Leo McBiden

McGarry BidenWhile I and many others are trying to grasp Obama’s reasoning behind his choice of Joe Biden as a running mate, it is worth mentioning that there is a certain logic to this for fans of “The West Wing”.

It’s already been said that Barack Obama has similarities to the “West Wing” character of Matthew Santos, which is not entirely surprising given that one of Obama’s advisors was a consultant to the show’s writers. Both Obama and Santos are relatively fresh and are from a minority community. Both are charismatic. Both are excellent public speakers. Both needed someone with more experience to balance the ticket.

Santos’ vice presidential pick was Leo McGarry, the former White House Chief of Staff. This was not an obvious choice given that he was both a recovering alcoholic and valium addict: however, he was experienced, came from a Catholic working class background, and had extensive foreign policy expertise. Among his personal quirks was a love of expensive suits; as Charlie, President Barlet’s aide noted, he always bought them from Saville Row.

Biden is also an older statesman who came from a Catholic working class background. He developed extensive foreign policy experience as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee. The quality of his wardrobe has been noted by Newsweek’s Howard Fineman:

He is a fancy dresser–given to stick pin collars and French cuffs…

Both, however, have baggage. In McGarry’s case, his baggage included not only his past substance abuse, he also had a physical ailment: he had suffered a massive heart attack prior to being chosen. Because John Spencer, the actor playing McGarry, died of a heart attack, it was decided to have McGarry pass away on the fictional Election Night.

In Biden’s case, his infirmity is less serious in terms of his overall health, but much more damaging in terms of the campaign: as Fineman also stated, “he likes to talk”. Too much. But then again, Leo McGarry was not portrayed as the greatest campaigner either.

There are, of course, differences: McGarry had military service and experience as Secretary of Labor, which makes him theoretically superior to Biden. Biden on the other hand has an excellent family life (McGarry is divorced) and no financial or sexual scandals to haunt him.

However, the logic in operation behind the fictional Santos’ pick and the actual Obama pick remains quite similar. Add in the element of the conflict in Georgia, which echoes the problems faced by President Bartlet in Kazakhstan, and the similarities between fact and fiction become even more compelling. This could definitely be the “West Wing Election”.

One final note: for those who don’t recall the result, Santos won. Take it as an encouraging omen.

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