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Recap / The West Wing S 01 E 19 Let Bartlet Be Bartlet

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Directed by Laura Innes

Written by Aaron Sorkin, Peter Parnell, & Patrick Caddell

As Toby and Sam are preparing to leave their offices, Toby asks Sam if it's going to rain, which he says is important because the first line of President Bartlet's speech is, "As I look out over this magnificent vista", and if the event gets moved indoors, they're going to have to change the line. Sam insists it's not going to rain, as he has it on good authority from the Coast Guard and the National Weather Service:


Sam: They use satellites. They use technology.
Sam: Yeah.
Toby: All right, then.
C.J.: (catching up to them) We should move the thing inside.

C.J. asks them if they've heard anything about a piece of paper floating around, but they haven't. Leo joins them and says they've moved the meeting (with the United Organization of Trout Fishermen) inside the O.E.O.B because the forecast called for rain. Sam wonders if the Coast Guard lieutenant he talked to wasn't making fun of him. C.J. asks how President Bartlet is, and Leo responds that he was feeling very energetic and optimistic at breakfast. C.J. wonders how long that will last...


...and as President Bartlet, Charlie, Mrs. Landingham, Nancy and several Secret Service agents walk to the meeting, Bartlet grouses about getting it over with. He asks Charlie why C.J., Sam and Toby aren't there yet, and Charlie says it's because they didn't know it was going to rain. Bartlet responds, "Nothing like surrounding yourself with the best and the brightest, Charlie." Just then, C.J., Sam and Toby join them. Sam gives him the speech, and President Bartlet grouses about having to go to the event at all. Josh joins them, and tells President Bartlet, among other things, two commissioners resigned from the Federal Election Commission. This gets President Bartlet excited, and though Leo warns him not to go off on an idealistic binge, Bartlet thinks there's nothing wrong with "dangling our feet in the water" by, instead of letting the Senate leadership appoint two replacement candidates as usual, appointing two commissioners they like instead who back campaign finance reform. He tells Josh to pick two candidates. C.J. asks Josh and Leo about the piece of paper; they haven't heard anything either. Bartlet takes the speech and heads inside the auditorium. As Bartlet is about to start the speech, both Sam and Toby realize Sam forgot to change the speech. Sure enough, Bartlet opens with, "As I look out over this magnificent vista..."


Later, in the hallway at the White House, Donna asks Josh how the F.E.C. works. Josh explains six commissioners each serve six year terms, overlapping so two seats come up every two years, and this is the first time two commissioners have ever resigned at the same time. Donna thinks it's great news that the President can change the nature of democracy, but Josh points out the Senate leadership has always dictated to the President who the replacements are (one Democrat, one Republican), and that's how the peace is kept, but he admits he's going to spend the week trying to do otherwise.

C.J. is in the press briefing room, telling everyone about the upcoming Easter Egg hunt. She dismisses the press and goes up to Steve, one of the reporters, asking him if he's heard anything about the piece of paper going around; he doesn't know anything more than she does. She thanks him and starts to leave when Mandy comes up to her. Mandy says she knows what the piece of paper is because she wrote it. Back when she was still working for Senator Lloyd Russell, Mandy wrote a memo detailing the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of the Bartlet administration. C.J. snaps that she needs to see a copy of it as soon as possible.

Leo yells for Margaret, and when she comes into his office, complains that he can't e-mail. Margaret starts to explain:

Margaret: My friend, Lynette, from the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, you remember her?
Leo: No.
Margaret: She’s the one where you say, “Who’s that?” And I say, “That’s my friend, Lynette, from the President’s Council on Physical Fitness.” (Josh walks in, and he and Leo greet each other) Anyway, she sent me an e-mail about the actual calorie count in the raisin muffin they’re serving in the mess. I forwarded the e-mail to several hundred assistants and secretaries in O.E.O.B. and in the West Wing, and that was fine. But Jolene Millman, who works in political liaison, then hit reply, which apparently...

Margaret leaves, and Leo yells at her to fix the e-mail. Josh says he has two names - John Bacon (a Democrat) and Patricia Calhoun (a Republican) - and they both aggressively support campaign finance reform. Leo tells Josh to meet with the top aides of the Senate leadership. Josh asks Leo if President Bartlet thinks he's really going to do this, and Leo says no. Josh leaves, and tells Sam and Toby about the names he's come up with. They agree it's not going anywhere.

Sam and Toby, meanwhile, head to the Roosevelt Room, where they're having a meeting with several Congressmen and several army and navy majors about gays in the military (this is the latest of several meetings they've been having). Major Thompson asks Toby what the consequence of his recommendation to the President; Toby points out Sam's the one who's in charge, and he's just helping out. Sam jokes the President rarely listens to his recommendation, but the President is ordering that gays be allowed to serve in the military. Major Tate points out it takes an act of Congress to make that policy, so nothing's going to change. Toby says, "I guess it’s gonna be a pretty short meeting."

C.J. catches up to Donna in the hallway, and tells her to have Josh come by when he has the chance. C.J. then goes to her office, where Mandy is waiting. She doesn't know who else has the memo, only that someone does. C.J. tersely orders Mandy to go back to her office and refuse to answer questions until C.J.'s finished reading the memo.

In a meeting room on Capitol Hill, Josh is with Jerry (from the Democrats) and Steve (from the Republicans), along with a few others. Josh outlines how he, and the President, feel soft money has corrupted the electoral process, and then tells him Bartlet's nominees. Steve and Jerry, of course, have their own nominees (Joe Barkley and Grant Kalen), neither of whom is in favor of campaign finance reform. Steve reminds Josh the Senate leadership has always picked the F.E.C. nominees, and tells Josh if President Bartlet persists with his nominees, every piece of legislation the White House doesn't want to deal with (English as the national language, school prayer, the Entertainment Decency Act, among others) will be brought onto the table. Josh asks if it wouldn't be simpler not to confirm Bacon and Calhoun, but Steve snaps the White House deserves political retribution as well for losing and making the Senate look bad for winning. He then adds it's hypocritical of Bartlet to feel the best way to maintain free speech is to regulate it. Josh, however, says while he came to the meeting just as a test balloon, but now he's completely on board. Steve and Jerry both say they have a caucus to go to.

Mrs. Landingham leaves her desk and tells Charlie she's going to lunch. Charlie says President Bartlet isn't happy with his lunch, but Mrs. Landingham says it's the President's tough luck.

In the Roosevelt Room, one of the congressmen insists "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" works, but Sam and Toby point out all of the people who've been discharged from the military because of it. C.J. interrupts and asks to see Toby. After telling Sam he's doing fine, Toby joins C.J. outside, and she tells him about Mandy's memo. He suggests they go to his office.

Josh comes in to find Donna waiting for him. He tells her to get him prepped on English as the national language, and she says to give her thirty minutes. She also lets Josh know Toby wanted to see him.

In Toby's office, he's reading the memo, while C.J. looks on, when Josh joins them. C.J. fills him in on Mandy's memo, and Josh asks how bad it is. C.J. says while the three of them don't come off well, Leo and President Bartlet get the worst of it. She also confirms she doesn't know who has it, and Josh and Toby both urge her to try and find out quickly and quietly. When C.J. leaves, Josh says, "Our second year doesn't seem to be going a whole lot better than our first, does it?" Toby says it isn't.

Toby goes to Leo's office, and Margaret tells him Leo's still with Admiral Fitzwallace. Margaret then tries to tell Toby about the e-mail fiasco, but she quickly realizes he doesn't care. Admiral Fitzwallace leaves Leo's office, and after they finish their chat (putting A1/M1's in Manila), Fitzwallace asks what Sam's meeting is about. Toby tells him, and Fitzwallace leaves. In Leo's office, Toby tells Leo about Mandy's memo, and sums up Mandy's position on Leo (that Leo's the one who steers President Bartlet to the middle of the road). Leo tells him not to worry about it. Toby asks if Leo wants a copy, and Leo says no.

Donna finds Josh in the hallway and gives him what she says are six pages on what he wanted. Josh gets upset when she mentions James Madison, and snaps that he didn't want a social studies paper. Donna gets upset at this, and points out she gave him exactly what he asked for. She also asks if Mandy's memo is the reason why everyone's so upset, and Josh apologizes to her. He goes to his office, where Mandy is waiting for him. He tells her about the F.E.C. and the Republicans threatening to bring up English as the national language. Mandy points out the White House isn't going to look good opposing that, and Josh agrees, but he also points out Mandy has no call today to point that out. Mandy protests it was something she wrote a long time ago, and says whoever has it got it off of her hard disk. She tells him again President Bartlet shouldn't wade into the debate, but Josh points out it's a moot issue, because they're going to nominate who the Senate wants anyway.

Back in the Roosevelt room, Sam and the military officers are still going at it. Sam is pointing out what they call "voluntary statements" aren't really voluntary when Admiral Fitzwallace comes in. As the military officers stand at attention, Fitzwallace greets Sam and the Congressmen before telling the officers to stand at ease. He asks Major Thompson what he thinks about having gays in the military. Major Thompson says he's only there to help the White House decide a position, but Admiral Fitzwallace presses the point:

Major Tate: Sir, we’re not prejudiced toward homosexuals.
Admiral Fitzwallace: You just don’t want to see them serving in the Armed Forces?
Major Tate: No sir, I don't.
Admiral Fitzwallace: Cause they pose a threat to unit discipline and cohesion.
Major Tate: Yes sir.
Admiral Fitzwallace: That’s what I think too. I also think the military wasn't designed to be an instrument of social change.
Major Tate: Yes sir.

Admiral Fitzwallace says his goodbyes and heads out. Sam excuses himself, catches up to Fitzwallace, and starts to thank him when Fitzwallace points out he's not going to get anywhere.

C.J. finds Danny in the press room, typing. She asks if he's heard about the piece of paper, and says she hopes she's not exploiting their friendship in any way. Danny says he knows about Mandy's memo, he has it, and he's going to write about it. C.J., naturally, is dismayed, but Danny points out it's news no matter how long ago she wrote it, even if it makes the Bartlet administration look bad. C.J. snaps that it's fine, and leaves. Danny walks after her, and snaps that Bartlet and his staff should have asked Mandy for the memo when she first came to work for them, and while the administration may be stuck in the mud, it isn't the press' fault. He goes back to his computer, and C.J. leaves.

In the Roosevelt Room, Sam and one of the Congressman are going at it. Sam points out the Armed Forces can't go around proclaiming the moral high ground in accusing people of not being able to keep their hands to themselves. The Congressman points out once again it'll take an act of Congress to change "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", and furthermore, if President Bartlet was serious about changing it, he'd be going to Congress instead of having Sam take meetings. Sam realizes he's right.

Margaret tries to explain to Toby the only reason the e-mail snafu happened was because she was trying to point out the calorie count listed for a raisin muffin was wrong, and that Toby should take one to the lab to check for himself. Toby tells Margaret to bring him a muffin in a plastic bag. Margaret realizes he's making fun of her. Leo invites Toby into his office. After Leo jokes at how Margaret is afraid the FBI is after her for the e-mail, Toby tells him a CNN poll puts their approval rating at 42%, which means they dropped five points in a week. Leo can't believe it, and says they didn't do anything during the week, to which Toby replies, "I'll say." Leo snaps at Toby for sounding like he wants to leave, but Toby points out they only thing they've accomplished was getting Mendoza confirmed, and even though Bartlet only won with 48% of the vote, he was still elected, and adds, "It's not the ones we lose that bother me, Leo, it's the ones we don't suit up for!" Toby also tells Leo he doesn't appreciate having his loyalty questioned. C.J. knocks, and when she comes in, tells Leo President Bartlet is reading Mandy's memo. Leo doesn't like that, but C.J. points out Danny has it and is writing a story on it. Josh and Sam join them. Josh tells Leo while the Senate will confirm Bacon and Calhoun, they'll retaliate by putting English as the national language on the table, among other things. He thinks they should be ready for it, but Leo says they're not going to put Bacon and Calhoun out there, which quiets Josh. Leo asks Sam how his meeting went; Sam starts to say how useless it was, but corrects himself and says it was fine. Charlie comes in and tells Leo the President's waiting for him.

Leo goes into the Oval Office, and tells President Bartlet Danny is writing about the memo. President Bartlet asks why he didn't know about it before, and Leo points out they spent the day learning about it themselves. President Bartlet sighs he really woke up in a good mood, but rarely goes to bed in one anymore. He asks Leo if he was bothered by it, and Leo admits he was. President Bartlet says they've heard it before about Leo driving the administration to the safe ground, but it's not true. Leo says he knows it's not true - "You drive me there." President Bartlet wants to know what the hell Leo's talking about, and Leo says they're stuck in neutral because that's how President Bartlet wants it.

President Bartlet: You came to my house, and you said, “Jed, let’s run for President.” I said, “Why?” And you said, “So that you can open your mouth and say what you think!” Where’d that part go, Leo?
Leo: You tell me, Mr. President. I don’t see a shortage of cameras or microphones around here. What the hell were you waiting for?...Everything you do says: “For God’s sakes, Leo. I don’t want to be a one-term President.”
President Bartlet: Did I not say "put our guys on the F.E.C.?"
Leo: No sir. You did not do that...You said, let’s dangle our feet in the water of whatever the hell it is we dangle our feet in, when we want to make it look like we’re trying without pissing too many people off!
President Bartlet: You’re writing a fascinating version of history, my friend.
Leo: Oh, take a look at Mandy’s memo, Mr. President, and you’ll read a fascinating version of it.
President Bartlet: You brought me in on teachers. You brought me in on capital gains. You brought me in on China. And you brought me in on guns.
Leo: Brought you in from where? You’ve never been out there on guns. You’ve never been out there on teachers. You dangle your feet, and I’m the hall monitor around here. It’s my job to make sure nobody runs too fast or goes off too far. I tell Josh to go to the Hill on campaign finance, he knows nothing’s gonna come out of it...Sam can’t get real on "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell", because you’re not gonna be there, and every guy sitting across the room from him knows that.
President Bartlet: Leo, if I ever told you to get aggressive about campaign finance or gays in the military, you would tell me, “Don’t run too fast or go to far.”
Leo: If you ever told me to get aggressive about anything, I’d say I serve at the pleasure of the President. But we’ll never know, sir, because I don’t think you’re ever gonna say it.
President Bartlet: I have said it, and nothing’s ever happened!
Leo: You want to see me orchestrate this right now? You want to see me mobilize these people? These people who would walk into fire if you told them to. These people who showed up to lead. These people who showed up to fight. (points to Charlie) That guy gets death threats because he’s black and he dates your daughter. He was warned: “Do not show up to this place. You’re life will be in danger.” He said, “To hell with that, I’m going anyway.” You said, “No.” Prudent, or not prudent, this 21 year old for 600 dollars a week says, “I’m going where I want to because a man stands up.” Everyone’s waiting for you. I don’t know how much longer.

President Bartlet says he's tired of feeling like this, and Leo points out he doesn't have to. President Bartlet starts to repeat, over and over, "This is more important than re-election. I want to speak now." Leo says he has a new strategy he wants to try, or the beginnings of one at least, and shows President Bartlet what he's written on a notepad. It says simply, "Let Bartlet be Bartlet".

Leo goes back into his office, where C.J., Josh, Sam and Toby are still waiting, and tells them if they're going to go into walls, he wants them going at full speed. He tells Josh to go ahead and tell everyone Bacon and Calhoun will be the nominees for the F.E.C., and adds that while they'll lose some battles and maybe even the White House, they're not going to be afraid anymore, and they're going to concentrate more on raising the level of public debate than on getting re-elected. Leo asks the others what they think, and one by one, they each say, or paraphrase, "I serve at the pleasure of the President". Leo says they should get to work. They each walk out, and Leo looks back at President Bartlet, who gives Leo a smile.

This episode contains examples of:

  • Armor-Piercing Question: After being snapped at by Josh for nothing, Donna makes him pause when she rhetorically asks:
    Donna: Why's everyone walking around today like they know they already lost?
  • Bait-and-Switch: Played for drama not comedy, when the President and Leo discuss the criticism that Leo keeps holding the President back and stopping him from taking risks:
    President Bartlet: We've heard it all before, Leo. You drive me to the political safe ground. It's not true.
    Leo: I know it's not true.
    President Bartlet: Good.
    Leo: ... You drive me there.
  • Continuity Nod: Retiring Justice Crouch accused President Bartlet of running to the middle of the road once he took office; also, Sam angrily told Leo near the end of "Take This Sabbath Day" (after the President declined to intervene in the death penalty case), "There are times when we are absolutely nowhere!"
  • Double Entendre:
    C.J.: The theme of this year’s event (the Easter Egg hunt) is “Learning is delightful and delicious,” as, by the way, am I.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: In-universe; the characters spend most of the episode depressed and frustrated because they feel that they either don't try and fight for anything or, if they do try, this will be the result.
  • Foreshadowing: The F.E.C. will become important in the next few episodes.
  • Gray Rain of Depression: The episode takes place on a gloomy, overcast and rainy day, to correspond with the general funk afflicting the characters.
  • He's Back!: President Bartlet at the end of the episode, thanks to Leo's prompting him towards Epiphany Therapy.
  • Heroic BSoD: A downplayed, collective example. The episode involves everyone pretty much in a funk and just going through the motions because they feel that their agenda has been stalled, they don't fight for anything, and even if they did they're doomed to failure anyway.
    President Bartlet: I really did wake up energised this morning. I never go to bed that way. Just once in this job I'd like to end the day feeling as good as when it started.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: From C.J and the administration's point of view, at least, both Mandy's memo and Danny's defence of why writing a story about it is valid news and not "gossip" are full of uncomfortable truths that the senior staff would rather not face, but equally cannot deny.
  • Mood Whiplash: Most of the episode deals with the collective frustration, resentment and anger of the senior staff as they confront the fact that the administration seems to have completely stalled. And then every so often Margaret pops up fretting about the email about muffin calories that she sent out which, somehow, has led to the entire White House email system crashing.
  • Oh, Crap!: Sam gets a silent one of these when he realises he forgot to change the "As I look out over this magnificent vista..." line in Bartlet's speech to account for the weather.
  • Pet the Dog: Toby, who's normally stingy with the compliments, especially where Sam is concerned, tells Sam as he's leaving the meeting concerning gays in the military that he's doing a good job.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Mandy's memo is apparently full of this, causing her to receive the cold shoulder from C.J and the others. Danny calls C.J out on this, pointing out that Mandy was working for their political opponents before coming to work for the White House and an idiot would have realized that the first thing she'd do for them would be to make a list of the chief faults, failings and weaknesses of the senior members of the current administration, which means that they should have been brave enough to suck it up, ask her for the memo and try to address them.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: This episode is full of them, from Josh and Donna sniping at each other at the memo she types up about arguments about English as the national language, Danny yelling at C.J. about wanting to suppress Mandy's memo, and Leo's dressing down of President Bartlet at the end.