America Still Obsessed with ‘The West Wing’

Fans quiz Podesta about Leo McGarry

John Podesta, chairman of Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, talks with North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp before a Senate policy luncheon in 2015. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The show has been off the air for more than a decade. Yet fans of the Emmy award-winning drama, "The West Wing” — including Clinton administration aide John Podesta — can’t stop talking about the Washington that producer Aaron Sorkin effectively tattooed onto the collective consciousness.  

Turning to TV for leadership is not how President Barack Obama would like to see the 2016 presidential election play out.  

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But the nearly half-million Quora users who recently asked Podesta for his read on how "The West Wing" lined up with working in the Clinton White House seem to prefer fantasy to reality.  

Podesta, who currently serves as chairman of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign, appeared only too happy to compare notes about the show’s indelible influence.  

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“That’s a great question!” Podesta said to those wondering whether faux Chief of Staff Leo McGarry, portrayed by the late John Spencer, accurately conveyed the day-to-day dealings within the Oval Office.  

Podesta gave showrunners credit for doing their homework. He even sounded a little envious of how Spencer conducted himself.  

“I always admired two things about how he handled the role: He was never cynical, and he was the one guy who could yell at the boss,” Podesta said.  

Not that being confrontational necessarily yields the best possible result.  

“I don’t think there was anything Leo could have done to keep President Bartlet from calling the Butterball Hotline,” Podesta quipped.


Contact Rojas at warrenrojas@rollcall.com and follow him on Twitter at @WARojas .

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