One of the best episodes of "20 Hours in America," Part 2. It elegantly and powerfully collects a series of story threads (without necessarily concluding them), so for the best impact you should watch several episodes before it. Among other things, President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) gives one of his better speeches (which is saying a lot, since they're all very, very good), written by Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe). Naturally, the speech is actually written by the brilliant Aaron Sorkin.
In the hours before the speech, pipe bombs have exploded at a university swim meet, killing 44 people. The show reveals the entire staff's reaction, elevating the importance and seriousness of the attack. As Tori Amos' "I Don't Like Mondays" gently begins to play, the episode wanders up to President Bartlet's speech. We're revealed a large ballroom filled with guests at tables, and the audio picks up in mid sentence:
…securing peace in a time of global conflict, sustaining hope in this winter of anxiety and fear. More than any time in recent history America's destiny is not of our own choosing. We did not seek, nor did we provoke, an assault on our freedoms and our way of life. 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.
Forty-four people were killed a couple of hours ago at Kennison State University. Three swimmers from the men's team were killed and two others are in critical condition, when, after having heard the explosion from their practice facility, they ran into the fire to help get people out. Ran into the fire.
The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight. They're our students, and our teachers, and our parents, and our friends. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we've measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we're reminded that that capacity may well be limitless.
This is a time for American heroes. We will do what is hard. We will achieve what is great. This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars. God bless their memory, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. Thank you.
Of course, the speech carries much more impact when listened to, so I've ripped the audio for your listening pleasure. I also included a little bit of humor at the end, when their campaign consultant leans over to Sam Seaborn and takes a stab at his extraordinary writing ability ("When did you write that last part?" "In the car." [pause] "Freak."). It's too bad Robe Lowe is a staunch Republican; I want to believe in Sam Seaborn (it shows his acting ability, though!).
Would that we had a President with the integrity and strength of character of President Bartlet. Would that our president had at least a command of the English language, and would that our White House had a speech writer of Aaron Sorkin's caliber. Sigh