A couple of weeks ago, we replaced the television in our bedroom for one main reason: the “smart” part of our old smart TV quit working and we couldn’t watch Netflix. I need Netflix because of its endless library of stand up comedy. My wife on the other hand decided the first order of business was to re-watch all of “The West Wing” from the start.
I had forgotten what an awesome show that was.
Oddly, Martin Sheen’s performance as the fictitious President Jed Bartlet is incredibly believable. The character is not perfect, however. In season one, we learn that he withheld from the public his Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis and the details of his chief of staff’s recovery from addiction to prescription medication.
The last episode I watched featured him struggling with a request for a stay of execution for a convicted murderer, with the death penalty being in conflict with his own Catholicism. He let the execution occur, while in counsel with his longtime priest, and immediately began giving his confession after the lethal injection had been administered.
President Bartlet, in fantasy America, had visited all 58 of our national parks and could bore his staff members to death with details of each one of them. He loves America and he loves Americans. He is driven to do the right thing, and tormented when he knows the public wants him to do something he thinks is wrong.
The character just seems like a president to me. I expect any real life president who served during my adult life identifying with him (Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama). I can also see Hillary Clinton fitting into the same groove. All five of these people are students of the nation. They came to the job with a lifetime of experiences that make them capable of caring about this country, and all things within it as a result.
A quick review back through the list of the presidents who served for the entire twentieth century show that they all also fit this mold. Context slowly gets lost as the century long review rolls back through our nation’s history and changing place in the global community. Presidents, and yes, I mean all of them, are special Americans.
Monday night, in the first presidential debate of 2016, many of us in pundit world thought Donald Trump was going to make his best effort yet at acting “presidential.” Today, those who were already in his camp have done their best to label his performance as some sort of mission accomplished.
Admittedly, Trump’s personality grates on my nerves like that dinner guest who can’t quit squeaking his steak knife on grandma’s china, and pretending he doesn’t hear it. But there was one thing he said that Americans would be foolish to let slide: he gave his tacit approval to Clinton’s statement that he pays no federal income taxes, and then went on to describe it as “smart.”
Clinton asked a question of a crowd at a rally on Tuesday that if not paying taxes is smart, what does that make the rest of us? I expand her question by asking it directly to Trump’s base—people who are unhappy with their economic standing today and also unhappy about the taxes they actually pay.
This comes on the heels of his ongoing refusal to release his income tax returns as every president dating back to Richard Nixon has done. Not paying income taxes is the best reason, the greatest reason, for not releasing those returns, even though I am now sure there are others.
America, not knowing a president is a creative tax avoider, if not evader, is one thing. Knowingly tolerating it by voting for him is just plain stupid.
He just isn’t fit to serve as president. If NBC had tried to convince us that President Bartlet was anything, and I mean anything, like Donald Trump, “The West Wing” would have never made it to TV.
It would not be believable. It wouldn’t be funny or dramatically interesting. Most of all, it wouldn’t be American.
He is declaring victory in a debate that featured him announcing that he does things that disqualify him from the job. President Bill Clinton was impeached for less.
And if he wins, don’t blame Hillary Clinton, the media, the nominating process or anything else. The fault will be squarely where it always is, but in this case there will be no excuses.
The blame will be on us.