Growing up, my father had one unbreakable rule: barring an absolute emergency, he was booked from 9 to 10 on Wednesday nights. Why? Three words: The West Wing. Dad loved Aaron Sorkin’s Emmy Award-winning political drama, watching it religiously and eventually passing his love for the series onto me. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve spent time catching up via Netflix and telling Dad I finally understand why he never wanted to be disturbed. So when HBO Max announced they would be doing a reunion special in October, I was all in.
Titled “A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote,” this West Wing reunion event was a stage-play remake of the Season 3 episode “Hartfield’s Landing,” centering on a New Hampshire town that always casts the first ballots of the primary and the United States attempts to defuse a missile crisis between China and Taiwan, the latter of whom was scheduled to hold its first free election at the same time. I remembered loving this episode when I first watched it, appreciating the juxtaposition of our peaceful elections, with the potential violence that others around the world go through to have their own. It made me appreciate our system and the freedom of choice we have historically earned. As I watched the reunion, however, I began to “read the fine print.”
The special was produced by When We All Vote, a “non-profit, nonpartisan organization” co-chaired by “Michelle Obama, Tom Hanks, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Janelle Monae, Chris Paul, Faith Hill, and Tim McGraw”—all Democrats. The TV show? Well, it follows the administration of President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet (Martin Sheen), a fictional, Democratic president. In place of the commercial breaks were PSAs from members of the show’s original cast or some of the co-chairs (namely Mrs. Obama and Miranda) reminding people to vote and impressing upon audiences its importance. Samuel L. Jackson and former President Bill Clinton each had their own, too. In other words, it was wildly out of touch.
As a “nonpartisan organization,” why is everyone at the forefront a Democrat? Why are all the fictional characters Democrats? Despite naming neither President Donald Trump nor former Vice President Joe Biden, it feels biased towards the latter. It’s no secret that many people are not fond of the president, who’s averaged a roughly 42% approval rating since 2017. But he was still elected, he still has supporters, and he will have voters on Election Day. It’s difficult to take it seriously as a sign of national unity when the former Democratic First Lady and a Democratic superdelegate are both telling you to vote while there are no Republicans or independents present. In short: they’re telling you to vote for Joe Biden.
On top of that, who are they telling to vote? Dulé Hill (Charlie Young) and Sterling K. Brown (standing in as Leo McGarry for the late John Spencer) addressed “African American men,” noting that they were the largest nonvoting population in 2016. Hill and Elizabeth Moss (Zoe Bartlet), who was part of the original cast, but not this episode, addressed “young voters.” Bradley Whitford (Josh Lyman) and Marlee Matlin (Josephine “Joey” Lucas)—who, like Moss, was not part of this episode—reassured the audience about voter fraud, a common conservative concern (and is notably chronicled by The Heritage Foundation). President Clinton spoke about voter suppression.
This all feels out of touch because the special is a remake of an episode from a show that ended in 2006 that was primarily watched by older, white liberals–not young people, African American men (despite me and my old man), nor conservatives. Furthermore, it’s on HBO Max, a premium, subscription-based streaming service, which further skews the demographics. As nice as it was to see the cast together again, who asked for this other than When We All Vote?
To do what the special should have done, here’s my simple message: if you need voting resources, please visit Vote.org and Ballotpedia. Vote.org will help you register to vote, find your polling location, and other useful information. Ballotpedia will help you prepare a sample ballot for your district and give positions for candidates at the local, state, and national levels. Please exercise your right to vote, everyone.