The West Wing (1999 – 2006) was a television show that centered on the fictional administration of President Josiah Bartlet. His staff was comprised of idealistic citizens who, despite their many blind spots and flaws, always tried to do the best possible thing for the American people. Here are thirteen (of the many) moments where we felt just a little more hopeful about the world because of the West Wing.
“Say they’re smug and superior. Say their approach to public policy makes you want to tear your hair out. Say they like high taxes and spending your money. Say they want to take your guns and open your borders. But don’t call them worthless. At least, don’t do it in front of me. The people that I have met have been extraordinarily qualified. Their intent is good. Their commitment is true. They are righteous, and they are patriots. And I’m their lawyer.”
– Republican Ainsley Hayes rebuffing her conservative friends for calling White House Democrats “worthless”
JOSH LYMAN: Where are you going?
PRESIDENT BARTLET: To a place called “Rare books.” You know what they sell?
JOSH LYMAN: Fishing tackle?
PRESIDENT BARTLET: Funny boy.
“Naval Intelligence reports approximately 1200 Cubans left Havana this morning. Approximately 700 turned back due to severe weather, some 350 are missing and presumed dead, 137 have been taken into custody in Miami and are seeking asylum. With the clothes on their backs, they came through a storm. And the ones that didn’t die want a better life. And they want it here. Talk about impressive.”
– President Bartlet talking about Cuban immigrants who attempted to flee to the United States
AINSLEY HAYES: Oh, I just want to die.
LEO MCGARRY: This is the White House, you get used to that feeling
5. That Time We Were Convinced That Government Doesn’t Have to Be the Problem
“We’re running away from ourselves, and I know we can score points that way. I was the principal architect in that campaign strategy, right along with you, Josh. But we’re here now. Tomorrow night, we do an immense thing. We have to say what we feel. That government, no matter what its failures are in the past, and in times to come, for that matter, the government can be a place where people come together and where no one gets left behind. No one… gets left behind, an instrument of… good. I have no trouble understanding why the line tested well, Josh, but I don’t think that means we should say it. I think that means we should… change it.”
– Toby Ziegler convincing the President not to say, “the era of big government is over in his State of the Union Address.
CJ CREGG: They sent me two turkeys. The most photo-friendly of the two gets a Presidential pardon and a full life at a children’s zoo. The runner-up gets eaten.
PRESIDENT BARTLET: If the Oscars were like that, I’d watch.
I don’t see how we can have a separation of church and state in this government if you have to pass a religion test to get in this government. I want to warn everyone in the press and all the voters out there: If you demand expressions of religious faith from politicians you are just begging to be lied to. They won’t all lie to you, but a lot of them will, and it will be the easiest lie they ever had to tell to get your votes. So everyday until the end of this campaign I will answer any question anyone has on government. But if you have a question on religion, please, go to church.
– Senator Arnold Vinick after being barraged with questions about his church-going habits.
“Can’t we agree that the inclusion of non-scientific explanations into the science curriculum of our schools misrepresents the nature of science? And therefore compromises a central purpose in our public education, which is the preparation of a scientifically literate workforce. If you have a problem with your child’s education, get involved. If you have a problem with what the School Board wants to teach, run for School Board. We can never forget that the best way to preserve our democracy is to take part in it. Thanks for your question.”
– Rep. Matt Santos after being asked about teaching creationism in school
LEO MCGARRY: We dropped five points in a week?
TOBY ZIEGLER: Yeah
LEO MCGARRY: We didn’t even do anything last week!
TOBY ZIEGLER: I’ll say
REP GIBSON: That’s nice, but I live in the actual world where the object of these hearings is to win.
CLIFF CALLEY: Not while I’m the Majority Counsel, it’s not. This is bush league. This is why good people hate us. This right here. This thing. This isn’t what these hearings are about. He cannot possibly have been properly prepared by counsel for these questions, nor should he ever have to answer them publicly. And if you proceed with this line of questioning, I will resign this committee and wait in the tall grass for you, Congressman, because you are killing the party.
“I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I have you here. I’m interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. She’s a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, always cleared the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be? While thinking about that, can I ask another? My Chief of Staff Leo McGarry insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself or is it okay to call the police? Here’s one that’s really important because we’ve got a lot of sports fans in this town: touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean. Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves, can the Washington Redskins still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point? Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother John for planting different crops side by side? Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads? Think about those questions, would you? One last thing: while you may be mistaking this for your monthly meeting of the Ignorant Tight-Ass Club, in this building, when the President stands, nobody sits.”
– President Bartlet responds to a radio show host who says she is against equality because it is “against the Bible”
“I blame every one I can think of and I am filled with rage. And then I try and find compassion. Compassion for the people I blame, compassion for the people I do not understand, compassion. It doesn’t always work so well. I remember as a young man listening on the radio to Dr. King in 1968. He asked of us compassion and we responded, not necessarily because we felt it but because he convinced us that if we could find compassion, if we could express compassion, that if we could just pretend compassion it would heal us so much more than vengeance could. And he was right: it did but not enough. What we’ve learned this week is that more compassion is required of us and an even greater effort is required of us. And we are all, I think everyone of us, are tired.
We’re tired of understanding, we’re tired of waiting, we’re tired of trying to figure out why our children are not safe and why our efforts to try to make them safe seem to fail. We’re tired. But we must know that we have made some progress and blame will only destroy it. Blame will breed more violence and we have had enough of that.
Blame will not rid our streets of crime and drugs and fear and we have had enough of that. Blame will not strengthen our schools or our families or our workforce. Blame will rob us of those things and we have had enough of that. And so I ask you today to dig down deep with me and find that compassion in your hearts because it will keep us on the road. And we will walk together and work together. And slowly, slowly, too slowly, things will get better. God bless you. God bless you and God bless your children.”
– Presidential Candidate Matt Santos after the accidental shooting death of a 12-year-old by L.A. Police.
PRESIDENT BARTLET: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed people can change the world. Do you know why?
WILL BAILEY: Because it’s the only thing that ever has.