Life Imitates Art

February 28, 2008

Okay, at the risk of revealing myself as a total West Wing nerd, I’d like to ask if anyone else has noticed the amazing similarities between this year’s Presidential race and the Matt Santos-Arnold Vinick race that dominated the show’s final season.

I was in Australia for the final season of The West Wing and didn’t get to watch the episodes as the season unfolded.  Instead, the Christmas after our return to the States, Nancy gave me the complete 7 season DVD collection, which I watched from beginning to end over the course of 13 months.  That’s right:  I only finished watching season seven a few weeks ago.  And I was blown away by how closely the narrative of the 2008 race has followed that of the fictional election.

On the Republican side, you had Arnold Vinick, played by Alan Alda.  Vinick was from California rather than Arizona, but in other ways he was the television doppelganger of John McCain.  He was a moderate Republican who had bucked party orthodoxy on a number of issues, earning the admiration of centrists and independents, but alienating the party’s right-wing base.  Now the fictional Vinick was actually to the left of McCain on social issues — he was pro-choice, supportive of gay rights, and in favor of gun control — but he was also a fiscal hawk and someone who had extensive foreign policy experience.  As the campaign went on, he was forced to take stances on issues that were more conservative than he would have liked, but his appeal to the political center made him a formidable candidate.

The Democratic nominee, Matthew Santos, played by Jimmy Smits, was a Texas Congressman with relatively little political experience.  But in this fictional America he was perceived as being honest, he inspired voters with brilliant, passionate rhetoric, and he came to be seen as an agent of change. He was also a minority candidate, a Latino who was seeking to become the first Hispanic President in the nation’s history.  He ran an insurgency campaign against the better known establishment candidate and managed to win the nomination after a bitter primary battle that went all the way to the Democratic convention.  Any of this sound familiar?

I’m not going to give away the ending, though if you know anything about The West Wing and it’s creators you can probably guess.  But one of the things I always loved about the show was it’s uncanny ability to be utterly original while so closely mimicking real-life political circumstances.  Still, I never would have believed that the show’s creative team could so accurately predict what has happened so far this year. 


2 Responses to “Life Imitates Art”

  1. Honestly, I’m not paying enough attention to this years elections to make informed decisions on American politics. Actually… I’m not paying enough attention for my provincial election, I doubt I’ll drag my butt out to vote for it. Their websites are craptacular, and I *hate* watching the news. Websites, that’s where it’s at. *shrug* Oh well, provincial election isn’t the major important one anyway.

    Should have seen me when I was..14…15…er…however old I was, when Bush Jr. came into the political spotlight, I was a little spitfire. I got into a few verbal spats with moms friends that year.

  2. davidbcoe said

    It would be much better for my emotional health and professional productivity if I wasn’t so invested in this year’s election. But I’m convinced that the U.S. is at a crossroads, cliched as that sounds. We can keep to the path we’re on and watch a once great nation collapse under the weight of its own hubris, or we can use our nation’s resources to save the planet, end this immoral war, and improve living conditions for all Americans. This is not a year in which U.S. citizens can afford to be apathetic.

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