Martin Sheen visits Cindy Sheehan:
Actor Martin Sheen, who portrays the president of the United States on "The West Wing," was among those who made their way to the Crawford, Texas, camp of Cindy Sheehan, the peace activist demanding a second meeting with President Bush as she blasts America's ongoing presence in Iraq.
"At least you've got the acting president of the United States," Sheen said. "I think you know what I do for a living, but this is what I do to stay alive."
Sheen gave a speech to the crowd estimated at 300, as he provided a brief history of vigils.
"It is in the old Irish tradition that goes back centuries that when you had a rift with the landlord or an authority, you vigiled in front of their homes until they came out and confronted you," Sheen noted. "And that's what this is all about in that that great tradition."
At least that last bit sounded like the Jed Bartlet I know, the sagacious Democratic President Sheen portrays on "The West Wing". But President Josiah "Jed" Bartlet is a Bible-quoting liberal Democrat from New Hampshire, not a left-wing activist from Hollywood, and would never be seen sharing a stage with a figure whose extreme rhetoric about America being a terrorist nation that is sending its sons to die for oil and Israel has drawn support from the likes of David Duke and neo-Nazis. The Jed Bartlet I know would have a thing or two to say to a fellow American who considers the people killing our soliders in Iraq "freedom fighters". But Martin Sheen is happy to gloss over these issues because he is against the Iraq war. And he is not Jed Bartlet.
Sheen is a fine actor, and he brings the character of Jed Bartlet to life vividly, with all his quirks, passions and country wisdom. You see, I haved loved watching "The West Wing" since I began catching up to it in reruns on Bravo, and am sucked in from its stirring theme music to its closing credits. It is simply one of the best written dramas on television --notwithstanding a couple of bad seasons -- with gripping story lines, well-written dialogue and likable characters who are all the more so because they are flawed and human. Conservatives often dismiss the program as a liberal Hollywood fantasy, and mock Democrats whose cars sport bumper stickers proclaiming "Jed Bartlet is my President". Well why not? The West Wing portrays Democrats the way they'd like to be portrayed: smart, compassionate, glib, principled, committed, uncomprising -- and in the area of foreign policy, far tougher than real Democrats.
For example, when the Bartlet administration found out that a diplomat from the fictional Middle Eastern country of Qumar was complicit in a terrorist plot to blow up the Golden Gate bridge, and realized he was being shielded by his government, President Bartlet sanctioned a covert assassination to remove the threat and send a message to the government of Qumar that we will not tolerate state sponsors of terrorism. When the Qumaris (in a realistic twist) decided that they could score points by publicly implicating Israel and letting the Bartlet administration squirm, Chief of Staff Leo McGarry (brilliantly played by John Spencer) summoned Qumar's UN amassador to the White House for a tense conversation.
When the Qumari ambassador silkily insinuated that of course it would be embarrassing for the President to be seen as being too closely aligned with Israel, especially with an upcoming election, McGarry told him: "Mr Ambassador. If President Bartlet wanted to win reelection with overwhelming support from the American people, all he would need to do is blow your Sultan's brains out in Times Square and then go across the street to Nathan's for a hot dog. Now here's what you're going to do. You are going to cease and desist any disinformation campaign that links the death of Shareef to Israel. And sometime next year, the Sultan is going to propose a Middle East peace plan --- the Qumar plan --- and win the Nobel Peace Prize. Go make the call."
Gunboat diplomacy? Absolutely. But we cheer when the Democrats of the Bartlet administration play hardball, even as we criticize GOP leaders for bing neocon bullies. Nonethless The West Wing doesn't shy away from the moral implications of assassinating foreign leaders; it draws its stories directly from the headlines and although it sometimes takes its plot lines in a very different direction than history (e.g. the 9/11 attacks didn't happen in the West Wing's universe), the parallels with current events and policy debates are intentional and skillfully rendered.
The West Wing's fantasy Democrats also occasionally have to concede points to their Republican foes (this doesn't happen often, being that the writers admit that they do not know how to write Republican characters, and mostly don't even try, though they are making an effort by having liberal icon Alan Alda portray a moderate Republican candidate for President). In one show, Jed Bartlet was determined to veto a school voucher program for DC's schools, which had the backing of the mayor. Bartlet huddles with the mayor to try to talk him out of his position, and also seeks perspective from his personal aide Charlie Young, played by Dule Wilson, an African-American who grew up in DC and admits that he would have taken advantage of a voucher program to go to a better school. Both men tell Bartlet that the black communty is tired of being pawns in a political battle over educational funding philosophy while schools continue to fail; if Republicans want to provide vouchers so that some kids can escape failing schools and get a better education, they will take it. Bartlet ultimately climbs down from his position and does not veto the bill.
If the Democrats acted in real life the way they do in The West Wing, they'd be a force to be reckoned with instead of a party on the ropes. If Martin Sheen adopted Jed Bartlet's principles instead of those of Michael Moore, he'd visit Cindy Sheehan and tell her to speak out against the war but cool the inflammatory rhetoric and distance herself from fringe elements. Maybe both need to get West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin to write their lines.
UPDATE: Power Line has an interesting report from a conservative flying under the radar inside Camp Casey.