Doing agreement

Last night, I watched—again—one of the final episodes of The West Wing. In it, Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) asks Arnie Vinick (Alan Alda) to be his Secretary of State. This seems odd, on the surface, because Santos has just defeated Vinick in an extremely close presidential campaign. {1]

vinick 2Santos tries in several ways to use Vinick as a way to get the Vice President he wants. [2] Vinick sees that coming a mile off and refuses to play. In desperation, Santos just tells the truth. “I want you as my Secretary of State. You’re my first choice.”

It takes Vinick a long time to realize that he and the President agree on foreign policy. Everybody else knows it. Vinick’s staff knows it.   I want to tell you how Vinick finally got it. It is a TV example that I would like to practice in my real-life life.

The offer of Secretary of State is not a quid pro quo. [3]

Vinick: Secretary of State is not something you throw at the other party to show how bipartisan you are. The job is way more important than that.  This is your representative to the world.

Santos: I agree.

Vinick fears that he would be used only as a figurehead.

Vinick: You think you can make me Secretary of State and then ignore me and run all foreign policy out of the White House?

Santos: No.

Vinick: Anybody good enough to appoint would quit the day you try to go around the State Department.

Santos: I don’t want to go around you. I want you to do the job.

They go through a batch of others. All of their considerations ignore the agreement of the vinick 1two men on foreign policy generally and on Kazakhstan in particular, which is a crisis point in the seventh season of the show. Finally, this happens.

Vinick says, “I don’t know. I don’t know. This is crazy. I don’t see how this can work.” And that is precisely correct. He does not see; he cannot “see” how it will work. And when he demonstrates to himself that it will work, it doesn’t require his “seeing” anything. Only doing something and that will force him, eventually—not during this show—to see how they agree.

That is the last assessment anyone makes from the outside. There are no further objections, there are no refusals based on some suspected political strategy or on any category, even “We agree on foreign policy.”

Santos: Here’s today’s intelligence report on Kazakhstan. There’s a interesting item in there on page two. Second paragraph.

Vinick: What, the Chinese demanding a veto on routing of the pipeline?

Santos: Yeah, they’ve never said that before.

Vinick: Don’t worry.

There is more of Vinick’s thought below, but I want you to stop for a moment and notice that the job is done right there. “Don’t worry” is not something a job applicant could say to a potential employer. It can be said by someone who has an “us” in mind and who is seeing things from the same side as his former opponent. This is the advice a Secretary of State would give the President. But there is more.

Vinick: Chinese know they haven’t a chance of getting that, but they think the Russians do. So they demand it now before the Russians, so we won’t help either one.

Santos: So how do we move them out of their positions get them to agree to a compromise?

Vinick: You can lay the groundwork for that now. You let both sides know that in the endgame the Russians will have to get a share of Kazakhstan oil production and the Chinese are gonna have to have the pipeline. You make sure they understand you’re the one setting the agenda. You don’t have to make it explicit, just hint at it.

And the show ends as the two men—the President-elect and the Secretary of State designate continue their joint planning.

Experiencing Agreement.

Santos got Vinick to do the things he would be doing as Secretary of State. We don’t get to see the moment when Vinick realizes what has happened. [4] He just buries himself, at Santos’ invitation, in the work the Secretary of State would do.  He does the agreement long before he experiences it.

In that very limited sense, you could say that Santos got Vinick to be his Secretary of State without ever agreeing to. “Agreeing” would require that Vinick go back to the question of how many things he and the President-elect disagree on and it would be hard to come back to the truth everyone knows, which is “You agree on foreign policy.”

If there were a category called “doing agreement,” rather than the much more conscious “coming to agreement,” I could say that is what happens in this show. Vinick gets to “Don’t worry,” his first words as Santos’ Secretary of State without ever noticing what he has done.

Maybe that would work better for me than what I’ve been doing.

[1] “Flip 40,000 votes in Nevada and I win,” Vinick grumbled to his staff.
[2] The Vice President during the campaign was Leo McGarry, who is killed off in the show because John Spencer, who played McGarry, actually did die.
[3] I can’t write that Latin phrase without remembering Edwin Newman’s quip about a Korean boxer named Kid Pro Kwo. He didn’t win many fights, according to Newman, but he gave as good as he got.
[4] That would be fun, but the narrative doesn’t need it and I respect the writers for leaving it out. Still, it would have been fun.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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