Let Bartlet Be Bartlet
|"Let Bartlet Be Bartlet"|
|The West Wing episode|
|Episode no.||Season 1
|Directed by||Laura Innes|
|Teleplay by||Aaron Sorkin|
|Story by||Peter Parnell
|Original air date||April 26, 2000|
"Let Bartlet Be Bartlet" is the 19th episode of The West Wing and first appeared on television in April 2000. In the episode, a White House insider writes a memo that attacks the fictional President of the United States for his ineffectiveness to make bold decisions due to his timid nature. A lesson contained in the episode and its title – let the politician be himself/politicians must remain true to themselves – captured the series' effort to show how politics and government could work in Washington D.C. The series creators subsequently used the title phrase, "Let Bartlet be Bartlet," as a recurring rallying cry theme of the series. In addition, political commentators took the same lesson from the episode and have applied it since 2001 to politicians in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and other countries.
When a damaging memo which is critical of the President is discovered, the White House press cover it with zest, much to CJ's dismay. Later it is revealed that Mandy wrote it when she was working for Lloyd Russell. Sam, Toby and Josh are involved in a series of meetings which go nowhere and result in nothing; Sam knows no progress is possible on getting a policy in place so that gays and lesbians can openly serve in the military; Josh confronts a group of Republican Congressional staffers who threaten him with poison-pill legislation if he even thinks about pushing for campaign finance reformers on two newly opened Federal Election Commission seats; and Toby screams to Leo that they've had only one victory in office and that was putting Judge Mendoza on the Supreme Court. The staffers and the President feel listless and ineffectual in their jobs, and worry that they will be unable to achieve anything meaningful due to the constraints of the political system.
The memo and news coverage of how Bartlet too often compromised his positions to placate his opponents and avoid controversy resulted in Bartlet's popularity going down in the polls. On seeing his job approval rating dropping five points in a week to 42 percent, the staff comes to realize that the Bartlet administration has been ineffective because it has been too timid to make bold decisions, focusing instead on the exigencies of politics. Finally, Leo confronts President Bartlet with his own timidity, challenging him to be himself and to take the staff "off the leash." – in other words, he seeks to "Let Bartlet be Bartlet". The President and his staff resolve to act boldly and "raise the level of public debate" in America by moving forward with a more liberal agenda.
Produced by Warner Bros. Television and filmed in Burbank, California, the 2000 episode was directed by Laura Innes, who was known for portraying fictional character Dr. Kerry Weaver on the NBC television series ER and had previously directed the ER (season 6) episode, Be Still My Heart. In a May 2000 interview with TV Guide Online, Martin Sheen admitted to not knowing much about Innes when he first learned that she would be directing the episode, but that evening, when his wife looked at the call sheets, she commented that Laura was the best thing on ER, so he'd better behave.
In the episode, the characters reaffirmed their commitment to the president after a White House insider wrote a memo attacking the president, leading to the popularizing of the sound bite: "I serve at the pleasure of the president." In addition, the "Let Bartlet Be Bartlet" episode captured the series' effort to show how politics and government could work in Washington D.C., and the series creators subsequently used the title phrase, "Let Bartlet be Bartlet," as a recurring rallying cry theme of the series. Yet, in episodes that followed "Let Bartlet Be Bartlet," the fictional staff's success in pursuing agendas more aggressively was mixed at best. For example, in season 2, their attempt to retake control of Congress fell short. In commenting on the episode and its application to real life, television writer R. D. Heldenfels noted in January 2001:
But there's a reason life in "The West Wing" can seem to be fouled up. It's that we're seeing these officials in a way the real politicians try never to let us see them. A regular element of the series is keeping news media from knowing what is really going on. We don't usually get a glimpse of a real-life White House like this until disgruntled staffers start dishing with the press. Viewers forgive the "West Wing" characters their foibles because, at least as series creator Sorkin tells it, their hearts are pure. They mean well. They want to do right. Somewhere in every heart beats a tiny hope that real political operatives want the same thing. But if you think they'd be successful in the real world, keep in mind that they often lose in the fictional one.
The episode influenced political commentators, who took the 'let the politician be himself/politicians must remain true to themselves' episode lesson and applied it to politicians including: U.S. vice president Al Gore in 2000, Canadian health minister Allan Rock in 2001, Quebec premier Jean Charest in 2004, U.S. presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004, and U.S. president Barack Obama twice in 2009, and once in 2011. Commentators additionally applied the lesson to politicians including: New York mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2009, Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard twice in 2010, which promoted other news reporters to publish their thoughts to that topic and make it a top ten discussion of the week in Australia, British labour leader Ed Miliband in 2011, and Scottish politician Johann Lamont in 2011.
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- Don Macpherson (April 14, 2004). "Let Charest be Charest: The premier is at his best while campaigning, so the Liberals should put him on the road to sell the restructuring program". Montreal Gazette (Canada). p. A23. Retrieved July 17, 2012.
- David M. Halbfinger (June 1, 2004). "In Five Words by Langston Hughes, Kerry Aides Hear a Campaign Slogan". New York Times. p. A15. Retrieved July 17, 2012.
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