The 2008 Election and the Santos vs. Vinick Campaign

The New York Times notes some of the similarities between the Obama campaign and the Santos campaign on The West Wing:

The parallels between the final two seasons of the series (it ended its run on NBC in May 2006) and the current political season are unmistakable. Fiction has, once again, foreshadowed reality.

Watching “The West Wing” in retrospect — all seven seasons are available on DVD, and episodes can be seen in syndication — viewers can see allusions to Mr. Obama in almost every facet of Matthew Santos, the Hispanic Democratic candidate played by Jimmy Smits. Santos is a coalition-building Congressional newcomer who feels frustrated by the polarization of Washington. A telegenic and popular fortysomething with two young children, Santos enters the presidential race and eventually beats established candidates in a long primary campaign.

Wearing a flag pin, Santos announces his candidacy by telling supporters, “I am here to tell you that hope is real.” And he adds, “In a life of trial, in a world of challenges, hope is real.” Viewers can almost hear the crowd cheering, “Yes, we can.”

Similarities between McCain and Arnold Vinick are also noted. Others have also noted the similarities to The West Wing as I discussed here, along with important differences between Vinick and McCain. Vinick was pro-choice and also seemed to be far more sensible on foreign policy than McCain. I can’t imagine Obama offering the position of Secretary of State to McCain as Obama offered to Vinick. McCain was like Vinick in his attacks on the religious right in 2000, but he differs from Vinick’s views in keeping religion out of politics by referring to the United States as a Christian nation.

There are also analogies with the vice presidential picks: “the Democrat picks a Washington veteran as his vice presidential candidate to add foreign policy expertise to the ticket, while the Republican selects a staunchly conservative governor to shore up the base.”

More similarities to The West Wing were also noted in the article, as well as a reminder that McCain of 2000 was much more like Arnold Vinick than the McCain of 2008:

As the primaries unfolded this year, “I saw the similarities right away,” said Lawrence O’Donnell, a producer and writer for the series who has appeared on MSNBC asa political analyst. Mr. O’Donnell had used Mr. McCain as one of the templates for the Vinick character in the episodes he wrote, though he said that “McCain’s resemblance to the Vinick character was much stronger in 2000 than in 2008.”

Echoing the criticism Mr. McCain faced during the primaries, a White House aide in “The West Wing” contends that Vinick is “not conservative enough” for the Republican base. Sometimes the two candidates’ situations are almost identical: when the press starts asking where Vinick attends church, he tells his staff that “I haven’t gone to church for a while.” Asked in July by The New York Times about the frequency of his church attendance, Mr. McCain said, “Not as often as I should.”

Mr. Alda and Mr. McCain are the same age. When a hard-edged strategist played by Janeane Garofalo joins the Santos campaign, she immediately alludes to Vinick’s age. “He’s been in the Senate for like 90 years. He was practically born in a committee room,” she says.

In the same way that Obama surrogates have subtly knocked Mr. McCain’s lack of computer skills, the Garofalo character remarks to the Santos campaign manager, Josh Lyman: “Why are you always talking about high-tech jobs? Because Vinick uses a manual typewriter.”

Conversely, Santos staffers talk about getting video of the candidate with his “adorable young children hugging their hale and vital dad.” The casting of Mr. Smits introduced story lines about the prospect of a minority president. But when an aide suggests a fund-raising drive in a Latino community, Santos snaps: “I don’t want to just be the brown candidate. I want to be the American candidate.” The Obama campaign has made similar assertions.

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