During this abysmal election year, it’s been alarmingly easy to find yourself feeling disgusted with the reality of politics. All the scandals and name-calling has made the 2016 election cycle seem more like a bad reality show instead of the illustrious and esteemed selection of our country’s leaders.
If you’re anything like me, you took some comfort in the sweet embrace of a Netflix binge of “The West Wing” to reassure yourself that politicians can be both eloquent and honorable — even if they’re only fictional.
In this particular binge, however, it wasn’t President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) or Santos (Jimmy Smits) or even the beloved Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) who managed to strike a chord. It was the humble Donna Moss (Janel Moloney).
Donna embodies the everyday American — a hard thing to find amongst the brilliantly acerbic inmates of the fictional West Wing — and we should all strive to be more like her.
In her everyday life, Donna is a preoccupied but well-meaning woman of average intelligence. I don’t say this to be derogatory, I say it because it’s true. In the early seasons, she’s rarely concerned with laws and policies that don’t have much to do with her (like when she wanted to get funding approved for better workplace environments because of her risk of getting carpel-tunnel, or when she felt the need to argue with Josh over the tax surplus because she wanted to buy a DVD player), and she spends most of the series pushing paperwork instead of pushing bills through committee.
Compared to the politicians and Ivy League lawyers surrounding her, Donna has decent but not overly remarkable insight into the matters of state she regularly deals with. Which is exactly where Donna outshines everyone else in the show: Her passion for small issues, and seemingly inexhaustible ability to educate herself about the things that matter to her.
Like a dog with a bone, Donna manages to convince the best of the best in the West Wing — up to and including the President — to hear her side of the various arguments that find their way into the West Wing, which is no small feat for a deputy assistant.
When delegated the task of deciding whether the next U.S. stamp should feature Marcus Aquino — a staunch supporter of Puerto Rican statehood — Donna argues that if moths, Confederate veterans and Buffalo Scouts can have stamps issued for them, a patriot like Aquino should be able to snag one without it turning into a national issue. Eventually, thanks to her prodding, Josh does end up recommending Aquino for the stamp, despite the pushback it will cause regarding the White House’s policy on Puerto Rico. A relatively small victory, but a meaningful one nonetheless.
When she’s assigned to ensure that the residents of Hatsfield’s Landing vote for Bartlet in the primaries, Donna spends all night standing out in the cold on a cell phone trying to win two measly votes. She educates herself on the issues of these particular voters, presents both sides of the argument, and doggedly tries to rally support for Bartlet, who is (in her opinion) the best man for the job.
Most gloriously of all, she is often wrong about social issues, or fails to see the bigger picture; and that’s not seen as a bad thing. Donna’s heart and her dedication to doing to the right thing — even if it’s not always politically savvy — are her greatest attributes, and I’m 100 percent sure that if more people in the United States aspired to her level of compassion, we’d be living in a much better world.
Thanks to her conviction (and more than little gumption) Donna eventually works her way up to spokesperson, and then Chief of Staff for the First Lady. Quite a ways to go for a girl who never finished college (as they keep reminding us)!
Ultimately, that’s kind of the overarching point of Donna in a show like “The West Wing.”
She’s the audience’s conduit to the complex and often incomprehensible world of Washington D.C. politics. She’s the eyes through which the average American can learn about issues that can and should be important to us as voters. And when all is said and done, she’s a reminder that humble beginnings can lead to great places if you’ve got the drive to put the work in.
And so I urge everyone to be more like Donna Moss, as we prepare ourselves for this Election Day. Educate yourself on the issues that are important to you. Argue your points passionately and respectfully. And when the time comes to cast your vote, vote like Donna Moss is watching.