As a former victim of the Inside-the-Beltway culture, I enjoy the fantasy show about what a Democratic administration would be like if it were led by a morally straight and academically brilliant version of Bill Clinton. The West Wing is an interesting show, if only for the insights it gives to the world of Hollywood liberals.
In truth, the West Wing is a liberal’s wet dream. Here we have Josiah Edward Bartlet, Jed, presented as a devout Catholic from an olde-tyme family in New Hampshire who is moral, upstanding, and a Nobel laureate in economics to boot. Wow. Bartlet is played by a lefty’s lefty, Martin Sheen, but he does make a convincing president. At least if one suspends disbelief long enough to imagine that such a man could actually gain the Donk nomination in the first place.
This season’s episodes are focused on the very end of Bartlet’s two (!) terms, and the presidential race between a devout Catholic and an agnostic. In the dream world of the liberals, of course, it’s the Donk who’s the Catholic, Matt Santos, played by Jimmy Smits. Santos is moral, upstanding, and is distinguished primarily by not having a Nobel prize. Oh, did I mention that he is Hispanic? “Santos” kind of gives it away, I thought. Don’t you see how open-minded we Donks are? We up and nominated one of them…
Santos is rather sanctimonious about things, generally, and comes across as having the kind of naiveté one might find in a candidate for treasurer of the 7th grade. But he’s likeable, nonetheless. Hey, it’s only a television program, right?
Well, Santos stepped in it during the most recent episode, when asked “Do you believe in intelligent design?” Santos replied, brilliantly if evasively, “I believe in God, and I’d like to think He’s intelligent.” This causes shock and awe among the loyal Donk staffers, both in the Santos campaign, and in the West Wing. OhMyGawd, doesn’t Santos know that our party’s base are atheistic baby-killers? He said he believed in G – O – D. In He-Who-Must-Not-be-Named.
OK, maybe they didn’t say it quite like that. However, the subtext being pushed by the liberal writers here, not terribly subtle, is that Democrats can also be devout Christians. Or at least devout Catholics, which, somehow, is acceptable in a way that being a devout Reformed Baptist or any kind of devout Calvinist is not.
There is also the conceit that Republicans, in this instance Arnold Vinick, played by Alan Alda, are free to be non-Christians. Of course they are free to be agnostics, atheists, or wiccans, for that matter. At least in the fantasyland of liberal Hollywood writers.
Getting back to what “devout” means (hmmm, echoes of Bill Clinton’s infamous evasions…depends on what “what” means…), for the West Wing’s parallel universe, it means that “devout” Catholics are free to ignore their church’s teachings about the sanctity of innocent human life, and that this life unarguably begins at conception.
Once again, we are free to believe what we will. This is America, even on the West Wing. But doesn’t it rankle to see people in positions of great authority shown as paragons of Catholic virtue, and then they go and ignore the Holy Father on the sanctity of life?
Well, it is only an entertainment, and not to be taken seriously. And, to be sure, it is entertaining. The problem is that so many in this country wish that they could have it both ways: elect a “devout” Catholic who would be an unabashed supporter of abortion “rights.” And creation and attendant destruction of human life in the laboratory in the name of “stem cell research.”
Well, our job as voters is to hold those who claim to be devout Catholics to the standards they set for themselves. President Kerry, there’s a casting call for you on West Wing…