Contents | March 2001
In This Issue (Contributors)
More on politics from The
"The Feel-Good Presidency"
The pseudo-politics of The West Wing. By Chris Lehmann
Do you recognize the Clinton West Wing in The West Wing?
White House speechwriter, 1997-2000.
White House Director of Production, 1993-1997.
Jonathan M. Orszag
White House economic policy adviser, 1996-1999.
Rica Rodman Orszag
White House Press Office aide, 1993-1997.
The Atlantic Monthly | Web-Only Sidebar | March 2001
Do you recognize the Clinton West Wing
in The West Wing?
JOSHUA KING: The Clinton West Wing is woven into its television
counterpart every week. Sometimes The West Wing borrows broad
dramatic themes, but often it sneaks away with a long-forgotten
tidbit. I know how White House reality and fantasy intertwine. For
five years, I staged many of President Clinton's public events,
leaving in late 1997 to produce a TV pilot called "West Wing" for
Lifetime Television. A victim of bad timing (it was shot in Toronto
at the height of the Lewinsky scandal), our show never got on the
air, but it made me a never-miss-an-episode fan of Aaron Sorkin's
Thanks to the reminiscences of series adviser Dee Dee Myers and her
long Rolodex of Clinton veterans who once wore the coveted "blue
pass"—the plastic amulet that permits unfettered access to the
West Wing—Sorkin's show regularly dramatizes tiny slices of
reality from the past eight years in the White House.
Take the January 10 episode ("The Leadership Breakfast"). The script
bulged with real-life plot points, from a fire in the White House to
an aborted eviction of the press corps from their perch above FDR's
boarded-up indoor swimming pool. Both really happened. In the show's
first scene, the staff frets over the seating chart for an upcoming
event. Will strict protocol reign, or will a breach be allowed for a
guest's special need? Applying Baryshnikov's precision to simple
musical chairs was a political ballet we danced every day of the
President Clinton, like President Bartlet, could not have cared less
about such things. Put him in his seat, give him his talking points,
and let him go to work. What Clinton and Bartlet both go to extremes
to ensure, however, is that hometown delicacies make it on the menu.
In "The Leadership Breakfast," Granite State-native Bartlet whines
that Vermont maple syrup, rather than pancake topping from
neighboring New Hampshire, has found its way onto the high-profile
bill-of-fare. Forget the policy implications. Never mind the agenda.
The President wants his favorite syrup served up to his guests. In
real life, Arkansas-native Clinton made sure that his hometown was on
the map for more than just his birthplace. The Town of Hope (for
those not among the fruit cognoscenti) boasts America's largest
watermelons. A papier-mâché replica of 1985's
record-breaking 260-pounder sits in the window of the chamber of
commerce. On the South Lawn of the White House it became an annual
August rite that a truckload of Hope's bounty would arrive on the eve
of the town's annual Watermelon festival. The White House staff,
members of Congress, and other VIPs would regularly drop their
official duties, loosen their ties, and bite into a juicy noonday
feast under the sun.
On a Hollywood soundstage, of course, a can of maple syrup is a more
manageable prop than a truck oozing with ripened watermelon. Truth,
as always, is stranger than fiction.
Joshua King, White House Director of
Production from 1993 to 1997, is Vice President of Ntercept
Copyright © 2001 by The Atlantic
Monthly Group. All rights reserved.