West Wing Theology

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…



  1. Bill Wallo · · Reply

    Nice post. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Anonymous · · Reply

    On the other hand, any Catholic that runs as pro life by definition has to be against the death penalty.

    Don’t hear much about that these days do you. Whatever happened to “Thalt shalt not kill”?

    Of course its easy (as ever) to get another quote from the bible to contradict this “Thalt shalt not kill”. But still, isn’t that the point. If you can’t kill unborn embryo that resembles nothing so much as a pinhead sized clump of cells, why is it ok to kill a grown man, or even a teenager.

    I’d like to see a president in favour of scrapping the death penalty. But then of course he’d be classed as “Weak on crime” and would lose.

    So every election we get the same boring stiffs, the names change but thats it. Right wing, sharp suits, crooked as a coathanger.

    As for John Kerry. How on earth did the Bush team manage to cast him as a liberal? That guy would be a conservative in any other country in the world. As for choice. Lets see.
    Ones from Harvard, wealthly family, member of a prestigious secret society (Skull and Bones), in with the rich, conservative economically, anti gay, devout Christian.

    So which canditate was i describing there?

  3. Cabin Mistress · · Reply

    On the other hand, any Catholic that runs as pro life by definition has to be against the death penalty.

    No. Most people can see the distinction between a fetus and someone who has been accused of a crime, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death by the authorities charged with the resonsibility to do so. Some Catholics oppose the death penalty because the convicted individual could be innocent, as in wrongly accused not because they think it is always wrong to take a life no matter what. Then again some Catholics oppose the death penalty and abortion for exactly that reason.

    Whatever happened to “Thalt shalt not kill”? Of course its easy (as ever) to get another quote from the bible to contradict this “Thalt shalt not kill”.

    Which translation are you reading? Have you ever read a biblical commentary discussing that particular verse and the many surrounding it? How about the accounts of what happens to those who actually break commandments? Ever done a study of the Greek and Hebrew versions of that particular passage? History is littered with people who brought their own agenda to a biblical text and failed entirely to see what it actually said. Don’t be one of those people.

    If you can’t kill unborn embryo that resembles nothing so much as a pinhead sized clump of cells, why is it ok to kill a grown man, or even a teenager.

    A couple of things here. You are aware that the Bible makes a distinction between the responsibilities of the individual and the responsibilities of those charged with governing individuals are you not? Are you also aware that those who consider themselves pro-life consider that “pinhead sized clump of cells” (also known as fetus, baby, unborn child, the thing that we all once were) to be important and entitled to protection from harm under the law? (That some don’t isn’t much of an argument that no one should.)


  4. Anonymous · · Reply

    • The show may be a liberals wet dream. However some of your points are rather weak. There are many, many Catholics who think that abortion is wrong, that life begins at conception, and that it is between a woman and her maker what she decides to do in such a circumstance. Also, would it be so bad for the republicans to have a bit of secularism, and the, as you put it, “donks” to have more religion. There are many religious Democrats. Most of them just don’t feel the need to lord it over people, though some of them do.

    Please continue to enjoy the liberal wet dream. I know I will

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