Politics & Policy

West Wing Theology

Aaron Sorkin offers moral instruction.

Mr. Aaron Sorkin, fresh from his arrest at a California airport for possession of (among other illicit items) crack, was on Charlie Rose’s PBS show the other night modestly praising the positive values and high quality and overall wondrousness of his own television show, The West Wing. Along the way he decided to offer conservatives a little lecture on what conservatives really ought to think.

”I think that it’s odd that Tom DeLay sometime last year attacked the show for being kind of anti-religious,” Sorkin opined. “I think that it’s odd that conservatives…[are] kind of troubled about the show. Here’s a show with no gratuitous violence, no gratuitous sex, it celebrates our institutions, it’s a valentine to public service. The character of the president of the United States is a devout Catholic. He has kneeled down and prayed in the Oval Office. Seems to me that they have come to California any number of times and begged us to put this show on the air.”

Oh, yes, of course. Conservatives have gone out to California to demand that television networks air a program that offers vicious caricatures of them, their convictions, and their own notions of what public service is while placing invisible haloes over the heads of characters who mindlessly mouth the most sodden of liberal pieties. Conservatives have long demanded that the ideas they hold dear be unvaryingly depicted as harmful to the well being of the United States, and the political stands they take be dismissed as window-dressing for the bottomless greed of the “special interests.”

Conservatives have been long pressuring the solons of the movie business for a show whose pilot featured an evangelical Christian — who was, of course, supposed to represent all evangelical Christians — making a blatantly anti-Semitic remark. This same evangelical Christian leader couldn’t say which of the 10 Commandments enjoins adultery.

Sorkin is here indulging in a maddening trope common to liberals who view their ideological rivals with a condescending contempt. They love to instruct us in what we ought to believe. Here’s Anthony Lewis, writing in the New York Times on March 31: “Today’s right calls itself ‘conservative,’ but it is not that. Conservatives want to conserve. That is why Teddy Roosevelt started the national parks and the conservation movement. George W. Bush and his people are driven by right-wing ideology to an extent not remotely touched by even the Reagan administration.”

Oh, thank you, Tony Lewis! I guess we had it all wrong, then. The role of conservatism is to conserve the radical changes wrought by liberalism over the past 35 years! How could we have been so blind, so foolish?

The moral instruction offered by the likes of Aaron Sorkin evidently extends beyond the views of conservatives to the Lord God Almighty. In the second-season finale of The West Wing, which was broadcast on Wednesday night, President Jed Bartlet — who is not only a devout Catholic but also a Nobel Prize-winning economist, the maker of the world’s best chili, a nonpareil poker player, matchmaker for his loving and beloved White House staff, and a really good juggler (I made that last one up) — gave Jehovah a dressing down. His secretary had just been killed by a drunk driver and he was about to confess to the nation that he’d been suffering from multiple sclerosis for years. So he had reason to be upset.

And what did our Oval Office Job tell his maker? Basically, he complained that considering how he’d created 3 million jobs during his tenure in the White House, it was awfully bad form for God to be afflicting him in this way. And why should his secretary have suffered? After all, as we learned in a series of flashbacks, she had taught him so much when he was a boy in prep school and she a young instructor. No, not about the facts of life! Get that dirty idea out of your head right now! This isn’t Summer of 42. This is The West Wing, a show with values so gosh-darn positive that Tom DeLay ought to be getting down on his hands and knees and thanking Aaron Sorkin for using a major television network to disrespect the ideas and policies for which the Texas Republican fights every day.

No, Mrs. Landringham’s contribution to the future president’s storehouse of knowledge had to do with the fact that she wasn’t paid enough money by his father, the headmaster of the prep school, owing to the fact that she was a woman.

Pay equity! Comparable worth! How could a benevolent Creator strike down a woman with such a politically correct cause?

I don’t know about you, but frankly, I don’t need any lessons on theology, destiny, public service, job creation, pay equity, or conservative ideology from a crack addict.


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