. This was a scandal that rocked America and nearly torpedoed the re-election campaign before it started. Leo learned late in the game, but still, his silence would be troubling to many people on the fence.

Next? About a year before the campaign, Leo suffered a massive heart attack at Camp David and was forced to retire. It was hinted that this wasn't his first. The extent of the damage to his heart was made very public. Now, the Democrats want to put a man with a history of heart disease one heartbeat from the Oval Office. Serious concerns there!

Finally, and this is the killer, it looked like the convention was fixed. Think about it. Two well-established candidates, both of who served as Vice-President, and this scrappy outsider. The Santos is given a prime time speech slot, allowed to say whatever he wanted, gets the nomination, and immediately awards the man running the convention with the Vice-Presidency? People would be screaming "Fix!" before the first balloon hit the convention floor! The Republicans would have a field day screaming about Beltway insiders and while Democratic fundraisers might back away out of concern over the circumstances.

So, who would have been a better choice? Glad you asked. In the episode "La Palabra" Santos is campaigning in California when a bill banning illegal aliens from getting driver's licenses is passed by the GOP-dominated legislature. California's Democratic governor, Gabriel "Gabe" Tillman, ends up vetoing the bill, ensuring an endorsement from a powerful Latino group for Santos, while not endorsing Santos himself. Instead, Santos stands near the Governor as he explains his veto. The Governor then tells the reporters to ask Santos about his policy ideas.

There you go. The ticket should have been Santos-Tillman. Bring California's governor on board suddenly makes Vinick have to fight and fight hard for his home state. You could pretty much leave Tillman in the West. While Vinick is trying to win votes everywhere, Tillman, who just became a hero to Latinos, is campaigning in California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico.

Less drama, but it makes more sense to me. Do you need drama? Santos and Tillman learn that they don't like each other very much, and have to keep it together. That's how I'd do it, anyway.

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