• Joe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #300: Josh Lyman


Bring him the finest muffins and bagels in all the land.

Man, what I wouldn't give to be Jed Bartlet. The intellect, the gravitas, the sheer untrammeled competence. Or Leo McGarry with his avuncular wit and tough resilience, or Toby Ziegler with his integrity and command of language. But when all is said and done, the West Wing character that sings the song of my soul back to me is probably Josh Lyman. He straddles too-familiar divides between brilliance and lunacy, between passionate idealism and calculating pragmatism, between human warmth and emotional frigidity, between high achievement and latent self-destruction.


As the chief political architect of the Bartlet election and shepherd of the Bartlet legislative agenda, Josh is a first-class mind wrapped in the frustratingly juvenile social intelligence of a debate-team sophomore. He's smarter than you, and he knows it, and you probably know it, and it makes him insufferable and less charming than he imagines. He long ago harnessed that intellect to a progressive political agenda, but never managed to translate that liberal philosophy from the global to the personal, almost completely lacking even a shred of patience with those he perceives as lagging allies or (heaven forfend) adversaries. Like his boss and mentor Leo he is a fighter, a snarling champion for his cause and his President.


The things I love most about Josh are his loyalty, his ferocity, his passion. His willingness to follow his instincts and take the leap of faith. He makes mistakes, but they barely slow him down in his reckless pursuit of legislative and political victory. Sure, he can be smug and condescending and arrogant, the cardinal sins of so many true-believer liberals. But he's also right more often than not, something he'll never hesitate to remind you.

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