I was late to the party when it came to The West Wing. I started binge watching the show late in 2015, eventually completing all seven seasons in a matter of three months. I now own all the seasons on DVD and will still occasionally pop in one of the discs in order to relive the magic that was produced by Aaron Sorkin.
Regardless of who has sat behind the resolute desk in the oval office, decisions have been made by the men in that office that have made us wish we were living in the reality that plays out throughout the show.
1. In The Shadow of Two Gunmen Part 2 - (Season 2, Episode 2) CJ Talks Gun Control
At the end of season one, President Bartlet is struck by a bullet that was actually meant for his "body-man" Charlie Young. White supremacists were upset that a black man was dating the daughter of the President, and they attempted to assassinate Charlie after a town hall meeting in Virginia.
In the assassination attempt, President Bartlet is shot in the abdomen, Deputy White House Chief-of-Staff Josh Lyman is critically injured when a bullet nicks his heart, and the rest of the senior staff members are shook up after the events.
In the second part of the opening issue of season two, press secretary CJ Craig steps up to the microphone to address the issue, but instead of talking about the President getting shot, she lays bare the number of murders, robberies, rapes and other crimes committed with guns on the same day that the President was shot. If only real-life politicians could see the issue for what it is.
2. The Midterms - (Season 2, Episode 3) Bartlet uses the bible to take down a right-wing Christian radio host
The very next episode after CJ lays bare the arguments surrounding gun control in the U.S., President Bartlet, a Democrat and devout Catholic, takes on a right-wing Christian radio host who thinks that homosexuality is an abomination because the bible says so. Being a devout Catholic, Bartlet then flips the script, using other passages from the Bible to show her how absurd that single argument is.
3. In This White House - (Season 2, Episode 4) Bi-partisan co-operation is the true measure of political patriotism.
Season two kind of set the bar for the rest of the series (as you can tell from the beginning of this list). In this episode, Sam Seaborn (played by Rob Lowe) goes on the talk-show Capital Beat. While trying to argue his point his is completely destroyed by a blond, "leggy" Republican woman, Ainsley Hayes. Ms. Hayes does not get dirty with her commentary, she uses intelligence and humor to crush her opposition.
President Bartlet sees the show on television and instructs Chief-of-Staff Leo McGarry to hire her to work in the White House counsels office. When Leo disagrees with the instruction because "she's a Republican", Bartlet tells him to get it done, "appeal to her sense of duty."
Here is the clip of Leo conducting the interview with Ainsley Hayes before offering her the job.
4. Let Bartlet Be Bartlet - (Season 1, Episode 19) Stop worrying about whether you win or lose, have the damn debate
In modern politics, from the moment a politician wins an election, the majority of the time they start immediately thinking about their next re-election campaign. Not only is this a terrible way to govern on principle, but it also hampers a politicians ability to get to heart of the issues currently facing their constituents. It all comes down to approval ratings vs. wins and losses. No politician wants to be seen as "losing" too many times.
This very situation plagues the Bartlet administration over the course of their first two years in office. The moment that a hot-button issue comes to the forefront of debate, Bartlet is often seen as moving to the "middle of the road" to avoid offending people. Nothing gets done this way as no one is willing to take a stand for what they believe in.
That all changes late in season one. Leo McGarry, tired of the administration looking weak decides to force the President of his leash. Win or lose, "we are going to raise the level of debate in this country."