Since arriving back to GW, my roommates have watched not one, not two, but three seasons of “The West Wing.” Rather than pooling money together for rum and coke, they reach into their wallets to buy one more season on DVD. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen people close to me suffer from “West Wing” Addiction, or WWA. My father, a man who has lived nearly 47 years and voted only once, owns four seasons of the Emmy Award-winning series.
My roommate’s girlfriend watches because she thinks Josh and Sam are dreamy, but I know the hearts of my friends and my father aren’t throbbing over the good looks of President Bartlett’s staff. I think their hearts are beating a little bit faster for another reason. Their hearts are skipping the same way America’s heart skipped when FDR declared, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” and JFK reminded us to “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
Like the rest of America, my roommates and my father are longing for political leadership. They want a leader they can refer to by initials. But as much as John Forbes Kerry wanted to be JFK, he simply was not, and W is only one letter.
Before the 2004 election, I begged my dad to vote. He looked at me and asked, “Why? What does it matter?” With the terrible taste of clich? in my mouth, I told him that as an American, he had a responsibility to vote. Eventually, he surrendered to my perpetual pleas to participate in democracy. To this day, I’m convinced he pretended he was voting for Jed Bartlett when he cast his vote for John Edwards in the California primary election.
Almost a year after President Bush’s re-election, my Democratic roommates watch “The West Wing” to ease the pain. The last time a Democrat made them truly excited about politics was at the 2004 Democratic National Convention when Barack Obama translated “E Pluribus Unum” for America. Saying it has been a long year for my roommates would be an understatement. Everyday, Democrats like them wake up looking for someone to follow, but go to bed lost like blind men in the dark.
To my dad and my roommates, President Bartlett is a ray of hope. Each episode gives them about an hour of what a better America and a strong Democratic Party would feel like. For 60 minutes, my dad feels like ordinary Americans matter in Washington and my roommates see a party leader they can get behind.
My friends and my father don’t see President Bartlett as a politician; they see him as a statesman. Despite what a thesaurus says, the two words are not synonyms; if anything, the two words are antonyms. A politician is near-sighted, selfish and anchored to party ideology. A statesman is far-sighted, selfless and anchored to real solutions.
Americans, not just my father and my roommates, want their president, their house representative and their senators to act like statesman, not politicians. For as long as students at this university, however, can remember, politicians have governed our country. Nearly 40 years after Congress wrote President Johnson a blank check to fight a war in Vietnam, Congress wrote President Bush a blank check to fight a war in Iraq. This summer, Washington passed a highway bill loaded with $24 billion of pork-barrel special interest projects. Only weeks ago, politicians on the local, state, and federal levels bungled their response to the Katrina catastrophe.
What I don’t understand is why Republicans and Democrats are so afraid to be statesmen? It can’t be because they would lose elections; I can think of an entire nation that would vote for a statesman. And it can’t be because no one would contribute money to their campaigns; I can name three college students and a father who spent over $100 to own forty episodes of leadership by a statesman.
-The writer is a sophomore majoring in political science and history.