What I’ve Learned From The West Wing

I’m here humming Hail To The Chief

I thought this was a perfect day to post this now that the election is over. It also made me remember why I loved The West Wing so much. Watching how the government is run even via a TV show can be pretty captivating.

I take a lot of guff from being a West Winger but everyone has a favorite episodic of all time and The West Wing happens to be mine (with I Love Lucy as a close second). 


I have always loved American History so my initial attraction to the award winning series needs little explanation, but what kept me watching, even now on DVD, is the way it was woven into each episode.

Aaron Sorkin, its creator and writer for four seasons out of its seven, had an unusual gift. It was how, along with entertaining his viewers, he educated without them even realizing it.

The only other person that even comes close to doing this is Ken Burns. He also in every one of his films covertly teaches. 

For starters, learning how the White House works fascinated me. All its various components from the senior staff to the secret service; what went into a single day at that level of government. There were always dueling story lines same as in any other show, but the way it was enveloped in historical lore left this history geek positively agog.

“Andrew Jackson in the main foyer of his White House had a big block of cheese; the block of cheese was huge, over 2 tons. And it was here for any and all who were hungry.            

Jackson wanted the White House to belong to the people so from time to time he opened his doors to those who wished an audience…”

With all my reading about our 7th president this was something I knew nothing about. I’m sure somewhere along the line I read something pertaining to it like in Arthur Schlesinger’s The Age of Jackson or American Lion by Jon Meacham. Robert Remini, who penned countless books on Andy that I’m proud to say I’ve read, certainly must have mentioned it.

However, not until I watched the first season of WW did this quirky fact stay with me. Sorkin actually made it a recurring theme of the Bartlet White House so ‘big block of cheese day’ surfaces in other seasons. He has the President’s Chief of Staff played by the late, great John Spencer   arrange for everyone to have an appointment with an organization that normally would never get the ear of the White House from wacky cartographers to extraterrestrial enthusiasts. There’s even a group that tries to get funding for a ‘safe wolf highway.’ It’s also very amusing since no one wants to meet with these people but all have little choice their angst oozing through the screen.

I love how Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford)  the Deputy Chief of Staff, says the big block of cheese came on a Trisket the size of Lake Tahoe (you have to hear it to appreciate it).

Getting back to Jackson, if we know anything about him, it’s the fact that he basically engineered ‘The Trail of Tears’ where millions of our Native Americans were forced from their lands many perishing along the way. He’s not really remembered for anything but his darker deeds which can explain why his big block of cheddar is not better known.

In another episode they talk about how during The Civil War Ulysses S. Grant was accused of drinking on the job so Lincoln, who loved him because he was by far his best general, instead of firing him as suggested by members of his staff, he wanted to know what Grant drank so he could personally send it to all his generals.

Did you know James Hoban designed The White House that was built between 1792 and 1800 and every president since John Adams has lived there?

I never knew that a president has the privilege of choosing any work of art from any museum to hang in the oval office, a shape originated in 1909 by William Howard Taft,  Theodore Roosevelt’s hand picked successor.

If the secret service has any reason to believe the president is in danger the entire building is sealed off and its inhabitants can’t move from where they stand. It’s a very arresting ritual to watch even replicated on TV.

I had no idea how important and influential the state of New Hampshire is to any presidential hopeful. You can see for yourself  ‘democracy at its best’ when you pay attention to New Hampshire, if I may quote C.J. Craig, the White House Press secretary played to the hilt by Allison Janney.  Maybe I’m a square since shows like Mad Men and Sons of Anarchy have now taken center stage but for me, The West Wing will always be part of my ongoing American education, along with Lucy of course.

How else would I know the words to Cuban Pete?  

They call me Cuban Pete…

I’m the king of the rumba beat…

and when I start to dance everything goes…

chick chicky boom, chick chicky boom…



About Susannah Bianchi

I'm just a girl who likes to write slightly on slant. I've had a career in fashion, dabbled in film and to be honest, I don't like talking about myself. Now my posts are another matter so I will let them speak for themselves. My eBooks, A New York Diary, Model Behavior: Friends For Life and Notes From A Working Cat can be found on Amazon.com. Thanks.
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16 Responses to What I’ve Learned From The West Wing

  1. Lisa says:

    I remember the cheese thing from history class in high school. It was one of the oddest thing I was told that I remember. I recall my teacher also saying that it was there his whole time in office and it got quite disgusting after awhile.


  2. Ed Crescimanni says:

    Bless you for convincing me to watch the series and lending me your Complete DVD set. Next to turning me on to Edmund Morris and Richard Brookhiser it was your most inspired intellectual endorsement to date.


  3. Oh what happy day it is today! As usual, a history lesson that makes sense with information that will actually be retained.


  4. Jed says:

    What a fascinating and appropriate piece, today. Yes WW was a breakthrough show for sure. It actually assumed the audience was intelligent.
    Question: the prez can choose a work from any American museum? I’m assuming it doesn’t apply to any museum, period. Just curious.
    Congrats to all of us for last night’s results. Even Virginia finally saw the light.


  5. D. D. Syrdal says:

    I really need to read more about our early presidents and founding fathers. I didn’t know that about the cheese. Someone should contact Nabisco and see if they can make a Triscuit big enough 😉


  6. merryprangster says:

    Now I want to watch The West Wing (I don’t watch much TV – I read a lot). That cheese thing is seriously weird, though.


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