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Washington Whimsy: Burmese Leaders Learned Democracy From 'The West Wing'

Washington Whimsy: Burmese Leaders Learned Democracy From 'The West Wing'
9/22/2012 1:11 PM ET

Any fan of the television series "The West Wing" knew all those years of civics courses and AP government prep were for naught.

While our teachers were trying to drill lessons about the Electoral College and separation of powers into our heads, Josh Lyman was drilling us on the importance of separation of church and state and the significance of a good ad buy in Illinois.

But we might not have been the only ones learning a bit or two about the ins and outs of democracy from President Josiah Bartlet and his team.

This past week, (real world) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid a piece of news on the media that had even the most hardcore West Wing fans proud.

It seems as though in their preparation for enacting multiple pro-democracy reforms in the last two years, leaders in Burma watched episodes of the famous Aaron Sorkin show to educate themselves on the American-style system of government.

"[The] work of building democracy never ends, not here in the seat of the oldest democracy in the world, or in a country like Burma in its new capital of Nay Pyi Taw," Clinton said during a ceremony presenting Burmese pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi with the Congressional Gold Medal.

"The speaker of the lower house where Suu Kyi now serves said to me, 'Help us learn how to be a democratic congress, a parliament,'" Clinton added. "He went on to tell me that they were trying to teach themselves by watching old segments of the West Wing. I said, 'I think we can do better than that, Mr. Speaker.'"

While Clinton seemed to scoff at the ability of the TV show to impart wisdom, the joke was tinged with sarcasm as well, as much of President Bartlet's faux administration was based on events that occurred during her husband's own tenure in the White House.

Additionally, while some of us might disagree with Mrs. Clinton about whether anyone can do better than a good lecture on macroeconomics with a Keynesian bent from President Bartlet, it is satisfying to know it wasn't just us taking a page from the Bartlet - and by default, Clinton -administration handbook.

In fact, although Clinton, Suu Kyi and other Burma watchers acknowledge the country still has a long way to go toward full democracy, if recent signs of change there are even at least partly due to the wisdom of "The West Wing," it would probably do us all good to watch an episode or two now and again.

by RTT Staff Writer

For comments and feedback: editorial@rttnews.com

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