The script Obama needs to bring back to the West Wing
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin shares a scene of Barack Obama seeking the counsel of a fictional former Democratic president known for fighting tough in debatesAFTER THE debate, I was talking to Aaron Sorkin, who was a little down. Or, as he put it, “nonverbal, shouting incoherently at a squirrel, angrier than when the Jets lost to the 49ers last Sunday without ever really being on the field”.
He was mollified when he learned that President Barack Obama, realising things were dire, privately sought the counsel of a former Democratic president known for throwing down in debates. I asked if he knew how the conversation between the two presidents had gone and, as it happened, he did. This is his account.
The lights from the presidential motorcade illuminate a New Hampshire farmhouse at night in the sprawling New England landscape.
JED BARTLET steps out on to his porch as the motorcade slows to a stop.
Bartlet: (calling out) Don’t even get out of the car!
Barack Obama:(opening the door of his limo) Five minutes, that’s all I want.
Bartlet: Were you sleepy?
Bartlet: Was that the problem? Had you just taken allergy medication? General anaesthesia?
Obama: I had an off night.
Bartlet: What makes you say that? The fact that the Cheesecake Factory is preparing an ad campaign boasting that it served Romney his pre-debate meal? Law school graduates all over America are preparing to take the bar exam by going to the freakin’ Cheesecake Factory!
Obama: (following Bartlet inside) I can understand why you’re upset, Jed.
Bartlet: Did your staff let you know the debate was gonna be on television?
Obama: (looking in the other room) Is that Jeff Daniels?
Bartlet: That’s Will McAvoy, he just looks like Jeff Daniels.
Obama: Why’s he got Jim Lehrer in a hammer lock?
Bartlet: That’s called an Apache Persuasion Hold. McAvoy thinks it’s the responsibility of the moderator to expose – what are they called? – lies.
Will: (shouting) Did Obama remove the work requirement from Welfare-to-Work?!
Will: And you didn’t want to ask Romney about that because? It would’ve been impolite?!
Bartlet: Let’s go in another room, Mr President. You want a cigarette?
Obama: I stopped smoking.
Bartlet: Start again. (leading the way into his study) I’m a father of daughters, you’re a father of daughters. It looked to me like right before you went on stage, Sasha told you she likes a boy in her class who has a tattoo.
Obama: That’s not what hap–
Bartlet: Here’s what you do. You invite the boy over for dinner, you have a couple of fellas from your detail brush their suit coats back so the lad can see the Magnums – problem solved. You have what every father of a daughter dreams of – an army and a good dog.
Obama: The girls are fine, that wasn’t the problem. In the debate prep we–
Bartlet: Whoa . . . there was prep?
Obama: (shouting) Enough! (taking a cigarette and lighting it) I appreciate that the view’s pretty good from the cheap seats. Al Gore chalked up my debate performance to the altitude. He debated at sea level – what was his excuse?
Bartlet: They told you to make sure you didn’t seem condescending, right? They told you, “First, do no harm,” and in your case that means don’t appear condescending, and you bought it. Because for the American right, condescension is the worst crime you can commit.
Obama: What’s your suggestion?
Bartlet: Appear condescending. Now, it comes naturally to me–
Obama: I know.