17 September, 2006

Humble pie

There's an episode in the first series of The West Wing where the American President, as played by Martin Sheen, agonises over whether he and his staff can find a reason for commuting the death sentence on someone.

Against all of their better instincts, not to mention a great dose of common sense, the President bows to what he cites is public opinion (specifically a poll which says something like 70% of the American public support capital punishment) and allows the execution to go ahead. Immediately racked by guilt, he turns to his childhood Catholic priest, who he has deliberately invited to the White House as if to anticipate this very moment, and offers up his confession.

It's a startling, shocking moment of drama - it was when I first watched it over five years ago, and it was again just yesterday when I watched it again on DVD. Its potency, however, seems all the more visceral now compared with then.

It surely beggars belief to ever ever expect the present occupent of the Oval Office to even consider offering up his confession as forgiveness for any possible act or deed. It would simply never happen. He probably thinks everything he does and says is blessed by God already. In fact he already thinks and acts this way.

For one of the most powerful people in the world to ever contemplate showing an ounce of humility would be a truly wonderful thing indeed, but at present can surely only occur in fiction, in some parallel White House filled with decent, self-aware, dignified people, prepared to accept blame and acknowledge mistakes.

When The West Wing was first aired it felt like a joyful escapist fantasy, a benchmark against which other TV drama and the practice of politics could be measured. Now it feels nothing less like a clarion call of hope for the restoration of sanity in an increasingly off-kilter and demented world.


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