The West Wing Vs. The Real World

29 01 2009

Did Eli Attie knowingly predict the future? The real world parallels between this past election and the fictional election on the final season of The West Wing are nothing short of fascinating. The long-shot Democratic challenger upsets the long favored rival and wins the national election against a moderate Republican. The campaign that refuses to use negativity, instead choosing to project a message of hope and change to record numbers of devotees. The list goes on and on and is below. A side note, both Eli Attie and Jimmy Smits have said in prior interviews, that they drew influence and inspiration from Barack Obama. 

Now, a week into the Obama administration and outside of the realm of The West Wing, it’s time to reflect. 

(from the nyt) 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.

Sound familiar?


A short list of similar plot lines:


-The Young non-white candidate (Santos) is running against the  maverick-y moderate west coast conservative (Vinick) in the national election.

-Both candidates are senators, an oddity because senators aren’t exactly ideal presidential candidates. 

-Arnold Vinick, the Republican candidate, picks an unheard of and extremely conservative Governor from an unimportant state to be his running mate. Ray Sullivan, the Governor of West Virginia is Vinick’s running mate on the show and his real-life counterpart is/was Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska.


-Vinick and Mccain aren’t trusted by the conservative base for several of their core beliefs. They also share shaky religious views and don’t attend church regularly to allow for more time for mavericky things.

-John Mccain, like Arnold Vinick, is a veteran west coast Senator. 

-The Vice Presidential Candidate on the Democratic ticket, Leo Mcgarry, is a much more experienced “Washington Insider” in comparison to the top of the ticket. Joe Biden fits the same mold as the twenty year political veteran, running along side the Junior Senator.

-A long primary season sees the longshot, Matthew Santos, beat out several more experienced and likely candidates. Both Hoynes and Russell end up loosing in similar fashion to Clinton, Richardson and Edwards. 

-Mike Huckabee=Don Butler

-The real world and fictional Democratic campaigns utilize buzz-word messages of Hope and Change.


-Following the election, both real world and fictional president-elect(s), pick their rival to be their Secretary of State in the form of Hillary Clinton and Arnold Vinick.

Like Obama, Santos faced questions early on about his lack of experience in an executive position. 

-The Democratic conventions were both marred by a split base of delegates.

-Matthew Santos began his political career as a community organizer in Houston like Obama did in Chicago.

– Matthew Santos and Barack Obama both enjoy Bob Dylan’s music.

-The fictional nuclear crisis ends up playing a major role in the voter’s decision of who to vote for in a similar fashion to the current, real-world economic climate. One could also compare the fictional situation in Kazakhstan to the situation in The Middle East. 

-One of the first things that Barack Obama set out to do in office was to change the way that lobbyists worked with the Federal Government. On the show, Matthew Santos wanted his first act in office to be eliminating lobbyists from government all together. 

-Oh and the line by John Mccain in the debate, “This Pen” appeared in a similar fashion three years prior on the West Wing’s live debate episode. You can watch both clips below.

November 6, 2005: The West Wing’s Arnold Vinick: (skip to 3:55)

September 27th, 2008: John Mccain

And what debates should be:


-In closing, you could make several more comparisons between real-life politicians/family members and their West Wing Counterparts.

-First Lady Abbey Bartlett was an accomplished medical professional who gave up regular practice to assume her National role. Likewise, Michelle Obama is a highly educated lawyer whose previous employers include Sidley Austin and The University of Chicago. She later left her positions to join Barack on the road.

david-axelrod1– Bruno Gianelli could be compared to David Axlerod/Plouffe. All three political operatives share keen abilities and talents that are highly publicized. However, Axlerod and Plouffe don’t change sides… Bruno’s character was loosely based on Clinton strategist Dick Morris. He’s only slightly more attractive than David Axlerod.

-Like John Edwards, John Hoynes was involved in an affair that went public. John Hoynes was the Vice President under Josiah Bartlett while John Edwards was the Vice Presidential nominee for the unsuccessful Kerry/Edwards ticket. They’re both handsome men as well.

-Press Secretary C.J Cregg’s character was loosely based on Clinton Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers.

tim_matheson-Rahm Emmanuel and Josh Lyman are actually the same person. Josh also happens to have the same name as a character in Doonesbury. There’s a framed comic strip of Doonesbury in Lyman’s office.

And just think, if Extreme Makeover: Home Edition hadn’t taken the same time slot, Matt Santos would be running the fictional United States of America in your living room every week. After another season of The West Wing: The Santos Years, there would be another campaign season in which Rob Lowe returns and runs for President successfully with CJ Cregg as his Vice Presidential nominee.




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