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The Best Quotes From 'The West Wing'

Who’s your favorite President? For many fans of the hit political drama The West Wing, there is only one answer: Jed Bartlet. The sage and charming President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet (played by Martin Sheen), and the memorable cast of characters that made up his administration, embodied an idealized (some would say fantastical) version of U.S. politics across the show’s seven seasons from 1999 to 2006.

Created by prolific screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, The West Wing tackled nearly every issue imaginable, both foreign and domestic. The series explored the messiness of presidential campaigns, the behind-closed-doors drama of world-changing decisions, and the inner workings of the political machine in Washington, D.C. — episodes often crescendoing with a rousing presidential speech or two. And although Bartlet and his staff — the clever Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), lovable C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney), sweet-natured Donna Moss (Janel Moloney), idealistic Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff), bright-eyed Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe), and their trusty boss, Leo McGarry (John Spencer) — were tried-and-true Democrats, they managed to prove the old adage that there is more that unites us than divides us.

For years, The West Wing was a salve for a country experiencing the chaos of the September 11 attacks and its tumultuous political aftermath. Now, more than 15 years after the series finale in May 2006, the U.S. faces many of the same challenges tackled across the show’s 156 episodes, so it’s no wonder that these 13 West Wing quotes still hold wisdom for us today.

Every time we think we’ve measured our capacity to reach a challenge, we look up and we’re reminded that capacity may well be limitless.
— Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen)

I'm not going anywhere, I'm standing up, which is how one speaks in opposition in a civilized world.
— Ainsley Hayes (Emily Procter)

I’m the President of the United States, not the president of the people who agree with me.
— Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen)

The world can move or not by changing some words.
— Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff)

When the fall is all that’s left, it matters a great deal.
— Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen) quoting the 1968 film The Lion in Winter

The history of man is hung on a timeline of exploration, and this is what’s next.
— Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe)

No, “however.” Just be wrong. Just stand there in your wrongness and be wrong and get used to it.
— Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen)

Some [schoolchildren] don't… raise their hand 'cause they think they're going to be wrong. I think you should say to these kids, “You think you get it wrong sometimes, you should come see how the big boys do it.”
— C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney)

We did not expect nor did we invite a confrontation with evil. Yet the true measure of a people’s strength is how they rise to master that moment when it does arrive.
— Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen)

I realize that as an adult not everyone shares my view of the world, and with an issue as hot as gun control I’m prepared to accept a lot of different points of view as being perfectly valid… but we can all get together on the grenade launcher, right?
— Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford)

“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” they said. “That all men are created equal.” Strange as it may seem, that was the first time in history that anyone had ever bothered to write that down. Decisions are made by those who show up.
— Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen)

Bad people can’t be recognized on sight. There’s no point in trying.
— Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff)

If fidelity to freedom and democracy is the code of our civic religion, then surely the code of our humanity is faithful service to that unwritten commandment that says we shall give our children better than we ourselves received.
— Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen)

Photo credit: Vai Da/ Unsplash

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About the Author
Darren Orf
Darren lives in Portland, Oregon, has two cats, and writes about science, technology, nature, and history.
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