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Knife_Fight_movie_posterFrom the new movie Knife Fight, starring Rob Lowe as Paul Turner, a brilliant and morally ambivalent political strategist, and Carrie-Anne Moss as Penelope, a kind and naive physician who decides to run for governor of California. This scene takes place during the first meeting between the two, when Penelope has first told Paul about her intentions:

Paul Let me just walk you through this. If you are ballsy enough or crazy enough to do this, I can promise you an unending barrage of innuendo, vitriol, and lies. Everything will be on the public record, from the dope that you smoked in eleventh grade, to the blow you did with your girlfriends during your college lesbian experimentation period. There is not one moment of your past that will not be scrutinized in excruciating detail.

Penelope Done? 

Paul Not yet. After that all comes out – and more – the facts will be twisted, stomped, and exaggerated to the point that you will no longer recognize them. And if that doesn’t do it, new facts will be made up so they can destroy you.

Penelope Done?

Paul Not yet. And then they’ll say – and I’ll say it right now – “what the hell qualifications do you have to be governor?”

Penelope In my job, I work with every sort of person, a giant array of problems. I run a team that daily produces real tangible results. I see our problems up close. And I think that I can bring people together to accomplish things. Good things.

Paul Good things?

Penelope Yes. 

Paul Excuse me, this isn’t a high school service club. Okay, getting elected isn’t the Harvard-Yale debate society where the best argument carries the day. These are steel cage death matches. Even if you win – which, with all due respect, would be laughable – they will hobble you. They will shatter you. The process itself will change you in ways that you cannot even possibly imagine. Now, is that what you want? Is that what you want for you, for your family? Do you have a family?

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If fidelity to freedom of democracy is the code of our civic religion, then surely the code of our humanity is faithful service to that unwritten commandment that says we shall give our children better than we ourselves received.

– President Josiah Bartlett, played by Martin Sheen (and written by Aaron Sorkin), in the West Wing episode “In the Shadow of Two Gunmen Part 1,” giving a speech to a group of diary farmers during his first campaign for president.

I thought this seemed appropriate, in light of the debates currently raging about the crushing debt being passed to our children and what we should do about it.

obama-bartlet-hopeFor those who will fondly remember, the bygone days of the Bartlet Administration were a time when our government was populated by individuals of strong moral fiber, forthright people who took to even the most minute daily task thoroughly, with an eye to justice, and always maintained a principled integrity and a virtuous purity of character, and our president was a man of vision and fortitude, whose wisdom never faltered and whose commitment to his constituents was never less than total. Those were indeed the days…too bad they were fictional.

I will admit here that I am a fan of pretty much everything Aaron Sorkin writes – for his wit and talent, not for his politics – with The West Wing ranking near the top (though not his best work, I have enjoyed The Newsroom and plan to keep watching).

If you’ve ever wondered how Bartlet and his presidency stacks up in the real world, against the accomplishments of real presidents, it turns out, not that well. At least that’s according to Ian Millhiser, who wrote the article for ThinkProgress.org.

If, on the other hand, you’ve ever wondered what Bartlet would make of Obama, it turns out Sorkin dipped his quill in the Bartlet ink one more time, in 2008, and wrote a conversation between the two presidents I suppose as an intellectual exercise, and…then he did it again, four years later. They are both excellent of course, really fun to read, and are pretty astute criticisms of Obama at the time.

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