I want to tell you a story. I ran to become the 81st President of the Michigan Jaycees in 2004.
And I lost.
I didn’t just lose, I got my ass handed to me on a plate with a nice bow tied on top of it.
OK … the bow wasn’t that nice either.
In the five years since that election, I’ve wondered about the reasons why I lost. Sometimes I say I lost because people lied to me. Sometimes I say I lost because I screwed up and said something wrong at some point in the campaign. Sometimes I say I lost because people were afraid that I’d make them accountable for their actions, that I would make them work at being Jaycees.
But then, I watch The West Wing and I realize that the reason I lost is because I didn’t write a new book. I tried to appeal to the lowest common denominator. I stopped being myself and I tried to fake it.
Of all the lessons that I can take from (fictional) President Jed Bartlet is the one he talks about in Manchester, Part II. This ending scene is what I need to remember the next time I ever run for an office (Jaycee or otherwise).
I wrote a couple days ago that we needed more Leo McGarry’s in the world. That’s true … but we could use a few more Jed Bartlet’s too.
Edited (6/2/2010) – It was pointed out to me that Youtube pulled the link to this scene and it’s no longer available. So here’s the transcript of the scene:
(reading) …”to fall victim to torpor and timidity.” “Torpor”… is not a word a lot of people know.
It means apathy.
I know what it means.
They know what I mean.
C.J. walks into the room and closes the door behind her. She looks a little tired.
Leo and Toby look up to acknowledge her, but they don’t say anything. They just turn back toward Doug.
If they don’t know what the word means…
What’s the word?
(after taking a sip of water) “Torpor.”
It means apathy.
Everyone but Doug is looking more and more impatient with this conversation, rolling their eyes, standing up. Even Bruno looks annoyed.
(louder, more exasperated) I know what the word means. I’m saying if people don’t know what the word means…
Bartlet walks in briskly through a door behind Doug.
They can look it up!
Everyone, including Doug, stands. Bartlet stops and stands next to the teacher’s desk at the front of the room.
Good morning, Mr. President.
It’s not our job to appeal to the lowest common denominator, Doug. It’s our job to raise it. If you’re going to be the “Education President,” it’d be nice not to hide that you have an education.
Abbey’s voice can barely be heard as she starts her speech. Bartlet points at Bruno and gestures politely to Doug to leave.
Bruno, would you mind?
Bruno nods. He, Doug and Connie quietly leave the room. As the door opens, the staff can hear a bit of Abbey speaking and the crowd applauding and cheering.
ABBEY (VO)…of being elected Governor of his home state.
Bruno and his colleagues close the door, returning the room to relative silence. Bartlet sighs and casually leans against the desk. There’s a portrait of Abraham Lincoln on the wall. Leo and Charlie are standing somberly behind him.
Churchill and FDR: serious men using big words for big purpose.
Bartlet stops and pauses for several moments, like he’s changing his mind about what to say. The staff look at him patiently and expectantly, like they’re anticipating an inspiring lecture. He sighs, then speaks with great emotion.
It occurs to me, I never said “I’m sorry.” (pause) I am. (pause) For the lawyers, for the press, for the mess, for the fear. Bruno, Doug, Connie: these guys are good. They want to win. So do we. The only thing we want more is to be right. I wonder if you can’t do both.
Bartlet slowly stands up.
There’s a new book, and we’re gonna write it. You can win if you run a smart, disciplined campaign, if you studiously say nothing — nothing that causes you trouble, nothing that’s a gaffe, nothing that shows you might think the wrong thing, nothing that shows you think. But it just isn’t worthy of us, is it, Toby?
It isn’t worthy of us, it isn’t worthy of America, it isn’t worthy of a great nation. We’re gonna write a new book, right here, right now. This very moment. Today.
The staff look more determined, especially C.J. An aide opens the door leading out to the hallway and the podium. C.J. turns at the sound of the door opening. Once again, they can hear Abbey speaking.
ABBEY (VO)And so, my friends…
Bartlet nods at the aide, then looks back at Leo and Charlie. They do not waver as they meet his gaze.
…it is my pleasure and my great fortune to introduce my husband, our friend,
New Hampshire’s greatest son, and the President of the United States: Josiah Bartlet.
The crowd’s cheers and applause get louder and louder as Abbey finishes her speech. Bartlet walks toward the door, past the staff, and buttons his jacket. Only Charlie follows him. The rest of the staff wait for Bartlet to leave. Just as he reaches the doorway, he stops and hesitates. He hears Abbey say his name. And then he turns around to face them.
You know what? Break’s over.
Bartlet turns and walks out through the hallway to the podium where Abbey is standing, waiting for him, clapping along with the crowd. The cheers and applause have gotten very loud. When Bartlet reaches the podium, he kisses Abbey and then he turns to wave to the crowd. C.J., Josh, Sam, Toby and Leo emerge onto the podium, one by one, and assemble themselves behind Bartlet. They clap along with the crowd. Donna and Charlie hang back by the doorway, clapping.