West Wing, that venerable liberal wet dream, took its final bow on NBC last night, ushering in the Matt Santos administration with so much schmaltzy earnestness that, by 8:45 pm, even the most dewy-eyed Democratic viewer was probably hungering for the street-smart cynicism of The Sopranos at 9.
And yet, there was an odd and intriguing little detail, amidst all the blowing of trumpets, and the solemn musical chairs among wistful and highly verbose policy wonks. At one point, the moving guys stormed into Jeb Bartlet's Oval Office and began to strip the place clean. They went to the bookshelves...whereupon the camera lingered on a volume, Society Must be Defended, by the French political philosopher Michel Foucault.
Why him, of all people? Are we to believe that Bartlet, the earnest idealist from New Hampshire, actually had a secret cynical side? Here's Michel Foucault, who died a few decades ago, summarizing his views: "The role of history will, then, be to show that laws deceive, that kings wear masks, that power creates illusions, and that historians tell lies."
No matter. The best of angels of our nature triumphed in the end: There was Bartlet riding to the Inauguration with Santos, a seamless handover of power from one high-minded Democrat to another. And that got me thinking: When was the last time that an exiting Democratic president bequeathed his job to a Democratic successor? I ran to my almanac.
It was 1856.
Franklin Pierce to James Buchanan.
And this is why West Wing was the ultimate liberal wet dream.