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President Martin Sheen

The world of make-believe often gets mixed up with real life. Fans sometimes see their Hollywood and TV heroes as more real than imaginary. Tales were often told about the letters addressed to Sherlock Holmes on Baker Street in an effort to enlist his aid in solving a crime. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character had unwittingly become real for many of his fans.

It’s not only the fans. At some point the actor John Wayne ceased to exist and became John Wayne, American hero. Never mind that Wayne never fought on the sands of Iwo Jimo or anywhere else. He became the two-fisted, no-nonsense character out of the John Ford movies, a fantasy who believed his own legend.

And now, on the other side of the political spectrum, we have Martin Sheen.

Sheen has been a fine actor for many years in Hollywood, but it was not until he played President Bartlet on NBC’s The West Wing that his role and the person began to merge. How this happened, and how Sheen has come to play a leading role in Hollywood’s protest against the war, is a lesson in the way of America today.

For those of you who have not seen The West Wing, it is undeniably one of the best-written and acted pieces in the barren wasteland of television today. It is also, undeniably and unabashedly, liberal propaganda. If you wonder how out-of-power liberals see themselves, you need only tune in to The Left Wing, as some of the conservative media calls it.

As President Bartlet, Sheen battles the "reactionary" Republicans on all of the issues near and dear to the liberal heart — funding education, women’s issues (although here he has to be prodded by his physician wife) and other assorted social programs. The creator and writer of every word of every script on the show is Aaron Sorkin — yes, the same one who was busted for possession of drugs not long ago, but that real-life tidbit has not entered the show’s dramatic themes. Yet.

Sorkin is said to have created President Bartlet as a Bill Clinton without Clinton’s well-known baggage. He is bright and well-educated like Clinton, the smartest of the smart guys in his class, but his sex drive is confined to an occasional moment with the First Lady. (Obviously, the Clinton comparison begins to fall short here.) It’s as if Sorkin theorized what Clinton and his presidency might have become if Clinton had never met Monica.

On The West Wing, the liberal president has morality on his side. This is extremely important to liberals because, until Clinton’s fall, they had always claimed the moral high ground, at least in their own minds, in the battle against the neanderthals on the right.

But it is in Bartlet’s use of military power on the TV show that reveals the fantasy world in which the actor Sheen and many American liberals live today.

Consider that on The West Wing, President Bartlet in numerous crisis situations threatens the muscle of American might, and on a few occasions proves he’s not afraid to use it. In the show, a liberal president orders the assassination of a diplomat of a foreign country who is found to be engaged in terrorism against the United States and then indulges in a cover-up. Sorkin also has President Bartlet ordering troops into the fictional country of Kumar to stop genocide. Think Rwanda, Haiti and the bombing of Kosovo, all military actions initiated by Clinton without the umbrella of the United Nations.

No one, not even President Clinton, would claim that the security of the United States was in question in any of these instances. (In the one case that it was — in the attempt by Saddam to murder George Herbert Bush or when Iraq expelled the U.N. inspectors — Clinton’s response was the shelling of a few warehouses). But as the TV president, Sheen is confident in the moral use of American military power, even to the point of ordering a hit on the terrorist-diplomat.

It is evident that, unwittingly perhaps, the Sheen character is much closer to Jack Kennedy (again, without the philandering) than he is to even Bill Clinton or certainly Martin Sheen the peace activist. One can imagine President Bartlet ordering an invasion of Iraq to defuse Saddam’s chemical and biological weapons. One can also imagine Bartlet facing down Sheen and the peace protesters in the face of our national security.

In short, what’s wrong with most liberals today in America is they don’t realize that the fictional President Bartlet, in the way he conducts his personal life and uses military power, is more like the Democrats of old — FDR, Harry Truman, Jack Kennedy — than he is Bill Clinton. If Martin Sheen understood his character better, he wouldn’t be parading around the street with a peace placard. He’d be cheering our troops as they rid the world of another evil despot.

Editor’s note: Tom Cardella will read several of his columns tonight at 6 at the new Borders Book Store and Caf�, Broad and Chestnut streets.

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