On gay rights, two moments _ one fake, one real _ are striking in their similarities.
In “The West Wing” episode “20 Hours in L.A.,” which aired first in 2000, Bartlet is running for re-election when he dresses down a Hollywood producer demanding he publicly advocate for more gay rights. Bartlet thunders, “Right now, right this second, the worst thing that could possibly happen to gay rights in this country is for me to put that thing on the debating table, which happens the minute I open my mouth!”
Fast forward to the real 2012. Obama was seeking a second term when he announced he supported gay marriage, bowing to pressure from gays _ including many in Hollywood _ and disclosing his stance far earlier than planned after Biden pre-empted him. Obama said then: “I didn’t want to nationalize the issue. There’s a tendency when I weigh in to think suddenly it becomes political and it becomes polarized.”
In “Shutdown” _ a 2003 episode of the show created by unabashed liberal Aaron Sorkin _ Bartlet refuses to compromise with the Republican House speaker over budget cuts the GOP is demanding as a fiscal crisis looms, and declares, “I am the president of the United States, and I will leave the government shut down until we come to an equitable agreement.”
Will we hear similar from Obama next month if _ as expected _ House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, demands significant spending cuts as a part of legislation to fund federal agencies beyond March 27 and avert a government shutdown? Maybe so.
These days, a level of governing uninfluenced by stereotypes sounds as refreshing as it does impossible.
That is, unless our leaders start putting what’s right for the country over what’s expected by their most vocal backers, and unless we, the general public, stop holding them hostage with fantastical notions of how they should behave.
We’re talking about a fundamental shift. And that won’t happen overnight.
But the potential payoff is huge. If the pressure to adhere to the script ebbs, that clears the way for more real problem-solving. Not to mention the ability to look at shows like “The West Wing” and say, with confidence: This is entertaining, but it’s nothing like the real thing.
Liz Sidoti is the national politics editor for The Associated Press. Follow her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/lsidoti
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