Obama vs. McCain and Santos vs. Vinick

Peter Funt (son of Allen Funt) sees an analogy between this year’s probable presidential race and the final season of The West Wing:

How’s this for a political plot: Good-looking congressman in his mid-40s, married with two young children, known for his inspirational speeches, comes from far behind to clinch the Democratic nomination and face an older, more experienced centrist Republican. If he wins, he’s America’s first non-Caucasian president.

It’s a drama that plays out each day in the papers and through nonstop cable-TV coverage. But some are beginning to notice that it’s a rerun. The whole thing was broadcast a few years back on NBC’s “The West Wing.”

He even speculates that this isn’t entirely coincidence:

The Santos character was created by Eli Attie, currently co-executive producer of Fox’s “House M.D.,” who spent four years as head speechwriter for Al Gore during the Clinton administration. Gore’s 2000 concession speech was Attie’s final task before seeking a career in television. He joined the “West Wing” writing staff during the third season.

As Attie explained it to me, the Santos-Vinick campaign was invented in mid-2004, about the time Barack Obama gave his acclaimed speech at the Democratic convention. David Axelrod, Attie’s friend and now Obama’s chief strategist, suggested that Obama was a “rock star” politician whose profile was perfect for Attie’s needs. Since NBC had already signed Smits to play the part, the character became Hispanic.

Cato-at-Liberty adds:

Funt left out the part that might make Republicans more optimistic. After the libertarianish Vinick got the Republican nomination, former Democratic strategist Bruno Giannelli went to him and told him that with his image he could win a landslide victory: You, he said, “are exactly where 60 percent of the voters are: Pro-choice, anti-partial birth, pro-death penalty, anti-tax, pro-environment and pro-business, pro-balanced budget.”

They note that Vinick appeared on his way to victory:

After seven years of heroically portraying the honest, decent, liberal President Jed Bartlet–an idealized Bill Clinton who wouldn’t take off his coat, much less his pants, in the Oval Office–they weren’t about to let a crotchety old Republican beat their handsome Hispanic hero. So they conjured up a meltdown in a nuclear power plant that Vinick had supported, and Santos won the election.

If only the Republicans could nominate Arnie Vinick, and avoid an actual nuclear meltdown for the next six months, they might disrupt Peter Funt’s life-imitates-art speculations

Some stories have suggested that the producers actually decided to have Santos win because of the death of John Spencer, resulting in the on-screen death of vice presidential candidate Leo McGarry. They thought it would be too tragic to go out with both this death and a defeat for Santos.

The real limitation to this analogy is that John McCain is no Arnold Vinick. One major difference is that he is not pro-choice. Even worse than the nuclear meltdown on The West Wing, McCain’s chances for victory are greatly reduced by his support for the Iraq war. Even in 2000, when I hoped McCain could beat George Bush for the Republican nomination, I feared he was too hawkish. In contrast Vinick was portrayed as much more sensible on foreign policy and was asked by Santos to be his Secretary of State after the election. In real life we know that Barack Obama will never turn to John McCain for advice on foreign policy.


  1. 1
    Joe R. says:

    “In real life we know that Barack Obama will never turn to John McCain for advice on foreign policy.”

    We do?

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    When he is in the White House I’m sure Obama will meet with McCain as a member of Congress. He will not turn to McCain as in the context of this post, such as how Santos made Vinick his Secretary of State.

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