The West Wing: Mr. Willis of Ohio   Rewatch 
July 15, 2014 7:14 PM - Season 1, Episode 6 - Subscribe

A widower who took over his late wife's seat in Congress reveals his accountability in a census matter; the President asks Josh to help Charlie relax.

Toby and Mandy work to convince some congressmen -- including the nervous Mr. Willis, who assumed his late wife's office -- to approve a commerce bill that includes a vital census-counting provision. The President's daughter gets into an ugly fracas in a Georgetown bar along with Josh and Sam. Elsewhere, C.J. swallows her pride and asks Sam for help to understand the basic components of the administration's stance on random census-taking in 2000, and a peeved President Bartlet scolds Leo when he learns that Leo's wife has left him.

Airdate: November 3, 1999
Director: Christopher Miziano
Writer: Sorkin
I always thought it was weird that they issued subpoenas for everyone BUT Mandy. Maybe Mandyville doesn't extradite?
posted by ApathyGirl (17 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I love a lot of things about this episode.

I love the scene in the bar and the Sam/Josh debate about who they could have taken. I love that Zoey and Mallory are apparently genuinely friends. (I really wish Mallory had been written in as a love interest for Sam for longer, because I love Mallory in gene ral.) I love Mr. Willis of Ohio and I love how much Toby loves him. I love the moment where the President asks CJ how many people there are in the United States. And even though it's one of Donna's many incidents of being the recipient of explanatory speechifying from Josh, I love the part where she doesn't give him back his change.

On this watch, I noticed how much the rant from the President actually resembles the eventual kidnapping. I assume that was deliberate, even though I don't think I've noticed it on previous re-watches.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:21 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I like this episode because they mention the census, and statistics! I worked on the census in the UK (although after the fact), and can answer a question that I had at the time: how does sampling actually help you if the census is that bad? After all, you are just sampling using the same data you used for the census, right?

Well the problem with censuses is that, as Sam says, we know we miss people (the UK census misses around 6% of the population). Now if we do a statistical survey of the population independently of the census, this will miss people as well, but we can look to see which people the census picked up and the survey didn't, and which people the survey did and the census didn't. This double counting gives us an idea of how many people the census is missing. This is called Dual System Estimation, and is used in lots of countries. Politicians are often suspicious of statistical methods, primarily because they are idiots. Oh well....
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:37 AM on July 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


I love this episode, but it always bugged me that CJ was the one who didn't understand the census. She was an advertising manager, then press secretary for a presidential campaign, and now press secretary for the white house. Surely, out of the entire gang, she's the person who had lived and breathed surveys, opinion polls and demographic data for the last however many years?

If the episode really needs a foil, Josh's job is all about obsessing over and leveraging 1-on-1 relationships, and Toby is enough of a perfectionist that he could plausibly be offended by the idea of only counting a sample.
posted by metaBugs at 3:01 AM on July 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


I love the president's obsession with trivia in one of my favorite teasers. However, everyone to whom I've ever challenged to name 3 words that begin with 'dw' immediately offers 'dweeb,' which begins an argument about whether or not that's a valid answer.

Agreed that CJ's lack of knowledge about the census is obnoxious and out of character. I do appreciate that the census and sampling methodology are explained to viewers, who might not otherwise understand, but it bugs that she serves as the excuse for explanations so frequently, particularly in the first season.
posted by casualinference at 6:48 AM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


jacquilynne: " On this watch, I noticed how much the rant from the President actually resembles the eventual kidnapping. I assume that was deliberate, even though I don't think I've noticed it on previous re-watches."

There was a callback to this episode in the fourth season's Twenty Five, when Zoey was kidnapped.
Bartlet: "I know it's a strange time to bring this up but I forecasted this once. I made up a scary story a few years ago for Zoey so that she'd take her protection seriously, and I went too far. And I scared her. And she cried. This was the story. Leo, the people you just named don't have the legal authority to stop me from doing certain things and some of them would go to jail if they didn't follow my orders.

Very quietly, I want you to assemble the Cabinet. I want you to call the Speaker of the House."
posted by zarq at 7:53 AM on July 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


I love this episode, but it always bugged me that CJ was the one who didn't understand the census. She was an advertising manager, then press secretary for a presidential campaign, and now press secretary for the white house.
...
Agreed that CJ's lack of knowledge about the census is obnoxious and out of character. I do appreciate that the census and sampling methodology are explained to viewers, who might not otherwise understand, but it bugs that she serves as the excuse for explanations so frequently, particularly in the first season.


CJ's resume is a source of intense debate among fans of the show (she provides a lot of stars in the constellation of Sorkin-Didn't-Write-A-Bible). I prefer to think of most of these "CJ asks men for exposition" scenes as actually being Donna asking, or one of CJ's assistants.
posted by Etrigan at 10:01 AM on July 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Also, goddammit, Amazon, why'd you take TWW off Prime Instant Video?
posted by Etrigan at 10:02 AM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also also, I'd forgotten how nakedly Toby race-baits and ad-hominems in this thing. "Sure, the Constitution says this, but they also said that slaves didn't count, and we know what that means, don't we, only black person in the room wink wink."

I don't know why it confused me so much that a Foo Fighters song was in the background of the bar scene. (Oh god, that was 15 years ago I'm so old...)
posted by Etrigan at 10:27 AM on July 16, 2014


Etrigan: "Also also, I'd forgotten how nakedly Toby race-baits and ad-hominems in this thing. "Sure, the Constitution says this, but they also said that slaves didn't count, and we know what that means, don't we, only black person in the room wink wink.""

The reference was deliberately quite direct. Not "wink wink."
Toby: "Mandy left out a few words. Didn't she Mr. Willis?"
Mr. Willis: "Yes."
Toby: "Mr. Willis teaches 8th grade social studies, and Mr. Willis knows very well what the article says. It says which shall be determined by adding the whole number of free persons. And three fifths of all other persons. Three fifths of all other persons. They meant you Mr. Willis. Didn't they?"
Mr. Willis: "Yes"
Toby: "Mr. Willis, you are asking to enact a law, which will limit the ability of those people who need to be counted the most, to be counted as people at all. And they're only refuge is the argument that Article 1, Section 2 is not arcane."
I don't think it's race-baiting at all when taken in context. The characters talk about census importance, accuracy and racial demographics during the episode. Mr. Willis knows the constitution because he teaches it to children. And yes, he's African American and understands the importance of the '3/5 of a person' clause in this context.
Sam: "Because representation at the various levels of the government, federal, state and municipal, is based on population. The only way to find out how many Congressmen California gets is to count the people in California. Got it?"
...
Sam: "The decennial census has always been done by a door-to-door head count. Some 950,000 professionals are hired. The process costs approximately 6.9 billion dollars. The process is also very inaccurate. It tends to be significantly disadvantageous to
inner city populations, recent immigrant populations, and of course the homeless."
...
Mandy: "In the last census, 8 million people, mostly black, weren't counted. And in the same census, 4 million people, mostly white, were counted twice."
Poverty rates for African Americans and Latinos greatly exceeded the national average back when the show aired, and they still do. Whether they are counted accurately can affect whether they are treated fairly by the government. Toby used a rhetorical trick to make a point, and then immediately told Mr. Willis in private that:
Toby: "I was taking advantage of you sir."
Mr. Willis: "I know."
Toby: "There are some things I did not mention. First of all, it is partisan. Second of all, I'm not wild about the precedent."
Mr. Willis: "You mean?"
Toby: "What's to stop us from saying we don't need elections, we'll just use polling data. 1150 people with the sampling error of plus or minus three will decide who runs the country."
Mr. Willis: "I thought about that."
Toby: "And?"
Mr. Willis: "It's okay by me. As long as it's not the same people who decide what's on television. Toby, I'm not nearly as smart as my wife was. I went to night school cause I went to work pretty young. And I tried to understand the things Janice brought home from the office, but I wasn't in her league. I never understood what she wanted with a dummy like me. I think the problems that we're going to face in the new century are far beyond the Wisdom of Solomon, let alone me. But I think the right place to start is to say - fair is fair. This is who we are. These are our numbers."
Toby: "I'm sorry I never got to know your wife sir."
Mr. Willis: "She would have liked you."

posted by zarq at 10:50 AM on July 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


I don't think it's race-baiting at all when taken in context.

As you admit, even Toby admits that he did that, albeit not using the actual word "race-baiting."

Toby was clearly saying, "The people who wrote this were racists, therefore, you should adhere to my reading of their words, because originalists are obviously racists too." Oh, and "They meant you, Mr. Willis, didn't they?"? Mr. Willis is explicitly from Ohio, which means that they didn't mean him, because Ohio never allowed slavery.

And here's what's even more egregious about it -- the words that Mandy left out also included "and excluding Indians," but Toby didn't need to race-bait Ben Nighthorse Campbell, so he didn't bother with that.

Not to mention that the part they read isn't the part that's actually cited in the argument against sampling. It's the next sentence that gets cited, specifically the first three words and the last nine: "The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct." The question of what "actual Enumeration" should mean -- whether the Constitution mandates a hand count or allows Congress to come up with other methods and "by Law direct" them -- is a complex one, and "We should interpret the Constitution like this because there used to be slavery" is not the right way to answer it.

For the record, I agree with you and Toby -- statistical sampling makes for a much more accurate count than knocking on 100-million-plus front doors and ignoring everyone who doesn't have a front door. But I don't argue that we should do it because the Framers were racists so I get to disregard that part of the Constitution.

(Also, that one guy falling right into Toby's rhetorical trap was one of the first "LOL people who disagree with me are so dumb" that Sorkin grew to rely on not just here but on Studio 60 and Newsroom.)
posted by Etrigan at 11:28 AM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


The debate in the show was also misleading because sampling was not replacing the census, it was being carried out in addition to it. A sample of the population instead of the census would absolutely be less accurate (well, ok, there are certain circumstances where a census might have inaccuracies a sample does not, but in terms of estimating low levels statistics, a census will do better. A census plus a sample? Best of all).
posted by Cannon Fodder at 11:33 AM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


This link has more info on the plan for 2000. Essentially theres the raw census number, which is certainly wrong, and there is the adjusted number, which is wrong, but in an understandable, measured way
posted by Cannon Fodder at 11:34 AM on July 16, 2014


I liked the exchanges between Toby and Mr. Wills in this one. No favorite C.J. moment that I can remember.

I had planned to rewatch my rewatch to have fresher commentary, but apparently The West Wing went off of Prime this week and I'll be damned if I'm going to pay $2 an episode. So I guess this is it for me on this show.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:38 PM on July 16, 2014


TWW is available on Netflix. (...Are there... Are there really people who don't have Netflix?)

One thing I do not understand: how is it that Zoe is in the bar? How is it that she can go and order Mal a drink?
posted by meese at 11:32 PM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: wrong, but in an understandable, measured way
posted by kagredon at 11:45 PM on July 16, 2014


One thing I do not understand: how is it that Zoe is in the bar? How is it that she can go and order Mal a drink?

A college bar in the DC area that rigorously cards cute girls isn't going to stay open very long.
posted by Etrigan at 5:38 AM on July 17, 2014


The West Wing went off of Prime this week

Noooo! I was only halfway through season 2. meese, we don't have Netflix because we already pay for Prime which has a lot of the same content and a catalog of roughly comparable quality where they do not overlap (Netflix is probably better, but not enough for me to subscribe).
posted by TwoWordReview at 12:16 PM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


« Older Masters of Sex: Involuntary...   |  Justified: Long In The Tooth... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments