NPR logo Obama & Aaron Sorkin, Together Again For the Very First Time


Obama & Aaron Sorkin, Together Again For the Very First Time

Michael Douglas in 'The American President

Bob's problem: Chief exec Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) talks trash in The American President. Castle Rock hide caption

toggle caption Castle Rock

Poke! Twelve hours before last night's confetti- and columns-filled coronation of Barack Obama at Denver's Invesco Field, the big Aaron Sorkin news was that the creator of The West Wing and A Few Good Men had been tapped by bullying but brilliant stage and film producer Scott Rudin to pen a movie about the social-networking phenomenon Facebook.

Status update! By midnight last night, the name of the man who created West Wing and A Few Good Men was suddenly on the furiously flapping lips of MSNBC's Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews, for a new reason. The two newsmen, along with NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, were practically back-patting themselves with pleasure for catching supposed echoes in Obama's speech with the Sorkin script for the 1995 film The American President.

"It's not because John McCain doesn't care. It's because John McCain doesn't get it," the candidate said last night, in one of his many crisply delivered zingers at the presumptive Republican nominee.

Compare that to Sorkin's version, with which Michael Douglas — as fictional President Andrew Shepherd — towel-whips Senator Robert Rumson (Richard Dreyfuss): "Bob's problem isn't that he doesn't get it. Bob's problem is that he can't sell it."

What 'West Wing' character was based on Obama? After the jump ...

In the current issue of GQ, Sorkin — a longtime D.C. insider and erstwhile lover of Maureen Dowd — casually mentions his admiration for Obama as orator and describes his one and only encounter so far with the sparkling new Democratic Presidential nominee.

"He flattered me," Sorkin remembers of his brush with Obama at a fundraiser, "by saying, 'My intention is to steal a lot of your lines.'"

West Wing fans will know that the admiration goes in both directions, of course. According to Britain's Guardian, Obama was the model for West Wing presidential hopeful Matthew Santos, played by Jimmy Smits.

"'I drew inspiration from [Obama] in drawing this character," West Wing writer and producer Eli Attie told the Guardian. "When I had to write, Obama was just appearing on the national scene. He had done a great speech at the convention and people were beginning to talk about him."

Today's sport for Sorkin buffs will be finding more possible (and impossible) Sorkin homages in Obama's acceptance speech. Surely you West Wing fans out there will come up with a few. Let us know.

And speaking of admiring lifts, let's hope Sorkin's Facebook flick has a fraction of the wit and knowing of this pitch-perfect parody currently ricocheting around the YouTube universe:



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I believe Obama's line "That's A Debate I'd Like to Have" is a near direct lift from TAP.

Sent by John Frost | 11:22 AM | 8-29-2008

That's the other one they claimed on MSNBC last night, too, and I look forward to somebody pointing out where it is, because...I know that movie pretty well, and I don't recall that line being in there. I recall the line about Bob not getting it and not being able to sell it, but I don't remember "that's a debate I'd like to have" being in there, though I'd certainly stand to be corrected. Not saying it's not, but I don't remember it.

Sent by Linda Holmes | 12:03 PM | 8-29-2008

@John Frost -- IMDB offers up this quote, from Shepherd: "You want a character debate, Bob? You better stick with me, 'cause Sydney Ellen Wade is way out of your league. "

Maybe that's the one you're thinking of?

Sent by Trey at NPR | 1:07 PM | 8-29-2008

Your thinking of the scene where the president and AJ are playing pool.

President Andrew Shepherd: If Mary hadn't died, would we have won three years ago?
A.J.: Would we have won?
President Andrew Shepherd: If we had to go through a character debate three years ago, would we have won?
A.J.: I don't know. But I would have liked that campaign. If my friend Andy Shepherd had shown up, I would have liked that campaign very much.

Sent by Jodi B | 1:30 PM | 8-29-2008

That's the closest I could think of, too, Jodi. Maybe we're forgetting something, but if that's as close as it gets, I'm pretty surprised that the commentators on MSNBC made that accusation -- apparently relying on top-of-the-head recollections of the movie.

Sent by Linda Holmes | 1:39 PM | 8-29-2008

I have to say: a movie about Facebook sounds like a terrible idea. Please tell me it will not involve scenes of people sitting at a computer, because that is about the most boring thing that can occur in a movie, other than scenes of people watching TV or text-messaging.

Sent by Katie | 4:05 PM | 8-29-2008

I think they were probably referring to the end of his big speech:

President Andrew Shepherd: ... If you want to talk about character and American values, fine. Just tell me where and when, and I'll show up.

I flashed on that line when Obama delivered his version.

Sent by Joe T | 7:39 PM | 8-29-2008

I was watching the speech at Obama's So. Cal. Headquarters and I immediately recognized the two places he lifted the lines from the movie. He even turned to the camera head on just like Michael Douglas did. That was no accident. So what is the big deal? We all thought it was pretty cute. The movie was a big hit.

Compare that to the Republican's choice of Sarah Palin, a dead ringer for the President by default on Battlestar Galatica, Laura Roslin. The circumstances of how she became President are amazingly close to the choice of Governor Palin.

It looks like Hollywood is having a huge influence on this campaign in ways we never dreamed of.

Sent by Art Berkowitz | 9:13 AM | 9-5-2008