February 12, 2008

"Hearing Hoofbeats"

In All Too Human, a memoir of the Clinton presidential years by George Stephanopolous, the author tells reporter Joel Klein about all the mess of infighting in the White House after the first few months of honeymoon. Klein says that he comes from Kossack ancestors, and when times get real good, he starts to worry about the future. He listens for "hoofbeats" bringing bad tidings. His ancestors expected an actual cavalry attack, I imagine.

In The West Wing, I guess that Aaron Sorkin respects the "hoofbeats," too. He seems to appreciate the storytelling power you get when you mix the awful with sublime happiness.

For example, the night in Chicago when Jed Bartlet wins the Democratic nomination, Josh Lyman is off the wall ecstatic, asking Donna to dance with him. But not five minutes after victory is announced, Donna breaks the news to him that his father has died.

Another example: the night when Jed Bartlet soars to re-election--after winning the Dakotas, among other improbable victories--he misses some of the Teleprompter because his MS gets the best of him.

I think about the "hoofbeats" theme a lot when I'm framing the story for the Chiles Senate years. Political defeats are one thing, and so are victories sunk by tragedy, but what about just the wheels just coming off gradually one by one. That's compelling, too.

No comments: