Lawrence O'Donnell and Richard Stengel

Save The West Wing--Vote for Gore
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Aug. 10 2000 12:28 PM

Lawrence O'Donnell and Richard Stengel

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Lawrence:

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Sorry for my radio silence this morning. I had wall-to-wall meetings. Now that I'm a manager, I have meetings. When I was a writer sitting alone in a room, I yearned to go to meetings. I dreamed about meetings. A meeting would make my day. Meetings made me feel important and connected to the world. Now, of course, I hanker to be alone in a room every once in a while. Which I am now, for a few minutes at least.

I actually think the question of whether a Bush administration would hurt The West Wing is an interesting one. First, full disclosure: I've seen only a few episodes of the show. I watched originally because of your connection to it, and then I even watched a few others despite that.

Anyway, I think the show does get some frisson of fascination because of the implied (implicit?) comparison to the Clinton administration. It's why a roman à clef gets buzz; we're trying to figure out who the characters are. It certainly helped Primary Colors. (And certainly hurt its sequel.)

Yes, Bartlet is an aspirational figure. He is the liberal beau ideal; Clinton without the polling and the blow jobs. (Which reminds me of a Lieberman joke someone told me today.) The show, in fact, is sentimental, but we have a greater tolerance for that when it involves patriotism. If Bush wins, some of the air will go out of the balloon. There will be none of that, 'Oh, is that the guy who's supposed to be George Stephanopoulos?' You can't measure that, of course, but I'm sure its there.

What is Bartlet without Clinton is a fair question. What would Dr. Strangelove be without the Cold War? There's a reason John le Carré doesn't write about Russian-American espionage anymore. It's lost its heft. There's nothing to play against. I suspect President Bartlet will seem anachronistic during a Bush administration. He'll seem, well, more fictional.

Anyway, I'm late for a meeting.

Lawrence O'Donnell is a co-producer and writer on The West Wing and writes the "National Affairs" column for New York magazine. Richard Stengel, the editor of Time.com, is the author of You're Too Kind: A Brief History of Flattery (click here to buy it). He was also chief speechwriter and senior adviser on Bill Bradley's presidential campaign.

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