In these times of political strife, I find myself longing for the comforts of home, wishing for the warm embrace of kinder hearts and gentler worlds. As the Canadian federal election campaign hits the home stretch and things get dirty, the American electorate throw their candidates into the trough to see who will emerge victorious for their party and enter the ultimate race—the race to Washington. Standing back, this helpless spectator finds herself yearning for the warm embrace of another Washington, of Bartlet’s White House as conceived by Aaron Sorkin.
There are a handful of television series I rewatch every few years, and they all feed a different nostalgic corner of my soul. The world of the West Wing helps me feel grounded when the reality of our political landscape swirls and slides into madness. Under the firm yet compassionate hand of President Josiah Bartlet, the US felt like the home of the free and land of the brave. Sorkin created a cast of characters whose intentions were pure; they served at the pleasure of the President, and did so out of a deeply held respect for, and trust in, the man. There were mighty missteps, to be sure, but the viewer never questioned whether those men and women were striving to be their best selves. They brought every fibre of their beings to the work in hopes that the work—crafting a better and brighter America—would be good. More often than not, it was.
Unfortunately, the current political landscape in Canada looks more like a football field full of teenagers desperately fighting for the best footing. For five seasons, Friday Night Lights examined the Texan preoccupation with high school football. Inspired by a book by H.G. Bissinger, we’re introduced to a town obsessed—completely consumed—by high school football. Friday Night Lights follows young athletes trying to find their way in a world that doesn’t want their best selves—it wants warriors who win at all costs. Until they don’t, at which point they’re discarded like yesterday’s garbage. But under a firm yet compassionate hand, this one belonging to Coach Eric Taylor, the ruthlessness is kept in check with the team mantra: Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose. It’s this earnestness, this purity of intention that keeps me coming back. Off the field, Coach juggles the needs of family and home, led by his whip-smart wife Tami Taylor. She’s the kind of mother a lot of people idealize: capable, kind, wise, willing to admit she’s wrong, steadfast when she’s not, and a killer cook to boot. There are a lot of great TV moms out there, but no one quite measures up to Tami Taylor. The fictional Texas town, Dillon, wears its heart on its sleeve; you get what you see and life is just a little simpler. It’s about as far away from the liberal-leaning wet west coast as you can get, and sometimes that kind of drastic shift in perspective is what it takes to remind us of what we stand for. Our own brand of politics and politicians—flawed as they may be—is part of what keeps us Canadian.
In these final dark days of the campaign, when we’re short on inspiration, we can look to our leaders. But when they fail, I think it’s fair to look at some of the rich characters we meet on TV (and in films and books) and aspire to their ideals. When it was time to move on, Bartlett asked, “What’s next?” For Canadians, it’s a trip to the polls; participating in our own democracy is part of being in the game. Whatever the outcome, we’ll move forward as a country in hopes that we can, once again, show the world our best selves. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose?