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"The Stormy Present" is episode 98 of The West Wing.


When former President Owen Lassiter dies, two other ex-Presidents (former President D. Wire Newman and former Acting President Glen Allen Walken) fly on Air Force One with President Josiah Bartlet to attend the funeral. Onboard, Bartlet's two historic guests partake in a lively debate about their administrations. Lassiter's and Newman's past mistakes haunt the current administration when massive pro-democracy protests are held across Saudi Arabiamarker and the protesters surround a compound containing 50 Americans, leaving Bartlet to decide whether to support the Saudi regime or to risk the fragile status quo by supporting the protesters' efforts. Meanwhile, C.J. Cregg investigates claims that DARPA is conducting experiments on mind control. Leo discovers his ex-wife is engaged to be married. And Josh referees a debate between representatives of Connecticutmarker and North Carolinamarker, concerning an original copy of the Bill of Rights allegedly stolen by Connecticut at the end of the civil war.

Much of the episode centers on this quote of Abraham Lincoln, from which the title is taken: "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present."

Former Presidents

Owen Lassiter

A Republican from California, Lassiter served two terms in the White Housemarker.

Early in the episode, Lassiter dies of post-operative complications from a hip replacement, a procedure which worsened his existing infirmity. While his frail hands are observed at the start of the episode writing a letter to President Josiah Bartlet, the camera never focuses in on the actor's face. Indeed, the only image of the former president is an artist's rendering of the man displayed on decorative banners outside his presidential library in Costa Mesamarker, southern California.

White House Communications Director Toby Ziegler, unhappily saddled with writing a Lassiter eulogy for Bartlet, privately derides those left from Lassiter's former administration as the "GOP Geriatric Brigade," lamenting: "These great and terrible old men... spent the better part of the late 20th century trying to play God in other countries. And the regimes they anointed are the ones that haunt us today".

Libby Lassiter, the former president's widow, tells Bartlet that her husband spent his last years making pilgrimages to battlefields all over the world, wherever Americans spilled blood. Almost obsessively, Lassiter collected soil from those sites, which he in turn placed in glass jars and displayed on the shelves of an Oval Office replica at his presidential library. Lassiter had made the museum his home and a hospital bed was eventually moved into the complex.

In his final months, Lassiter placed rambling telephone calls to Bartlet. When Bartlet stopped taking the calls, Lassiter turned to paper and pen. In what is presumably one of his final acts, Lassiter writes a letter to Bartlet entitled: The Need for an American Empire.

Lassiter planned a low-key funeral before his death, opting for a modest service at his presidential library rather than a pomp-and-circumstance event at Washington National Cathedralmarker in Washington, D.C.marker. Although he has a state funeral, Lassiter does not lie in state. His funeral is attended by President Bartlet, former President D. Wire Newman (see below) and former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Glen Allen Walken, in addition to his former cabinet officers and aides.

Walken, who apparently regarded Lassiter as something of a mentor or personal hero, reminisces during the episode about how he and Lassiter were forced to improvise when they couldn't find a bathroom while on a trip to the People's Republic of Chinamarker. It is not clear whether Lassiter was president at the time.

The scenes at the Lassiter Presidential Library and Museum were filmed at the Huntington Librarymarker, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, Californiamarker.

D. Wire Newman

Newman is the last Democrat to have occupied the White Housemarker before President Bartlet.

Exactly where Newman fits into the show's timeline is uncertain. Evidence says he must have served his four years sometime after 1972, when Richard Nixon was President in the West Wing time-line, and prior to 1991, since the Bartlet Administration (1999 to 2007) in the West Wing time-line immediately followed the presidency of a two-term Republican (1991 to 1999).

One of the focuses of the Newman Administration was America's interests in the Middle East, with Newman explaining to Bartlet that in his day they had to prop up the Saudi government and sell them arms to ensure the flow of oil. Newman appears to have been a fairly liberal president, criticizing former Acting President Walken for his hawkishness when dealing with Qumar, his support of school vouchers and school prayer and his devotion to capitalism. When debating President Bartlet's potential response to the Saudi crisis, Newman is regretful of his own administration's policies in the region and strongly encourages Bartlet to quietly support regime change in Saudi Arabia, in contrast to Toby Ziegler (who is wary of any change) and Walken (who supports military intervention).

As is the prerogative of former Presidents, Newman — somewhat to Bartlet's chagrin — opts to receive daily national intelligence briefings, similar to the President's Daily Brief.

Glen Allen Walken

The former Acting President of the United States. See Glen Allen Walken.


  • This is one of only four episodes (the others being the Pilot episode, Take This Sabbath Day, and Access) which do not feature a "Previously on The West Wing" segment.

  • Although he appeared in four episodes during the Fourth and Fifth Seasons of the show, this is the only episode in which John Goodman appears credited. It is also his last appearance, although the character Glen Allen Walken is mentioned occasionally during the campaign episodes of Season Six.

  • The excerpt that President Bartlet reads aloud from President Lassiter's letter is taken almost word for word from the closing remarks of Dr. Jacob Bronowski in the Knowledge or Certainty episode of his 1970s television series The Ascent of Man.



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