Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Season 1, Episode 11: "Lord John Marbury"


Plot summary
: The Kashmir border powderkeg becomes more explosive when the Indian army invades Pakistani-held territory, making the threat of a nuclear confrontation frighteningly real to President Bartlet, who calls in Lord Marbury, an eccentric British diplomat with ties to both warring nations - and a weakness for booze. An angry Josh is subpoenaed to testify as the investigation into substance abuse among White House staffers grinds on towards its inevitable target: chief of staff Leo McGarry. Mandy floats a trial balloon among the staff to test their reaction to her notion of representing a liberal Republican. The President is surprised when Charlie asks him if he can date his willing daughter Zoey.

Click here to watch "Lord John Marbury"

Av --

It's time for me to reconsider some of my positions. First of all, I've gone from liking Mandy (briefly), to feeling indifferent about her, to now feeling what I believe is the common attitude: strong dislike. The qualities that would have made her a strong character, most notably her ability to get under Josh's skin, would've been more interesting to watch if she'd have stayed in her role as adversary. As an ally that often takes the adversarial approach, she's just irritating. On a more substantive note, while I was moved by the amount of personal emotion on display in the previous episode, this episode's attempt's to do the same fell kind of flat. I guess I'm thinking most about C.J.'s storyline, though I'm very pleased that her toeing the line vis-à-vis her Danny relationship is being noted and taken into consideration. While Toby may have been harsh with how he broke the news to her ("You sent me in there uninformed so that I'd lie to the press." "We sent you in there uninformed because we thought there was a chance you couldn't."), he really didn't owe her an apology for keeping her in the dark, even if the Danny issue didn't exist. Frankly, Leo's explanation to her is the best one: "You're gonna have to expect that sometimes." It's one of the perils of her job, and being the professional that she is, I thought she'd have handled it better.

One more thing that's bothering me: as this Leo crisis is reaching its boiling point, the last three episodes have made it clear that everybody is going to defend Leo to the death. Josh: "You're not gonna be taken down by this small fraction of a man. I won't permit it." Donna: "If one of us were in trouble, he would be the first person..." Sam: "Leo's in trouble... Your job isn't to end the fight, it's to win it!" The problem I have is that other than Bartlet - "You fought in a war, got me elected, and you run the country. I think we all owe you one, don't you?", we just take it as an article of faith that Leo is The Man who has done so much for all of them. While I have no doubt that it's true, the individual relationships they have with Leo - Bartlet excepted; who else but Leo could bluntly ask him if he has a problem with his daughter dating someone black - haven't been developed enough to make their attitudes as believable as they should be.

OK, I think I've buried the lede quite enough here, so let me get to the two things most interesting in this episode: Josh's deposition regarding Leo, and the India/Pakistan conflict. The reason I group these two together is they share a common theme: a conflict between two opposing sides, with lines clearly drawn and mediation proving difficult. What's striking about these conflicts, though, is how each is meant to be viewed. While we, as viewers, are naturally supposed to be "rooting" for Josh in his spirited defense of Leo and his stonewalling the man from "Freedom Watch," Harry Klaypool (not-so-subtly based on a real person, Larry Klayman), I found myself asking: who's actually right here? How can I agree with all these editorials condemning the Bush White House for its secrecy, but want Josh to cover up his "investigation"? If this were a real-life issue, I think the public would rightfully want to know about a rehab stint by a major White House official. The fact that we're trained to like Leo clouds our perception about who's in the right here. And as far as the India/Pakistan issue is concerned, I feel like Sorkin is basically daring the audience to pick a side. Each side has its case, and the United States is directly in the middle. (And it's nice to see Bartlet much more comfortable in the Situation Room. Speaking of, fair question by my wife: shouldn't the vice president be in these meetings? He's a crucial member of the national security team, and surely belongs in these meetings as much as, if not more than, the chief of staff. Could they not afford to pay Tim Matheson for the episode, or did they not want to offend him by giving him an episode with a non-speaking role? Discuss.) In any case, the India/Pakistan issue clearly mirrors so many other foreign issues, so I'm sure many people who follow one of any amount of foreign battles could relate to this one, and take a side. Wisely, though, Sorkin chooses not to take a side himself, and keeps the United States in the position of trying to find a solution without blaming a side, and I find an eccentric British diplomat (the Lord John Marbury of the title) as the voice of mediation an interesting choice, to say the least.

-- Binny

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Binny --

Thank you for finally coming around on Mandy. I think one of Sorkin's greatest failings in the show was his inability to make Mandy into a tolerable character. Or maybe it's just Moira Kelly's fault. Yeah, lets' just blame her. That's much easier. Indeed, when Sam gives her an ultimatum, telling her, "Now you can work for us or you can work for them, but you can't do both," I found myself yelling, "work for them, work for them" at the TV screen.

As for C.J., I am usually not a big defender of hers as she tends to take things too personally and reacts emotionally instead of rationally to situations sometimes. Then again, she is a woman. However, in this case, although I may ultimately side with the men, I actually really do understand her argument. "Either I'm a trusted member of the communications staff or I'm not." Essentially, I think she's saying that if they can't trust her to use discretion with information and act professionally, then they should fire her and hire a new press secretary that they can trust. But so long as they're keeping her around, they have to treat her like she is a part of the team and in this case that means do not send her into the press room without the information she needs and make her look like a fool.

On the Leo front, yes, it does seem like the entire staff is willing to throw themselves in front of a bus for Leo and potentially risk the success of the entire administration to save his ass. Without dwelling too much on this point, they all have been working for Leo for well over 2 years by now (we're one year into the administration plus well over a year of the campaign plus transition), so it's not crazy to think that, especially given the close interpersonal nature of the way they work on a daily basis, his staff has developed an acute, fatherly sense for him and that they would be incredibly defensive if anyone tries to come after him. I think it's pretty reasonable to say that none of them would be where they are now if not for Leo, but trust me, we'll get some insight into all of their pasts at some time in the future. Maybe. As for the issue itself, I hear your point about the comparison to the Bush administration's secrecy, but I would respond to it by differentiating the substance of what it is that they're hiding. The Bush administration has been secretive about major things like the reasons for going to war and the use of torture, which are important components of American policy. The Bartlet administration is being secretive about the personal life of a staff member regarding events that happened six years ago when they weren't yet in office. Further, Klaypool and Lillienfield aren't doing this to achieve any sort of noble purpose or getting to the truth to improve U.S. policy; they just want to ruin Leo's name. I think you can just take that all into account, rest easy, and get on board supporting Leo.


Shani's question about the VP is a very good one, and unfortunately I do not have a good answer. My intuition tells me that the VP has to be there. And this isn't a one-time thing, either; Hoynes is rarely, if ever, together with Bartlet and Leo in the Situation Room. This feels wrong.

Finally, (and when I say "finally," I do not mean that the end of this response is coming soon) the India/Pakistan storyline really resonated with me, not because of the feud itself, but because of the way we saw it analyzed in the episode's final scene. "It's about religion." Hearing these words emerge from the mouth of Lord John Marbury was chilling to me during a week in which the fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza further escalated. More so, I have found myself thinking back to the series' 3rd episode, "A Proportional Response," for guidance during this ongoing escapade because that episode's central issue of "proportionality" lies at the heart of this latest military campaign, especially for those who have condemned it. Critics of Israel's response point to the sheer disparity in casualties as evidence of its illegitimacy, and in terms of pure numbers they have a very compelling point: the operation has taken the lives of hundreds of Palestinians, mostly civilians, and only a handful of Israelis. True, the citizens of Sderot and other Israeli citizens lived with the threat of constant rocket attacks, but the actual, real-world casualties resulting from these attacks were minimal. Thus, argue the critics, Israel's response has been out of proportion with the initial Hamas attacks and is therefore unreasonable.

I keep imagining President Bartlet sitting at a table of military advisers - or in this case, a table of Israel's critics - and simply asking, "What is the virtue of a proportional response?" He would continue to question the merits of a response that is anticipated by the enemy, that has been factored into the equation, and thus is nothing more than the "cost of doing business," as he calls it. In that episode, Bartlet ultimately relents to the advice of his national security team, who advocate a more pragmatic response than the "overreaction" he prefers because of the political and military implications. However, this begs the critical question: is "proportionality" a rule of strategy or morality? It is through both of these lenses that the Israeli campaign in Gaza must be examined.

In terms of morality, anyone who cannot distinguish between Hamas, who target civilians, and Israel, who targets military leaders and terrorists, is either intellectually dishonest, biased, or both. That being said, Israel's attacks, although targeted at guilty parties, result in massive collateral damage in the form of many innocent civilians. The problem with these attacks is that the resulting collateral damage is not a possible byproduct of Israel's actions, but rather a certain one. They remind me of the famous Talmudic expression in the realm of the laws of the Sabbath that alludes to a man who cuts off the head of a chicken and is then surprised at its death ("psik reishe v'lo yamut.") The death of innocent civilians is a definite result of Israel's air attacks and must be factored in accordingly; the fact that they were not intended is only slight relevant. And make no mistake about it: the loss of human life is a moral tragedy, no matter which side you're on. I think the distinction between Hamas's terrorist attacks and Israel's response can be analogized to the difference between the "intentional" and "knowing" standards in criminal law. Shooting a person without an intent to kill but with the knowledge that it inevitably will is surely better than shooting him with the intent to kill, but not much better; both are murder under the law. Still, the law provides justifications for murder, and self-defense and defense of others are chief among them. It is these defenses that lie at the heart of Israel's justifications for their attacks (as they are acting both responsively and preemptively to defend the lives of its citizens) and give them a firm moral ground to stand upon. I think.

The more pressing question about Israel's military response is with respect to its wisdom. Anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can discern a very clear formulaic pattern to the way it consistently plays out. It is a pattern that time and time again triggers a "cycle of violence," claims hundreds of human lives, and leads nowhere except right back to the status quo. If that is all this campaign accomplishes -- and history suggests that might be the case -- it will be a monumental failure. Thus, questioning the strategic wisdom of the campaign presents a far more compelling criticism than questioning its moral legitimacy.

So yes, there are potential moral (albeit, I think, shaky ones) objections and strategic objections (likely more compelling ones) to what Israel is doing. The main problem with Israel's critics - and I have read many of their writings the last couple of weeks - is that they have failed to articulate what would be an appropriate alternative response that would be effective in deterring Hamas, yet fall within the range of their moral compass. Diplomacy is a lost cause when the guy on the other side of the table rejects your right to exist and allowing Israeli citizens to live indefinitely with the fear that a Hamas rocket could strike its homes, school buses, and restaurants at any moment was simply no longer acceptable. So what else could Israel have reasonably done? This is the question I have yet to receive a good answer to. Perhaps people should spend more time answering questions than asking them of Israel. It is the Israeli generals' jobs to protect the lives of its citizens, not mine. So, given my very limited moral qualms to the campaign and the lack of a better alternative, I will defer to the wisdom and judgment of the Israeli generals. I think.

More and more, I have realized that the questions that this conflict presents have few concrete answers. How many civilian deaths are an acceptable byproduct of each terrorist death? Do the rules of proportionality and just war still apply when the enemy has launched what is by any objective standard a war that falls well outside the normal rules? How does a nation properly balance the lives of its citizens against the lives of its enemies' citizens? These are questions that pass way above the confines of my mind. The only conclusion that I have reached is that when it comes to this conflict, clarity is a vice: there are no clear answers here and anyone (on either side) that is able to achieve full lucidity on these issues is probably missing something.

Left without any true guidance from my brain, I turn to my heart: "He who blessed our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob -- may He bless the fighters of the Israel Defense Forces, who stand guard over our land." May this violence come to a swift end and claim as few human lives as possible.

-- Av

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Season 1, Episode 10: "In Excelsis Deo"


Plot summary
: As Christmas Eve approaches, President Bartlet eagerly sneaks out of the White House for some last-minute Christmas shopping, while a haunted Toby learns more about a forgotten Korean War hero who died alone on the district's cold streets while wearing a coat that Toby once donated to charity. In other hushed corridors, Sam and Josh ignore Leo's advice and consult Sam's call girl friend concerning her confidential clientele when one political rival hints at exposing Leo's previous drug problem. C.J. wonders aloud about the President's public response to a notorious hate crime while her personal resolve weakens as a persistent reporter continues to ask her out.

Click here to watch "In Excelsis Deo"

Av --

I've mentioned before that I'm glad not knowing much about the content of the show as I watch it for the first time; aside from being more enjoyable, it allows me to form opinions about things with no influence whatsoever. Well, I blew it this time. In reading about Aaron Sorkin before sitting down to start the show, I read all about the controversy surrounding the Emmy win for "In Excelsis Deo" for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series. Thus I knew this episode had won the coveted award. Since the Emmys don't have a "Best Episode" category," the Outstanding Writing award serves as a de facto award for the entire episode - writing, directing, acting. And as someone who's now seen nine of the last ten winning episodes in the category, I've come to expect nothing other than the best of the best television has to offer. Which is my way of saying this episode was great but managed to leave my heightened expectations unfulfilled. At the same time, I understand this episode's massive popularity; how could you not respond to wave after wave of naked human emotion presented on the screen? The performances by the actors called on to convey this emotion were exceptional as well.

Here's Mrs. Landingham, revealing the scars she carries on her heart without carrying an ounce of self-pity. More than just being the nice old lady who serves as the president's personal secretary, she's clearly someone who understands her role, and serves it with quiet dignity. There's Donna, often a foil for her boss, sincerely appreciating a heartfelt inscription from Josh more than the gift itself. (Given that said gift was a rare book, who could blame her?) Here's C.J., trying to have her personal voice heard on an issue she cares deeply about, fighting through her assigned role, hoping to be heard. I got the sense that her agreeing to finally going out with Danny is less about romantic interest, and more about just having someone she could speak in-depth with and be listened to. (Also, it seemed like she was practically desperate for some holiday company.) There's President Bartlet, allowing himself to be moved by the tragic death of a hate crime victim before resuming his Christmas photo-op with schoolchildren. Here's Laurie, embarrassed in her own home, refusing to capitulate to Sam's pressure and Josh's threats, reminding the pair that they're "supposed to be the good guys." And of course, there's Leo, clearly aware of the possible ramifications of his past coming to light, trying to maintain his composure in the face of the collapse of his professional life potentially coming on the heels of the collapse of his personal life. (Your explanation in our last correspondence as to why his past pill addiction being a problem makes sense, but the revelation that he was Secretary of Labor at the time certainly adds more substance to it.)

There's Toby. And there's Richard Schiff, Emmy winner for his work on this season, who likely won it for this episode. The storyline was pitch-perfect for the character. The beauty of it lies not simply in Toby's commitment to doing the most he can do to make a situation "right." Rather, it's the litany of emotions, some at odds with each other, that Toby experiences on his quest to properly take care of a deceased homeless Korean War veteran. He clearly feels guilty that all he "gave" this man was his coat, and feels he should have done more, even though he never knew him. But he's smart enough to realize the inappropriateness of the guilt, and instead channels it into trying to take care of a man when nobody else will. Then there's the heartbreaking scene where Toby informs the man's slow brother about the death (1:24 into the clip). Part of Toby is still wondering why he's here, why he's doing this, the other part of him won't rest until a veteran's family is informed and a Purple Heart recipient is buried with honor. He fully understands what he's capable of given his job in the government, yet the man is incapable of saying the words "I'm an influential person. I'm a very powerful person" without being frustrated by his need to say them and ashamed of having said them. (In between the two times I watched this episode, I learned that this storyline was originally written for Sam. It's a good thing they changed their minds; Rob Lowe could not have come close to pulling off this scene the way Schiff did.)

Though I mentioned above that this episode on the whole fell short of the "best of the best television has to offer" mark that I've come to expect from Outstanding Writing-winning episodes, the same can't be said of the beautiful and touching final scene. The level of detail with which it was written and directed is incredible, from the on-location filming at Arlington and its real-life superintendent appearing at the funeral, to the close-ups of Toby and Mrs. Landingham flinching during the gun salute, one maybe because he's not used to the sound, the other maybe because it brings her back to another military funeral she attended. The cross-cutting between the funeral and the staff lining up beside the president is elegant, though I'm not sure what the lining up is supposed to signify. And then there's the choice of Christmas song. You may recall, Av, a 3300-word email I sent out on Christmas Eve 2007, listing my Top 20 favorite Christmas songs. (If you don't recall, by all means search your archives to confirm this.) "Little Drummer Boy" was, and still is, #1, and it is the perfect choice to complement this scene. For one thing, the gun salute going off with the rhythm of the song makes for a stirring soundtrack, but it's more than that. At its core, "Little Drummer Boy" is about a simple boy who doesn't have much, who gives the most that he can give in service to something he believes in. What better metaphor for a homeless war veteran? The carol concludes with a show of appreciation for his small act of service: "Then he smiled at me." And as the choir singing for the president reaches this point in the song, Toby, representing his fellow Americans, fulfills that last part of the analogy.

-- Binny

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Binny --

I had the opportunity to watch part of this episode with the DVD commentary (Sorkin, Schlamme, and producer Alex Graves) and one of them points out that this episode, more than many others, feels like a short movie in which Toby is the main character. The way the first scene after the credits, in which Toby meets with a D.C. policeman played by Lance Reddick (who is now second only to his Lost colleague Michael Emerson in the "actors who freak me out no matter how innocuous the role they play is" contest), sets up Toby's mission in the episode and sets him up as the protagonist is a perfect example of this. Richard Schiff's performance in this episode is pure brilliance. The range of emotions that he exhibits in it is startling, highlighted as you pointed out, by the scene where he has to break the news to George Huffnagle that his brother, Walter, has passed. What I found most interesting, and what I think is Toby's motivation throughout this episode, is the desire of a senior staffer at the White House to capitalize on a rare opportunity to help another human being in a monumental way. I say "rare" with knowing irony because although surely people who work in politics get into it to effect change and do good, the overwhelming of the good that they do is in the abstract. Toby is a speechwriter. So, sure, he can write speeches that influence legislation that benefits Americans, but how often does he get to help a real person with a real problem? He can advise the president on how to reform our approach to veterans' affairs, but how often does he get to personally preserve dignity and respect for a dead American soldier? I found watching this journey of his both fascinating and inspirational.

As for the other characters, I think this episode makes it very easy to see how Jed Bartlet got elected president. He is able to be charming, warm, and funny at the same time. He is a good man with a good heart and a terrific sense of humor. I remember a rabbi once telling me that the hardest part of the job are the Sundays when he has to attend a funeral at 10 A.M. and then rush out of there to officiate at a wedding at 1 P.M. and has to be able to put on a somber face in the morning and a joyous one in the afternoon. This balance of emotions is certainly a similar challenge for a president and we see that front and center in this episode, as Bartlet is forced to step out of a room of young kids to learn that Lowell Lydell has died from a hate crime and then step back in to entertain the schoolchildren. C.J., too, is forced to balance her emotions, as she flirts with (and probably crosses) the line between representing the White House's position on the issue and airing her own views to the point that both Sam and Leo have to walk her back and remind her that she is the White House press secretary and that her job is to represent and defend the president. Simply put, if she wants a platform from which to express her own personal views on issues, she should either run for office or start a blog. You touched on Mrs. Landingham's role in this episode and I loved it as well. In fact, she offered my single favorite line of the episode when she "lectures" Toby for arranging the military funeral, repeatedly stressing with a prideful grin that he "absolutely should not have done that" in a way that showed she clearly meant "you absolutely should not have done that, but I sure am glad you did." I would compare it to a parent simultaneously disciplining their child because they did something they shouldn't have done, but also acknowledging a sense of pride in that there was something noble at heart in their misdeed. Finally, Leo, in an ongoing storyline is forced to balance his own personal interests against the president's. Interestingly, both he and the president seem to be putting the other's interests ahead of their own for the time being. (And yes, I knew that Leo was Secretary of Labor at the time of his entrance into rehab and that we would find that out in the very next episode, but what was I to do?)

Finally, as you mentioned, the final scene was cinematically sensational and a pure pleasure to watch. I need not elaborate on that as you have done a thorough job there. I share your love of "Little Drummer Boy" and I truly miss the holiday season that has left us too soon, if for no other reason that when it left it took with it the giant Christmas tree in my office building's lobby, which for a month, was my only way of knowing which side of the elevator bank to exit from. For the next 11 months, I will be totally lost.

-- Av

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Season 1, Episode 9: "The Short List"


Plot summary
: When a Supreme Court justice retires, President Bartlet has a golden opportunity to impact the court's composition by nominating a favorite judge - but when further study reveals the candidate's conflicting ideology and cloudy social affiliations, the President might change his mind and opt for another judge. In addition, a headline-seeking congressman on the House Government Oversight Committee accuses the White House staff of substance abuse - a dicey issue for one important member.

Click here to watch "The Short List"

Av --

There are many ways to tell a television episode was a particularly gripping one, and one of them is when you see the end credits and find yourself shocked that the episode is over. This was my experience at the end of "The Short List," though it's also possible my surprise is owed to the fact that this show has yet to have a major storyline extend over more than one episode, and the drug thing wasn't quite resolved. (I'm anxious to see how the staff - and/or Bartlet - is going to help Leo, who already seems defeated. Also, who cares if he had a pill problem 6 years earlier? He was treated and now he's sober.) This episode also keeps most of the focus on the primary story: the last-minute chaos surrounding a Supreme Court justice nomination. I think I enjoyed the subject material more than the ones involving the battles over legislation, because while, as someone who's historically been a casual observer of Washington, I'm not familiar with too many White House battles to get bills passed, I've certainly seen a fair share of Supreme Court nominations, and the battles contained therein. (I remember watching the Clarence Thomas vote live. I was 9, so my memories consist of small tidbits: being annoyed that the Pirates/Braves NLCS was on an off night, my parents obsessing over how Joe Lieberman would vote, and rooting for a tie.) What struck me most, I think, was just how many voices there are when a spot on the highest bench is open. It stands to reason; years can go by before another spot opens up, giving enormous weight to each selection. But consider the amount of people we see weigh in with their opinions: Josh, Mandy, Sam, Toby, the outgoing justice, the lead candidate himself (Harrison), and of course, Bartlet. The beauty is that the guy with the final say is the mystery man who sends Sam Harrison's "unsigned note" from his time at Harvard Law Review. Sorkin wisely avoided the scandal route, instead choosing a less flashy, but more realistic way, to ruin Harrison's nomination: political philosophy. (Very realistic, actually: the constitutional right to privacy, among other things, also sunk Reagan nominee Robert Bork.) The fact that the nomination instead went to the hardworking, unassuming underdog is just the icing on the cake.

I've been meaning to address this, so let me get it off my chest here. It's pretty obvious to anyone who's watched TV before that one can clearly see by now the beginnings of two future relationships that are inevitable: Josh and Donna, and C.J. and Danny. I think the Josh and Donna one can be very interesting, given their working relationship, and keeping in mind that Josh used to date Mandy. The C.J./Danny one annoys me to no end. Maybe it's because I find Timothy Busfield insufferable in every role of his, but I just do not like this one bit. It's a conflict of interest, one C.J. is too smart to indulge in, and I'm annoyed that we're headed down that road anyway.

-- Binny

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Binny --

As a recent law school graduate, an episode about choosing a Supreme Court Justice, particularly one that focused on judicial philosophy, rather than other factors, is tremendously interesting to me. I'm sure you won't be surprised to learn that, unlike Justice Harrison, I firmly believe that there is a constitutional right to privacy. I never really understood the argument of so-called "originalists" in debates like this: namely, that the framers intended to limit our rights only to those they specifically delineated and that we are supposed to read the constitution in a vacuum, only focusing on its "original intent." Even in the context of canons of religious law, where one can argue the laws were divinely authored, or, at the very least, divinely inspired, I find this line of thinking difficult to accept. All the more so in the context of secular law, where certainly nobody would argue that James Madison's pen was guided by the hand of god. Sam's insight on this issue was fascinating to me, as he explains that privacy is important not because of its implications that we understand (abortion), but rather because of the future ones that modern technology will create that we can't yet comprehend.

The issue of the "unsigned note" is a thought-provoking one. It made me think of the Senate confirmation hearings of 30 years from now and the countless "unsigned notes" that will likely present themselves in the forms of emails, blogs, and whatever it is that gets invented tomorrow. In fact, I can imagine an aide to a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee reading these very words down the line in search of incriminating information about me for my own confirmation hearing. Perhaps it would be wise not to comment on Senator Lillienfield's allegations that 1 in 3 of this blog's contributors use drugs on a regular basis.

Why do people care that Leo is a recovering drug addict, you ask? Well, why did they care whether Bill Clinton inhaled or not in college? Or whether George W. Bush had a DWI when he was 30? (Or whether Laura Bush killed a guy?!) People care about these things even if they don't have any impact on the person's current job performance. It might be dumb, but it's reality. Also, there is a tendency to be suspicious of addicts who claim to be sober, so there would probably be a decent percentage of the public convinced a Valium addict was running the White House, and what kind of example does that set for our children!

The theme of practicality versus idealism returned once again in this episode in an interesting way. Firstly, we have the outgoing Supreme Court justice accusing the president of "running great guns" in the campaign, but then driving to the "middle of the road" immediately after taking office. The president defends himself by raising all the practical obstacles that stand in the way of his governing the way he would prefer to in an ideal world, leading to Jusitce Crouch channeling his inner Lloyd Bentsen: "I remind you, sir, that I have the following things to negotiate: an opposition Congress, special interests with power beyond belief, and a bitchy media." "So did Harry Truman." "Well I am not Harry Truman." "Mr. Bartlet, you needn't point out that fact." Secondly, in a reversal of roles, we find that this time it is Josh whose principles are bothered by the idea of investigating who might be using drugs, while it is Toby who has his eye on the nomination and just wants to get it done.

As for the brewing relationships, I totally agree with you. One of the main plot developments that you can be sure has the potential to ruin a good show is a ridiculous romantic relationship between two main characters. There are countless examples. In this instance, I agree with you that Josh and Donna's relationship is playful and fun and enjoyable to watch as long as it doesn't progress too much from its current dynamic; Danny and C.J.'s, however, is implausible and annoying (and I happen to like Timothy Busfield, so I'm not as biased). Let's hope that neither couple becomes more than just friends, albeit with some occasional flirting.

-- Av

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Av --

I admire your restraint as you play along with your "feelings" about the brewing relationships as if you don't know exactly how they end up; I can't decide if you wrote that last line as a genuine expression of how you felt at the time you first saw these episodes, or with a knowing smirk.

Until I saw this episode and did some research about the topic, I had no idea that the lack of a constitutional right to privacy was a legitimate position held by some originalists. Though I, like you, have had extensive exposure to the notion of religious law canon being a strict code, I can't understand the inflexible originalist philosophy. As "Thomas Jefferson" wrote in the foreword to "America: The Book": "If we had meant for the Constitution to be written in stone we would have written it in stone. Most things were written in stone back then, you know. I'm not trying to be difficult but it's bothersome when you blame your own inflexibility and extremism on us."

As far as the practical issue of privacy is concerned, Sam's speech to Bartlet is ahead of its time. The user-generated content that makes up so much of today's popular internet usage - Web 2.0 - wasn't around back then, but Sam's view is enlightening when thinking about the blurred line between private and public that exists in the current climate. In fact, given the extent to which people forfeit their own privacy on the web, it's scary to consider the prospect of a Supreme Court judge who doesn't see it as a Constitutional right. And you're quite right that the confirmations of 30 years from now will be fascinating due to emails, blogs, etc. So will political campaigns having to deal with old, drunken Facebook pictures. I'm sure that current college undergraduates who have their entire future political lives on their mind at all times are being careful and taking relevant advice. But that has to be a small minority, right? I think it's more likely most candidates running for a Congressional seat in 30 years have a whole new set of "background" problems to deal with than the current generation of politicos do.

-- Binny