February 14, 2008

"The Sam Seaborn Quill"

There is a great West Wing episode when Sam Seaborn insists on staying at work and breaking a date so he can finish writing a "birthday message" for the assistant Secretary of Transportation. President Bartlet encourages Sam to take the extra effort and really nail it. I got into a discussion with a friend the other day about how the screenwriter never creates a back story for Sam.

I wonder where Sam got his writing abilities. The only thing we know about his background is his education at Princeton--including a stint as recording secretary of the Gilbert and Sullivan Society.

An any case, I've been thinking about "The Walk" as a special case in political composition. It doesn't have any relation to The West Wing, except this idea of "cinematic" writing I keep considering. I think the biggest concern in writing at length about the walking campaign tactic is repetition. Chiles walked across all of Florida in 1970 and into history. But the feat did not end there. He reprised it in 1982 and planned to in 1988 before bowing out of his campaign entirely. Other candidates across the country tried walk-a-thons during the 1970s to replicate the magic.

Repetition can put even the best reader to sleep quick. But: it's also an opportunity. By replaying the Walk in different iterations, you can show evolution. That's the hidden benefit. The first Walk is by far the most important, the longest, the most exciting. The second goes only from Century to Tallahassee; the last is a misfire. In the three Walks, you can see the political journey from jubilation to disillusionment. So few politicians reach that realization that "this just isn't working for me any more...or the country." Or they do and don't act on it. As emotional and straining as it must have been for Chiles to put down his gavel as chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and go back to Florida for good, there is something logical about it, too. The rules, the traditions, the camaraderie of the U.S. Senate that inspired his Walk in 1970; they crippled him by 1988. The bipartisan bonding he enjoyed in his first Senate years had ended by his last. The White House had stifled talk of budget deficit reduction. The Walk was as painful in 1988 as it was uplifting in 1970, I imagine.

After Chiles dies, the funeral cortege across the Panhandle follows the path of the Walk once more.

That's four times all together, each demanding different tone, length, and content.

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