"The West Wing": Season Eight, unscripted


The popular White House drama returns with an all-new cast, an anything-can-happen storyline and its first Asian.

For a good six years of the Bush administration, Democrats – denied the presidency twice – were left to languish in the solace of “The West Wing” on Wednesday nights. Veteran actor Martin Sheen as a grandfatherly president of the Democrat persuasion fronted a charismatic crew of staff in the White House in weekly episodes of political intrigue, international conflicts and ethical dilemmas.

Nostalgic similarities to the Clinton years were apparent, but Sheen's Josiah Bartlett, as the president, did not let them down. He, too, lied, but finally confessed and was re-elected to a second term. The series went on to receive the most Emmy Awards in US television history and was critically acclaimed by politicos and audiences alike.

The final season ended in 2006 with the election to take over the presidency from Bartlett, pitting a minority Democrat, played by Hispanic Jimmy Smits, against a distinguished straight-talking white Alan Alda. Smits emerges victorious and the US gets a minority president who vows to “reach across the aisle”. Sounds familiar? Well that’s not the only instance of life imitating art. The new president also appoints a Jewish chief of staff, a character actually modelled after Rahm Emanuel, whom President-elect Barack Obama has chosen as his own chief of staff.

At these odds, the series could probably have provided a good gauge of what to expect from an Obama presidency. Unfortunately, the scriptwriters called it quits after the seventh season. Thankfully die-hard fans can – like the rest of the world – turn to the White House for Season Eight.

Which brings us to our Person of the Month.

Of course with Emanuel being Jewish, we could easily claim him as asia!'s POTM, but that would be too easy. Instead, our choice comes to you in a completely different package: a Chinese-American and a lawyer by training, Chris Lu.

A relative unknown in the sea of never-an-undramatic-moment-Obama-for-presidency drive, Lu was the campaign manager for Delaware. Lu did not do too badly in a state that has traditionally always voted Democrat, turning out a 61% to 38 % margin. He is now executive director of Obama's transition team and a close affiliate of the new First Couple.

Lu, like Michelle Obama, attended both Harvard Law School and Princeton University. In yet another Hollywood-would-envy plot development, he and his wife got acquainted at the Washington D.C office of Sidley & Austin, the same law firm where the Obamas met, albeit at the Chicago branch. Lu's wife Katie Thomson, was integral in helping Obama gain the financial backing of Washington lawyers, who had been Clinton supporters.

The practice of law, it seems, runs in Lu's family. A Chinese-language publication reports that his maternal grandfather, Wang Ren-Yuan, was Taiwan's attorney-general from 1960 to 1966. According to Lu himself, at a time when Chinese-Americans studied to become doctors or engineers, his parents, who hail from Taiwan, were fully supportive of his choice to go to law school, foresight that eventually sent him on the way to working on John Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004, and then as Legislative Director for then Senator Obama in Chicago.

According to Lu, he oversaw “every bill that [Obama] introduce[d] and every vote that he [cast], every speech he [made], and how he [spent] every minute of every day”.

For the President-elect, he is full of praise. Lu had “admired his talents for a long time”. In an interview, he said: "In terms of intelligence and talent, Obama is without comparison. If he does win the White House, he will be one of the most brilliant Presidents in American history."

Comparing him to those he met after an accumulated 11 years in the political arena, Lu added: "With his quick and incisive mind, Obama is the most intelligent person that I have ever met in this circle of people."

In his own words, Lu is “in awe of the man”.

He may sound enamoured, but Lu's Princeton mates assure that Lu himself is “honest and hardworking and whip-smart”. His thesis professor remembers Lu as “very, very methodical, very smart and quite attuned to the work that he was doing”.

And that is just the kind of Asian we want to be overseeing the transition into the most-anticipated presidency in the world's history.

With a Jewish chief of staff and a Chinese-American right-hand man, should Asians join the Africans in claiming Obama as one of our own?

Other notable Asian-Americans in the Obama transition team

Pete Rouse

He makes our list by virtue of his Japanese mother. The chief of staff to former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, this Capitol Hill veteran of 30 years was known as the 101st Senator. While he may appear to be the antithesis of the Obama push for change in Washington DC, Rouse nonetheless serves as one of the three co-chairs of the Transitional Team and would be an asset, being respected by both Democrats and Republicans alike.

Sonal Shah

This Indian-born economist on Google's Global Development team sits as a double minority on the Transitional Team's advisory board. She comes with an impressive résumé, which includes a vice-presidency at Goldman Sachs, a Directorship at the US Treasury overseeing sub-Saharan Africa, and a co-founding of Indicorps, an NGO benefiting India-Americans.


Related Stories:

A different Indian in Washington

Obama: An Asian American?

The "A" List 



January 2009


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dan-chyi chuaDan-Chyi Chua began her writing career with Channel News Asia, a regional cable network, before forsaking broadcast journalism to hit the road for a three-year sabbatical through the Middle East, China, Central America and Cuba. She has now grounded herself as a writer for asia! Magazine.

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