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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

James Poniewozik: Can a hit, or even a pretty miss, be an act of defiance?

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I loved “The West Wing,” a fictionalized Oval Office version of our own divided landscape set in early 21st-century Washington, D.C. But sometimes the people performing in the play felt less the president, more the lobby agent.

It was terrific watching Joshua Malina and Bradley Whitford in the middle of the evening speaking to an audience of middle-aged liberals in a posh cafe in the Washington suburb of McLean, Va. The midriff-revealing shirt was worn by Whitford’s character, who is in favor of Hillary Clinton and committed to Robert Mueller’s investigation (don’t question him), who at first sits nearby and talks with the blonde who is urging him to back Sanders, then expands and talks to another, who tells him they should put on a pro-Sanders rally.

That this would be the benign culmination of the evening was far from unthinkable. Not even Trump, a candidate with no foreign policy experience, a chronic lack of public speaking and a history of reportedly rude behavior at rallies, could have gotten away with speeches like these, without huge groans of disapproval from the audience (who soon would have asked Whitford how Trump did it) and the worst-case scenario being that the president of the United States would somehow do the same to them.

See what happens when the writers themselves are offended by the pomp of state — or at least root for, as David Byrne once did for Lenin and Václav Havel, a post-dictatorship America in which political discourse has more room for left-wing analysis and separation of the barrels. David Mamet plays the role of the consul of D.C. He keeps disappearing into the night, a place Mamet and his friends in private Hollywood “boyhood” would have fawned over, if only given the chance. But Richard Schiff is a stolid John Dean, the worst damage the lawyer ever inflicted.

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