SANTA CRUZ, September 30, 2013 — The inauguration of George W. Bush as America’s forty-third President was a dire moment for American progressives. The carefree, economic expansion of the nineties, all of which had taken place in relative national safety, was ending.
It was clear there were dark times ahead.
The new President began gleefully gutting any government spending for programs unrelated to the defense or oil industries. Teachers, firefighters, and police were the first to feel the cuts, and it was only the beginning.
Immediately following the horrific events of September 11, 2001, as Americans mourned the tragic loss of life, President Bush declared his famously amorphous war on terror. The figurative barn door now thrown wide open, America began an unprecedented, unilateral campaign against any place or people who it deemed might be terrorists.
For those on the left, it was like living in a place they did not know. They felt no kinship to the men and women who were now using Americas vast military as the lethal head of some blind, ideological spear and yet, as their birth certificates confirmed, they were guilty by association.
What was a progressive American to do during the Bush years to retain some semblance of connection to the country they had once known?
The answer for many was to immerse themselves in The West Wing, the NBC drama which aired from September 22, 1999, to May 14, 2006. The show provided a weekly respite from the worsening realities of the Bush Presidency, serving as an alternate reality progressives could inhabit as the United States, along with its world standing, slowly crumbled around them.
The show focused on the White House senior staff of fictional President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet, a commander in chief who, while decidedly more center than left, portrayed many traits progressives revered. Bartlet was stern yet compassionate, conflicted while remaining resolute. A devout catholic, he never made his religious beliefs a public matter, nor did he attempt to build national policy around them.
Like many Democratic Presidents, Bartlet was forced to deal with a Republican controlled Congress. He sought out and hired the smartest Republicans he could find so he would have someone on staff to challenge him. He was the idyllic Democratic President.
The show regularly featured episodes loosely based on real events. One such episode, “Shutdown,” aired on November 19, 2003. It dealt with the conflict between Republicans and Democrats over government spending. The Speaker of the House, a brash newcomer to Washington played by Steven Culp, is convinced his party can force a continuing resolution, requiring the President to either capitulate to Republican demands for a tax cut for the wealthy or risk a government shutdown.
The White House staff meets with the Speaker to strike a deal on a percentage amenable to both, the Speaker changes the deal, asking for a higher tax cut at the last minute. Without a continuing resolution or new budget, the government is poised to shut down.
Later in the episode, in a private meeting in the oval office, Bartlet sternly admonishes the Speaker, reaffirming the power of the office of the President. It is a powerful exchange, the way so many on the left would want their President to speak to an uppity Republican. At the end, the audience discovers the President has not only averted a government shutdown, but secured the deal he wanted as well.
With the imminent implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and the predictable Republican opposition to it, “Shutdown” appears to be playing itself out in real life. Republicans are threatening to shut down the government unless the ACA is gutted or repealed. While many on the left are just as unhappy about the ACA as the Republicans, most agree that providing more health care to more Americans at a lower price is a step in the right direction.
President Obama has been steadfast in his defense of the bill and has repeatedly faced off with Republican opposition in recent weeks, reminding them of who they would be hurting by shutting down the government over a bill that could help over 40 million Americans afford health care.
While there is much for progressives to dislike about the Obama Presidency, many are now applauding his Jed Bartlet moment.
Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what he’s up to by checking out his website.
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