I know who wins the race for the White House. It’s the Democrat, that Matt Santos, you know, the first Hispanic to run for president of the United States who beats this old white guy with health issues?
Okay so that’s the plot to the final series of one of the most brilliant television shows of the last decade, also known as ‘The West Wing’, which is revisited in part by BBC Four tonight.
The programme picks up on the similarities between that dramatised White House presidential race in which the long-shot candidate played by Jimmy Smits came from nowhere to win the Democratic Party nomination.
He takes on the sitting Vice President Bob Russell (or Bingo Bob as we remember him) and the former Vice President John Hoynes to face off against late sixty something Republican Senator Arnold Vinick who is a dead ringer for John McCain.
The similarities are there for all to be seen. Okay Santos was Hispanic and Barack Obama is black, but there are of a similar age and both were/are making break throughs in political life.
In ‘The West Wing’ race the ending was a fairytale one that saw Santos enter Camelot accompanied by his campaign manager and chief of staff Josh Lyman.
In the show tonight Hollywood historian Dr Ian Scott from the University of Manchester, who was a consultant for BBC Four on ‘President Hollywood’, describes how former Al Gore speechwriter Elie Attie became a writer and producer on ‘The West Wing’ and approached Obama aide David Axelrod in 2004, asking about the background and life of his boss.
That apparently set in train a sequence of events which predicted the real-life events as they unfolded two years after the final season of the series had been screened.
“After Attie heard Obama’s speech at the 2004 Democratic convention in Boston, he was convinced the prospective Senator’s tone, style and rhetoric should be the basis of the Matt Santos character. There have always been strong links between Hollywood and Washington conceived through film.
“But at the moment this is even more unusual and pertinent as Senator Obama’s campaign is so similar to the campaign of the fictional Matt Santos in the final season of The West Wing. While it is true that Hollywood has often been accused of simplifying debate, they have nevertheless been crucial in opening up wider social and cultural awareness.”
The real life script looked to have been running just as the script of ‘The West Wing’ had with Obama on course for a historic win, but then something else historic happened with the naming of Sarah Palin to the McCain ticket. That has shaken up the race like no one could have guessed.
My guess is that it would not have done so quite as powerfully if Hillary Clinton had been the candidate vice presidential name on the Obama ticket rather than Joe (where have you been for two weeks) Biden. But that boat has definitely sailed.
Talking of which have you seen Tina Fey’s sketch as Sarah Palin standing alongside fellow comedienne Amy Poehler as Clinton? Brilliant. Gene has already kindly posted this below it really must be seen.
Sadly they foolishly cancelled ‘The West Wing’ so we never got to see what a Smits led TV presidency would have held in store for us. Shame, but then Martin Sheen’s Josiah “Jed” Bartlet was always going to be a hard act to follow.