The last movie watched in 2008 was The American President, which I first saw about 10 years ago and wanted to see again because it was a kind of dry run for The West Wing and now that I’m familiar with the latter I wanted to see how it held up. Same warm heart, same creator, a lot of the same cast, same attitude, a lot of the same lines and unashamedly Democrat.
And it does hold up, because like TWW its two greatest strengths are: (1) it actually uses real-world issues to drive its drama, and the result isn’t always a happy one, and good people are forced to do bad things because not doing them would be even worse; and (2) it loves the presidency. Not for what it’s become but for what it should be. It should attract people of the highest calibre. It should be such a power for good. To be addressed as “Mr President” should be the greatest honour a country can bestow, and it should only be bestowed on people who are utterly worthy of it. Presidents Shepherd in The American President and Bartlet in The West Wing – and indeed the future President Santos in the same – are such people. You can’t help respecting and liking them. Why can’t we get them in real life?
Also over the holiday period we reached the end of series 6 of The West Wing – one more to go, even if I do know roughly how it ends. Series 6 ended with the battle lines being drawn up – the end of the presidency in sight, the two new presidential candidates confirmed. And true to form and its own internal guidelines, it doesn’t make the Republican guy a cipher who will easily be beaten. He’s just as good and honest a man as Bartlet, who is well aware his own party can only produce slimeballs and second-raters and is actively worried that they can’t find someone to stand against him. Until the underdog Congressman Santos enters the fray, of course, but some conventions of drama have to stand.
It got me wondering: when was the last time a Democrat president handed over to another Democrat? (Not counting Clinton who should have handed over to Gore, but that’s history …) A quick check isn’t encouraging for the future. The last two Democrat successions both came about by the incumbent dying – Kennedy and Johnson, and before that Roosevelt and Truman. In both cases the former VP then won a single term in his own right but was followed by a Republican. The last time a living, breathing and compos mentis Democrat president was followed by another Democrat was Franklin Pierce in 1857, who was pro-slavery and had been disowned by his own party after a single term. The last two-term Democrat to hand over to another Democrat (though Clinton had two terms …) was Andrew Jackson in 1837.
So, fingers crossed for Mr Obama in 2016, eh? He’s already broken a couple of records; another one or two shouldn’t be a problem.