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I’m a huge fan of “The West Wing” for its interesting characters, strong acting, fascinating storylines and clever dialogue. And I’m generally quick to spot parallels between real life and the show’s plot – political and otherwise – and there has been a flurry of them this past week.

One example was Tuesday's top story about the importance of basic science to discovery, in reference to a Nobel Prize in medicine going to mRNA research. The newsletter introduction that health and biomedicine editor Vivian Lam wrote for us, which noted scientists often do basic research without a particular application in mind, seemed straight from “The West Wing,” Season 3, when Sam Seaborn tries to secure funding for a superconducting supercollider. The character struggles to articulate what benefit the technology would have, when a physicist he’s doing a favor for cites the discovery of penicillin, the X-ray and electrons. “That’s what this is used for,” Sam declares. “It’s for discovery.”

One parallel I was expecting that didn’t materialize was the government shutdown. In Season 5, as the U.S. inches toward a budget deadline, President Bartlet refuses to agree with Speaker of the House Haffley to back a continuing resolution that would have slashed spending. “Shut it down,” Bartlet says, prompting a shutdown that lasted several days. In real life, that didn’t happen, as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy at the last minute offered a continuing resolution with none of the deep spending cuts a small faction of his party had sought. All but one Democrat joined with most Republicans to keep the government funded until around Thanksgiving. What happened next carried all the drama, colorful characters and surprise of an Aaron Sorkin screenplay: Right-wing Republicans revolted and triggered the vote that cost McCarthy his job.

In an analysis of the news, Boise State University political scientist Charles R. Hunt wrote that McCarthy’s ouster reflects the negative partisanship that pervades U.S. politics today – perhaps even more than what President Bartlet had to contend with.

Later this week, we'll bring you stories on the outbreak of violence in the Middle East, including a comparison of Hamas' attack on Israel to the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and an analysis on how Iran is poised to benefit in the aftermath. 


Bryan Keogh

Managing Editor

Readers' picks

Kevin McCarthy, just before he was ousted as speaker of the House. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Ouster of Speaker McCarthy highlights House Republican fractures in an increasingly polarized America

Charles R. Hunt, Boise State University

Long gridlocked by fighting between the two major political parties, the US House is now split by conflict within the GOP, thanks in part to redistricting practices that boost extremism.

Editors' picks

Basic research often involves lab work that won’t be appreciated until decades down the line. Sebastian Condrea/Moment via Getty Images

Tenacious curiosity in the lab can lead to a Nobel Prize – mRNA research exemplifies the unpredictable value of basic scientific research

André O. Hudson, Rochester Institute of Technology

The winners of the 2023 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine made a discovery that helped create the COVID-19 vaccines. They couldn’t have anticipated the tremendous impact of their findings.

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