Saturday, March 21, 2009

President Roslin or Bartlet?

I've been very light on posting lately, a grad course currently piled on top of my regular duties. But I take out the time to address an important question.

Who would you rather have as president -- Laura Roslin, or Josiah Bartlet? If you are not aware, the first is the fictional President of the Colonies in the excellent Battlestar Galactica, and the second is the fictional President of the United States in the excellent The West Wing. These two and Buffy, are the only television shows that have ever captivated me -- the only ones that I made sure to watch, not caught when I was around. I rose and fell with many of the characters, and high on that list are these two great leaders.

But which is greatest? Let's examine the cases:

President Bartlet is a policy wonk who holds to his humanity despite the trappings of a powerful office. He is schooled in theology and economics, and knows tough policy issues book-and-verse. Bartlet ran two tough campaigns, and had a close eye for spotting and promoting talent around him. Bartlet staff members rose to Congress, chief of staff, and other position under his tenure; his own chief of staff was elected Vice President before he died. President Bartlet even had a direct hand in choosing his successor.

Bartlet managed international relations with a shrewd eye, pacifying China while giving Taiwan what it wanted at one point, while standing against the fictional Islamist state of Qumar at another. Bartlet has a strong sense of humor, which puts his staff and visitors at ease. He would take stands unpopular with his staff (accepting censure) or key groups (voting against the milk compact before the New Hampshire primary), or even running against the opinion of the entire nation.

However, Bartlet does have honesty problems. He hid his multiple sclerosis during an election, a medical condition that could impact his ability to perform his duties. He even imperiled his wife's medical reputation by having her secretly treat his condition. Bartlet is also uneven in a crisis, shouting at God after the funeral of an aide, and even abdicating his duties during the kidnapping of his daughter to a Republican. Though gifted in policy and politics, his humanity which can hold him in such stead so often weakens him at a time of crisis.

On the other hand, is President Laura Roslin of the Twelve Colonies. Roslin became president only when the 31 officials ahead of her in line were killed during an attack; and she may have only achieved the lowly position of Secretary of Education because she was sleeping with then-President Adar. Roslin is a questionable judge of character, selecting two vice presidents (Tom Zarak and Gaius Balthar) who committed treasonous acts against their democracy and species. Her most trusted aide through the latter half of Roslin's tenure, Tori Foster, was a secret agent for the enemy Cylons who eagerly went to their side when she could.

President Roslin also has an uneven record with foreign relations. Roslin's only foreign contact were the Cylons, with whom she engaged in war during a protracted period of time. Roslin's attempts to find peace with them were uneven and only partially succeeded due to a civil war among the enemy. Her response to the attack was a successful genocide of the enemy. President Roslin also crossed her own people so severely that she lost election to her vice president. She also identifies very closely with the military, allowing them to trump civil rights seemingly because of personal feelings for its leader.

On the other hand, Laura Roslin is a rock in a crisis. She survived two coup attempts wherein she was outgunned on the strength of her personal example and appeal. She led a small human population to a new home despite overwhelming odds. Roslin also used connections to a higher plane to lead her people, relying on prophecy and visions to lead them on their journey. Roslin was unflinching in the conduct of what she saw as her duty, at one point urging Commander Adama to kill his superior officer, Helena Cain.

President Roslin had greatness thrust upon her; President Bartlet aspired for greatness. Yet they have curiously different strengths. George W. Bush showed us the danger of having low-caliber people near the seat of power, and Roslin could scarcely choose worse on that score. Meanwhile, Bartlet folded during a profound national crisis because of personal danger even as Roslin survived much worse with great strength and dignity.

Both were afflicted with medical conditions, yet while Bartlet's staff shielded him from difficult moments when gripped by his MS, Roslin volunteered for a dangerous mission while in the last throes of cancer. Bartlet was more adept on the policy front: Roslin allowed a thriving black market due to her economic ignorance that resulted in needless death, and was cavalier about civil rights. As a politician, too, Bartlet rarely lost, while Roslin was outmaneuvered by her treasonous vice-president under the guidance of a terrorist.

On most conventional scores, Bartlet proved superior to Roslin. He ran a tighter office, and arguably a tighter nation. He was a great president of peace. Yet his shirking of his duty of office with the kidnapping of his child is concerning, particularly when compared to Roslin's cajoling, threatening, prophesying, bargaining wiles that anchored a people suddenly set adrift. In a time of no greater crisis, there could have been no greater leadership than that of Roslin.

As captain of the ship of state, Josiah Bartlet is the President we need. But that ship needs a great captain for the reason that it needs lifeboats: not every journey is safe. And when that moment comes, the people's lives and hopes are in surer hands with Laura Roslin at the helm.

I would vote Roslin/Bartlet for America, Caprica, and beyond. You?


Ryan said...

Some shows to check out:

1. Kings on NBC. It's new. It's GOOD. Way too good for network tv. It'll probably get canceled. ;p

2. Mad Men on AMC. High quality, great characters, 2 seasons already out. Plenty for netflix or whatever.

3. Breaking Bad, also on AMC. Wicked good all the way around. Just in its second season. Again, great characters - and an absurdly interesting premise.

4. Legend of the Seeker - free on, syndicated, season 2's already ordered. It's from the same guy who made Xena, Hercules and Spider Man... I know Xena and hercules were very, very corney and at times bad... but Legend of the Seeker is very, very different. There's a plot and a point. It's based off a Terry Goodkind book series, Sword of Truth, I think.

5. Pretty much anything on Showtime or HBO... True Blood was fun, United States of Tara I find interesting, Big Love is a bit whacki but actually really good (at least this season).

I swear I don't watch nearly as much TV as this description indicates... LOL... remember, most of these are 12-ep seasons ;)

All of these shows rival BSG in terms of quality, story or characters. Mad Men is especially good on all three. Kings, if it survives for more than one season, could even surpass it.

Ryan said...

Oh, you can watch Kings on Hulu, too.

If you liked Buffy, Joss Whedon just came out with Dollhouse, on Fox (and Hulu). I didn't like the pilot, but it's been getting better since. The past 2-3 episodes were very good, the last one (ep 6) amazing.

Also, the pilot to LotS wasn't very good either. Definitely don't judge that series by the pilot. In many ways, it could be the most daring show on TV today.

Quriltai said...

Thanks for the suggestions.

Well, re: Dollhouse I like Eliza Dushku a lot. I think she's a very interesting actress, a bit of Angelina Jolie in her edge, but not as determinedly exotic.

I saw the ads for Kings, and prevaricated. I just wasn't sure if the world would hang together -- the plot would be okay, I thought, but the conceit seemed far-fetched. May have to rethink that.

As for Mad Men, I hear great things but that is a period of American history that holds almost no interest for me. Breaking Bad looks good, too,