The West Wing – Optimism Feels Good

So I’ve not written anything in the past few days. My previous entry would tell you that I had a cold and, being a man with said cold, I immediately contracted what we call “man-flu” and felt very sorry for myself and vastly overexaggerated the severity of my sickness.

In any case my Russian adventure and my less-fun-but-still-interesting attempts at revising for upcoming History exams were put on hold as I found myself far too sick to want to bother working. It’s important to make work fun and it’s a lot easier to do when it’s fun,yes, but it’s difficult to convince yourself to do work in all situations…especially when you’re so eager to give yourself a sicknote and goof off. I spent my evenings (and continue to spend them) plowing through the not-instubtantial bulk of that most wonderful of television series – the West Wing.

The West Wing is a drama about the lives and situations of the President of the United States (Martin Sheen) and his various staffers. It’s sublimely written, politically in-tune and informative, at times hilarious and others tragic and nearly all the time wildly idealistic and far too idealised to be a reality in world politics. 

I was first introduced to West Wing by a wonderful politics (or “political science”) teacher named Doctor Carter. Once a week we would sit down and watch an episode of the show that dealt with the issue or governmental function we were learning about that week. We all came to love the West Wing as a drama just as much as we loved it as a wonderful insight into American politics. I remained enamoured with President Bartlet, American politics and above all the so-very-rare idea that politicians aren’t all evil or out to ruin our lives and that politics isn’t a waste of time.

It’s very popular to think these days that all politicians (but especially the famous ones) are evil, hypocritical, selfish, self-serving, without principles or some fiendish combination thereof. It’s also very hard to argue against that – being as it is so many politicians are out of touch – products of a sheltered system that creates politicians rather than, as it should be, allowing for politicians to rise out of any and all backgrounds as according to their passion in tackling issues personal to them and their constituents. But there are some fundamental truths that many political pragmatists tend to overlook that doom them to be cynics rather than realists.

Firstly it’s very hard to say that most politicians come into the job with dollar signs rolling around where their eyes should be like some fat-cat cartoon. The sheer amount of media exposure, public scrutiny, outright hatred and stress the average politician puts him or herself through is nowhere near the paycheck that they recieve for their work. When you consider the money they could be making in other jobs with nowhere near the same amount of ire drawn from the general public nor the privacy-invading assaults by the media you come to realise the only reason many people come into politics is because they want to make a difference, paycheck be damned. The annual salary of an MP in the House of Commons is £65,000-ish. The average paycheck of a partner in a law firm, a likely alternate line of work for a politician, comes in at around £100,000. The Prime Minster makes just over that at $145,000, true, but the Lord Chief Justice can make nearly $240,000. These are not random high-salary jobs. These are lines of work your average career politician would be well-suited for, to say nothing of business or economy jobs.

Secondly consider just how many politicians you can name. There are 650 MPs as of the 2010 election and there are 535 congressmen and 100 senators in the United States. When you say they are all corrupt, incompetent or out of touch – how many of them are you considering? At least a handful of MPs, certainly, all of whom are likely cabinet ministers or only temporarily on your mind because of whatever latest scandal is rocking the nation. Speaking of cabinet ministers – who are they all? Name them. You might know half of them. These are the people running the country. They are the executive body and I’m willing to bet the average person doesn’t know all of their names. I certainly don’t. Who on earth is Lansley? Never heard of him. Tarring everyone with the same brush is the kind of irritating thing foolish politicians do on a regular basis. To quote a man musing philosophical on the merits of Captain America, “maybe some of them are earnest but uninspiring personalities, maybe some others have made less than inspiring votes lately…but to pin all one’s hopes to an inspiring leader, to hope too hard for a hero, is a mistake. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take an inspiring leader if we can get one…but in the meantime, simply voting for the people less likely to betray [our] fundamental principles and to make the world a much worse place to live is not just enough: it’s enough to get excited about,”

Finally I find it personally hard to loathe politicians, never mind politics, because I just find it all too damned depressing to think like that. Many of these people, though I admit not all, are putting themselves up to the monumental task of attempting to fix problems beyond the comprehension or scope of the majority of the people in this nation. Whether they are the best people for the job we don’t know – though we should. What matters is that we as a national unit voted them into power and now we wait for them to not make a single mistake. And I don’t say that sarcastically – we earnestly want and require that they not make a single mistake. And these people do this willingly. They actually practically beg for us to chose them to do it and not some other, indistinguishable man in a suit with vague, pandering opinions and a winning smile. 

It feels good to think the best in people. West Wing taught me that. It applies to everything in my life – I find myself happiest when I believe, truly, that humans are fundamentally good, that all our decisions are done with the best of interests in mind. There have been scant few people in history who have been evil for the sake of being evil. Nearly every dictator or murderer in the history of mankind, however deluded, believed they were doing something for the good of mankind and wanted to do something good for mankind. They did it in terrible, horribly incorrect manners that were not at all good but you see my point in that no-one really goes about to deliberately make evil in this world.

And yes – many, many times I am proved wrong. Many times humans do awful things to themselves, one another and the planet. Many times politicians are sleazy wastes of space. Many times decisions are founded on ego and hubris rather than a benevolant commonality. So many times my fundamental belief in the good of humanity is shaken. But still I hold onto it. Why? Because I see so many times the anger and dissapointment in the eyes of cynics, of practical people, of realists and those who have given up on labels altogether. They see the world as an angry, horrible place where people do evil things and the majority of good people are torn down and apart by evil, powerful men with evil, powerful bankrolls. So many times their fundamental philosophies are justified. But they’re never happy to know this. To know that they’re right – that the world is a terrible place or just a moderately dissapointing one – saddens them. To believe in the good of all the things around you is naive and childish and you must be prepared to accept however many times you might be wrong, yes, but when you’re right, when youre fundamental philosphy is justified and you know you’re right – you know the world is a wonderful, beautiful place – nothing beats that. Nothing beats knowing the world is a wonderful place to live in. Optimism just feels good. West Wing taught me that. 

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