A West Wing Writing Conundrum

I’m a huge fan of the TV series, The West Wing, and though it’s now at least a decade old and some of my favorite main characters or cameos have now passed, I tend to live in denial and simply enjoy the brilliance of a thinking-person’s time capsule as if played out this day.

But I also love word conundrums—and in The West Wing there’s one of the best.

It’s Season 2, episode 2 when the character, Josh Lyman, says to a then Governor Bartlet (the team in this episode swings from real life to flashback in telling its journey towards the presidency):

If you don’t lose this election it isn’t going to be because you didn’t try hard enough.

Ok how cool is that? It makes perfect sense when spoken fast, but on reflection is it, in fact, just nonsense?

The only way to work things out is to break this dialog into its barest of parts:

  1. If you do not lose
  2. It is not because
  3. You did not try

That still looks confusing to me. So let’s try spinning some things around and taking out a negative:

  1. If you win
  2. It is not because
  3. You did not try

Well that’s a bit clearer. I want to give it one more twirl:

  1. If you win
  2. It is because
  3. You tried

Well what do you know? Writer, Aaron Sorkin, had it right all along. To win—you have to give it your all.

In The West Wing a magical cast, writing, staging, and production team did just that for seven seasons. And its plot issues remain as fresh today as they were while fought back as the century turned.