Live-blogging 'West Wing"s live debate

9231__west_l_1Ladies and gentlemen: Tonight, we are privileged to bear witness to one of this country’s great political traditions, the Fake Presidential Debate — between Congressman Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits, far left) and Senator Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda, near left). I’ll be live-blogging the East Coast feed for you, direct from EW Fake Presidential Campaign Coverage Headquarters here in New York, and I shan’t lie to you, ducklings: Like all great political journalists, your Aunt Whitney is completely biased toward one of the candidates. But for your benefit (and for the benefit of my employer, the giant multinational corporation), I will try and keep it in check. After all, there will be plenty of time for partisan anger and resentment later. Right now, let us sit back, pop open a cold one, and drink in the cool, crisp flavor of Politics, As Originally Imagined by Aaron Sorkin, Who, As We All Know, Used to Do Drugs, Which Explains the Optimism.

0:26 Ellen DeGeneres is hosting? She’s, like, gay. That would never happen at a real debate.

0:45 Previously on The West Wing: Men stared at each other across a kitchen…and a sweeps stunt was born!

1:23 They’ve been talking about adopting this debate format in real life—allowing direct rebuttals and so forth—if it goes well here in TeeVee Land. I hope they throw in these backstage shots, too. Imagine! John McCain straightening his tie! Rahm Emanuel whispering things in Barack Obama’s ear as they walk down dark corridors! Oh, the drama of it all!

2:09 Is this part live, with Bruno explaining the rules to Alda? I don’t think this part is live.

2:33 I’m glad Janeane dyed her hair back to brown.

3:14 See, now, this part after the introductions looks live. Ooh! Santos goes in for the handshake! Brilliant move, sir!

3:27 Forrest Sawyer? What, they couldn’t get Brokaw?

3:53 Laughing at the moderator isn’t gonna get you anywhere, Alda. Oh. Sorry. I mean, Vinick.

4:44 Vinick’s opening statement and…whoa. Did he just have a stroke? Oh. No. He’s just had an attack of the Fake Political Candidate Conscience!

5:59 Vinick has just turned to Santos and said, “Let’s have a real debate.” And in order to get more exposition in and/or whack us over the head a couple times more about how These Two Guys Are Different!, Santos has to act like he doesn’t know what Alda means. “What, are you gonna filibuster me for a whole hour?” Lame. Let’s hope it’s not all this staged.

6:24 Also, from now on: All debates must have catchy, swirling theme songs.

6:51 Aw. I bet no John Spencer tonight.

7:21 Dear Ellen: Your part’s not live. You should be funnier.

8:35 Oh my God, is Ellen still talking?

9:22 My American Express card just started spontaneously bleeding.

9:43 And we’re back. “Written by Lawrence O’Donnell, Jr.”? What? Oh. Right. Whoops. Lost that line between TV and reality again. I’m fine. Really.

10:43 Vinick’s solution to illegal immigration is to double the border patrol.

11:01 “Why not triple the border patrol?” says Santos. Ooh, snap!

14:00 Forrest pipes up with a super-perceptive question: Is Vinick raising questions about immigration because he’s running against a Latino candidate? First of all: That was too staged again. And secondly: Duh, Forrest. They said that like four episodes ago.

14:44 Santos says illegal immigration is Mexico’s problem, not ours, and it won’t stop until they strengthen their economy. Ding ding ding. Santos, 1; Vinick, 0.

15:37 Okay, that line about cutting allowances wasn’t funny. I think this audience might be getting paid.

17:36 The boys are talking tax math now, and although every time hethrows out a percentage figure I die a little inside, I think Santos iswinning. Is Santos winning?

18:22 Vinick just wrapped up the tax-cuts discussion by sayingsomething I didn’t completely understand, and the audience made a noiselike one of those cows in a can. “Mwaghahgmgagggaaaah.”

20:26 “Head Start doesn’t work,” snaps Vinick, and the audience makesthat canned-cow noise again. Nice acting, audience. Nice acting.

21:19 “That’s a lie!” says Vinick (referring to Santos’ educationblather). “You’re a liar!” yells some dude with a goatee in theaudience, who is immediately escorted out. This provokes yet anotherawkward audience acting moment. “Boooooooo!” they moo. “Booooo!”

21:49 Your search— "we’re going to be number one in ten years"— did not match any documents.

22:22 Wait — airline mechanics don’t have to go to college?

23:48 Okay, Matt Santos. If the West Wing is on TV in four years, andyou haven’t improved fake education, I will not vote for you.Education discussion ends in a draw. Santos, 1; Vinick, 0.

25:40 Vinick shoots down Santos’ health care plan. Santos pauses andsays, “Tell ya the truth? I’m not crazy about my health care plan,either.” How much money would you pay to have George Bush walk out intothe Rose Garden tomorrow morning…?

26:00 Oh, Lord. Oh, Lord. Santos escaped the podium! He’s gone rogue!

28:07 Oh, God! They’re both out! Someone call security!

28:10 Forrest says, “You gentlemen aren’t going to go out in theaudience, are you?” No, Forrest. That would require the audience to beable to act.

29:16 “Given? To the world? I guess you haven’t seen the price listlately, sir,” says Santos, in response to Vinick’s statement thatAmerica gives the best prescription drugs to the world. Ooh. Threesnaps and you’re out, Arnie.

29:58  Okay, Vinick is right: $1 a day for a pill is cheaper than$30,000 for surgery. But if you have health insurance, you won’t haveto pay the $30,000 for the surgery, right? Right?

31:12 Okay, we seem to have veered into debt relief. I’m giving thehealth-care argument to Santos, just because Vinick has no plan, andreally seems to hate Canada a lot. Santos, 2; Vinick, 0.

32:27 Whitney Might Be a Democrat, Pt. 1: Oh, poor giant company Nike!The taxes are too high for you to put a big factory in Africa andexploit their dirt-cheap wages? Poor baby!

33:31 Well, dang. Okay, Vinick gets a point on Africa. Granted, that’snot actually located in the country he wishes to be president of, butstill. Santos, 2; Vinick, 1.

33:36 In fact, Vinick’s argument on Africa was so good they needed to take a commercial to towel off!

38:02 Vinick says he would create no jobs in his first term, and man, Iam really starting to think this audience is made up of like the peoplewho couldn’t get into The Price Is Right today or something.

38:38 Okay, Arnie just totally invaded Santos’ dance space.

40:04 Liberals rule! Santos lists all the things that “liberals” havedone: end slavery, give women and African Americans the right to vote,etc.  I liked that speech. Santos, 3; Vinick, 1.

41:06 Whitney Might Be a Democrat, Pt. 2: Santos is against the death penalty. Vinick is for it. Santos, 4; Vinick, 1.

41:27 Santos just used the “Guns don’t kill people; bullets killpeople” argument. The score now stands Santos, 3; Vinick, 1. No one whouses slogans that appear on T-shirts at Urban Outfitters will ever bemy Fake President.

43:27 Simmer down there, boys! Don’t make Forrest come up there!

45:35 Whitney Is Definitely a Democrat, Period: The point is not thatpeople want to go to ANWR, Arnie; the point is that we can’t just keepscrewing up the earth! You get a half point for the vehemence of yourargument, but I don’t like you anymore. Santos, 3; Vinick, 1.5.

49:14 Santos will never go to war for oil. Oh, TeeVee Land, you’re so shiny.

49:29 Forrest just bitch-slapped the audience. They can’t even clap convincingly.

49:55 Wait — our biggest supplier of foreign oil is Canada?

50:33 Vinick will not join Santos in the pledge! He could not, would not, on a ledge! He could not, would not, through a hedge!

50:51 No, really. Stop saying pledge.

51:56 “When you go to work tomorrow, and you’re talking about thisdebate,” says Santos, “talk about the qualities you want in apresident.” And then weep, endlessly, because both of these men areactors, and this will never, ever happen in real life.

52:22 I’m ready to give Matt Santos the presidency of the United Statesas soon as Matt Santos stops talking about himself in the third person.

54:26 Vinick wants to be president so he can streamline the government,downsize it, cut back on employees and those meddling social programs,really get government under control. That’s like me asking to be theeditor of Entertainment Weekly and then turning it into a pamphlet.

55:30 When the Founding Fathers promised me government, Arnie, I wasn’talive yet. Oh, and there were 13 states. Oh, and slaves. That’s justridiculous.

Final score: Santos, 4; Vinick, 1.5.

While both men did an excellent job of getting across their FakePolitical Platforms, Santos’ platform seemed more complete, morecompassionate, and, hey, let’s face it, he’s hot. Vinick would make anexcellent president if this show were called Tight-Wad Republican Wing,but it ain’t. My Fake Political Blogger prediction? Four more years ofwhacked-out liberal elitism in Hollywood. And there it is, the big FakeDebate for 2005. Your crazy liberal Aunt Whitney really tried to keepit together as long as she could.

Didn’t like what I had to say? Look! Down there! Space for rebuttal! I, too, love freedom! Yay, America! Yay!

addCredit(“The West Wing: Mitchell Haddad”)

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Comments (24 total) Add your comment
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  • tv fan

    This show is back in first rate form. The only thing that can get better on this show is for NBC to swallow its pride and ask Aaron Sorkin to start writing a few episodes again, and hype the heck of it!!
    People should be watching this show again. Last night’s debate was so wonderful that future presidential debates will have a hard time living up to this ideal. If politicians really are as smart as they think they are, they should remember this debate and try to emulate it as much as possible.

  • Tiff

    Ok, so was I the only one that wasn’t as blown away as I thought I would be? Don’t get me wrong, I liked it. But it was just ok to me. Was the west coast edition much different?

  • Sven

    Cheers to Whitney for her brilliant (as always) commentary! This episode just reinforces why it is one of the three shows I make an effort to watch each week.

  • Mac Thomason

    Alda tried, bless him, but he’s been handed an unwinnable hand by the writers. I think we just saw why “grownup Republicans” have been marginalized by their party. ‘Cause they can’t win.

  • Tad

    I was disappointed. The least O’Donnell could have done was given Santos something more compelling to say than the pat “no war for oil” laundry list of stuff that amounted to an oversimplification of what it means to be liberal vs. being a conservative. Vinick’s dialogue was a bit more persuasive, but both actors looked so awkward and uncomfortable that I was ready to vote for Sawyer. And I mean the guy “Lost” in the forest, not Forrest.

  • Ashley

    At first, the live debate show sounded like a cool idea. Until it started. I thought the acting, writing, everything seemed completely awkward…and silly. And c’mon with a more exciting race for the Presidency. Does anyone really think that the writers will put Vinick – the evil and RUDE (that handshake bit was terrible) Rebublican in classic Hwood style – in the drivers seat? Of course not.

  • Ned

    Ok, I’m a democrat, but Vinick has my fake vote. He totally made sense on anwar, if we’re going to depend on oil, we might as well get every last drop of it.

  • Eric

    I like West Wing and I like the show, but how do you have a Presidential debate and not mention the word “terrorism” once? They didn’t even mention it when talking about the border. Come on, guys.

  • Jim

    How come no questions about abortion, the supposed hot button issue leading up to this debate? And what about Iraq and hurricane relief or is that too topical?
    I wanted to like Santos – he is the hero of the program, after all – but I kept agreeing with Vinick. Besides, Santos/Smits seemed nervous, tentative and unconvincing. If this was real life, Santos just lost the election. Big.

  • julie

    I thought it was a great fantasy to watch -I do wish our real candidates were brave enough and smart enough to have a real debate that wasn’t completely choreographed. Oh well -at least we have tv! I am a Dem, but I like Vinick. Not that I don’t like Santos -but as far as the real actors are considered -It was REALLY clear to me that Alda has spent years doing live theater and acting live while Smits has not.

  • David

    Well I haven’t watched this show regularly in a few years so yesterday was my first go at it in a while. Alda’s Vinick was much more relaxed and convincing than Jimmy Smits as Santos. The problem here lies in the fact that we probably want to be rooting for Santos, but as an actor, Smits made that hard for us to do. While both candidates were spouting out the expected campaign talk, Vinick was easier to watch and follow because Alda acted the part so well.
    Do you guys think they have different alternatives for upcoming episodes depending on how the debate went? I sure hope so, because if they don’t address how nervous Santos appeared throughout a lot of the debate, then a whole lot of realism will have been lost on this stunt TV move.
    That said, I really enjoyed it. And though I’m a Democrat, Vinick’s got my vote. I like his swagger.

  • Laura

    Gotta say, I loved this Whitney breakdown. And I agree with many – this was not an earth-shattering episode. However, I feel the writing was fairly balanced to the candidates and many things needed to be said (abortion and terrorism aside). As a conservative Democrat, Texan, and lover off all things Smits, I sided most with Santos. But there was a big part of me that was nodding my head and agreeing vociferously with a strong, compassionate, and levelheaded Republican response (for once). What made this episode great was actually watching something worthwhile in politics – no dumbed down “debate” filled with condescension – and no sound bytes that have been regurgitated ad nauseum. Can we have co-presidents? Please? Ah, a shiny world indeed.

  • Tiff

    I agree that Vinick seemed more relaxed, but was I the only one that noticed that he didn’t answer many of the questions. With the exception of the one size fits all answer “by cutting taxes”
    They didn’t talk about abortion, because they talked about it the week before (see AP article about the episode). I didn’t think the show was current to real life. Are they @ war w/Iraq on the show? I might have missed it, as I am a new comer to the show.

  • WestWingAvid

    I love the West Wing, but this episode was intolerable to watch. Real presidential debates are boring–this one was too. At least they could have had some “live” backstage footage with people doing stuff, engaging in conflict, SOMETHING so we could see the reactions to what was being said (endlessly) on the stage. Yawn!

  • WestWingAvid

    I love the West Wing, but this episode was intolerable to watch. Real presidential debates are boring–this one was too. At least they could have had some “live” backstage footage with people doing stuff, engaging in conflict, SOMETHING so we could see the reactions to what was being said (endlessly) on the stage. Yawn!

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