Any true fan of television’s West Wing is well aware of the similarities between the show’s fictional presidential election and the real-life 2008 U.S. presidential election; the young, ethnic minority Democratic candidate (Matthew Santos on the show, Barack Obama in real life) has a gruelling but successful primary campaign against a more experienced candidate (Bob Russell on the show, Hillary Clinton in real life) and chooses an experienced Washington insider as his running mate (Leo McGarry on the show, Joe Biden in real life), whereas the Republican contest is determined early in the primary season with an aging “maverick” senator of a Western state being the nominee (Arnold Vinick on the show, John McCain in real life).
Well, if Santos vs. Vinick foretold Obama vs. Clinton and then McCain, is the West Wing about to play political fortune-teller once again by having foreshadowed the 2012 presidential campaign in which the fictional president Jeb Barlett is a stand-in for Barack Obama who must run against Robert Ritchie who bears an eerie to Texas Governor Rick Perry?
Need proof of the similarities between Bartlett-Obama vs. Ritchie-Perry, just watch the clip above from their signature showdown at the close of Season 3 (“Posse Comitatus“) when Bartlet and Ritchie are both due to attend a fundraiser in New York City (thanks Wikipedia!).
Ritchie misses part of the play to go to a Yankees baseball game (“how ordinary Americans get their entertainment”) in order to make Bartlet look elitist and out of touch. An aide to the president arranges for the Presidential Motorcade to drive up the Major Deegan Expressway to further delay Ritchie’s arrival at the theater. When Ritchie and Bartlet do meet at the theatre, Bartlet tells Ritchie about the recent murder of Secret Service agent Agent Simon Donovan, to which Ritchie says only “Crime. Boy, I don’t know.”
Bartlet then suggests that he and Ritchie should have a presidential debate. They then have an exchange of words about why they appear to dislike each other, with Bartlet saying that Ritchie turns disengagement into “a Zen-like thing” and Ritchie describing Bartlet as “a superior sumbitch”, an academic elitist, a snob, Hollywood, weak, liberal and untrustworthy. At this point Bartlet leaves, warning Ritchie “in the future, if you’re wondering, ‘Crime. Boy, I don’t know’ is when I decided to kick your ass.”
During the scene, Bartlett is even seen sneaking an Obama-esque cigarette break, while Ritchie, played by James Brolin, is a white-haired doppelganger for Rick Perry. (Joe Scarborough recently observed how Josh (James’ son) Brolin reminds of George W. Bush, who so many people think Rick Perry bears a striking resemblance.)
On paper, the Robert Ritchie character is similar to Perry in so many ways. Big-state governor…Criticized for his intelligence…A Zen-like disengagement…Suspicious of science. Sounds like Rick Perry, right?
As for the Bartlett-Obama similarities, those similarities have been well-documented. But Ritchie-Perry’s criticism of Bartlett is a spot-on critique of Barack Obama:
Academic elitist? Check
A snob? Check
Hollywood? Hello, Oprah
Weak? If I hear the phrase “lead from behind” one more time, I’ll scream.
Liberal? Only DailyKos would disagree with that assessment.
So, yes, somehow Aaron Sorkin, Lawrence O’Donnell and the other writers of the West Wing have outlined a script in which life imitates art.
Although I don’t this Republicans are comfortable with how the story ends. After Bartlet scores an overwhelming victory in one of the debates between the two candidates Ritchie himself admits defeat in the post-debate handshake. Ritchie whispers “It’s over,” to Bartlet, who replies “You’ll be back”.
If only Sorkin and Co. had written about a Cuban-American United States Senator who enjoyed a meteoric rise to national prominence…