“NASHVILLE — My favorite coffee mug is emblazoned with words of advice: “Lead like Jed. Advise like Leo. Think like Josh. Speak like C.J. Argue like Toby. Write like Sam.” What the mug doesn’t say but implies by its very existence: “Believe in America like a fan of ‘The West Wing.’”
Set in the White House of fictional President Jed Bartlet, “The West Wing” is an hourlong serial drama that aired on NBC from 1999 to 2006. It features the moral quandaries of President Bartlet — economist, Nobel laureate and Democrat — along with those of his family and staff. The show’s cast of thousands includes assistants and interns, journalists, political consultants, pollsters, White House attorneys, military advisers, Supreme Court justices, and congressional adversaries and allies.
The fictional West Wing of two decades ago doesn’t always hold up to 21st-century standards for workplace relationships and attitudes, but my coffee mug sums up the main characters pretty well. Imperfect though they can sometimes be — making colossal errors of judgment, sabotaging promising relationships, being rude to subordinates — they work collectively as a kind of role model for unstinting service to the country we all love.
Story lines on “The West Wing” include the usual grudges, hookups, missed opportunities and hurt feelings endemic to television drama, but the show is far more than a nighttime soap opera. At its heart, “The West Wing” is a multiyear civics lesson, and every episode is a parable.”