|Words and the Men
Author: Selena PM
A speechwriter and his politician, and things that happen over time. Four glimpses at Toby Ziegler and Jed Bartlet.Rated: Fiction T - English - Angst/Friendship - Toby Z. & Jed B. - Words: 1,705 - Reviews: 2 - Favs: 6 - Published: 12-08-08 - Status: Complete - id: 4703646
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: Characters and situations owned by Aaron Sorkin and John Wells.
Spoilers: All seven seasons.
Thanks and blame to: Skywaterblue, for beta-reading and encouraging, and Kangeiko, for insisting as well.
Words and the Men
In all his years as a political operative, Toby Ziegler has never participated in a successful campaign. He doesn't count the campaigns which were successful but from which he was fired long before that final goal was reached. When the Governor of New Hampshire can't remember his name during campaign staff meetings, Toby takes some perverse satisfaction out of that. It's a sign he'll soon get fired, which means the campaign will succeed, and he really wants it to. Not because he likes the Governor that much, but because he can see the man's potential.
He doesn't get fired. As the weeks go by, he finds out that the failure to remember his name wasn't personal. Some quirk in Jed Bartlet's mind allows him to remember Roman recipes for fish soup, in Latin, but not the names of the people around him, not for a good while. He does it to everyone; Toby hadn't been an exception, put the rule. Realizing this, Toby feels insulted, so much that he considers quitting.
Then he has his first real argument with the Governor, about the Governor improvising a Thomas Paine quote in the middle of Toby's carefully drafted speech where it has no place. "You can't do that," Toby says. "It destroys the rhythm, the entire cadence. It's barbaric, and you know it."
The Governor is a small man, and when not holding speeches, he's usually soft spoken. But for the first time, his entire attention is focused on Toby, and while he still doesn't raise his voice, there is nothing of that gentle, absent-minded professor attitude he often affects in private here.
"Do I detect a sense of professional jealousy?" Bartlet replies, removing his glasses, sounding sardonic.
"No, a sense of offended aesthetics," Toby says, but the Governor isn't entirely wrong. He would have given his right arm to have written some of Paine's phrases, and can quote most of the first Crisis pamphlet by heart. So, evidently, can Jed Bartlet. "You threw my speech off balance because you couldn't resist showing off," Toby continues.
An hour later, they're still arguing, though the argument has shifted to whether or not Thomas Paine had been right to accuse George Washington of abandoning him, of abandoning his principles. The rest of the staff has returned to talking about polls and campaign strategies, but Toby doesn't notice.
He has also forgotten that he wanted to quit.
All the speeches ever held by the President during eight years in the White House are indexed and filed somewhere, both in electronic and printed form, with the names of the main speechwriters on them, which isn't how they arrive at Jed's desk, and definitely not how they show up on the teleprompter. Will Baily, during his first days in the White House, says something about the relationship between writer and orator, how it takes a while for the writer to get a sense of the person he's writing for, to get a grasp on the voice. Jed thinks the reverse is true as well, though more difficult. He's reasonably good at recognizing authors just by a few sentences if he's familiar with their style, and sometimes he distracts himself by trying to figure out who contributed what to the manuscripts he's given; which paragraphs are pure Toby, which are Sam, which are Will, which gags are the contributions of some other member of the writing staff. It's a truly challenging puzzle, not least because any given speech is supposed to have a cohesive style, not to be read as a collection of fragments, and that style is the one people hear when they're listening to his own voice.
Back in his days as a congressman, he started out by writing his own speeches, and quite aside from content, he thinks they sounded different from the lectures he delivered as a professor because these were two voices, two Jed Bartlets. They needed to be. The idea of professional speechwriters managing to form something that professes unity intrigues and disquiets him, especially when Toby does it, because Toby knows better, and that, too, is disturbing at times. Toby isn't Leo, or Abbey; they haven't known each other for decades. Toby isn't Danny Concannon, either, who for his biography of Abbey that got written during the campaign was granted hours of interviews about the early days, complete with family photo albums. And yet Toby is the one who keeps coming up with statements about Jed that are either too insightful or manage to miss the mark just a tiny but significant bit. These statements are all delivered with the same mixture of flair and precision that marks Toby's speeches, and there you have the presumption summed up, that claim to his mind as well as his voice, as if either could now only exist as expressed in Toby Ziegler's penmanship.
When CJ tells him Toby is the leak, he doesn't lie when he says he's not surprised. In fact, he doesn't doubt it for a second. He has learned to identify Toby as an author.
The Indian chess set isn't the first gift Toby receives from the President, though it is probably the one he uses most often. The rest are mostly books, a fate he shares with the rest of the senior staff, though in his case it's not a little satisfying to know the President can never be sure he hasn't already read them, even something as ecletic as Spinoza's Tractatus de intellectus emendatione.
The last gift is the pardon. He would never have asked for it, and he is not grateful for it. Instead, he finds it infinitely infuriating, and not just because he found out about it through a news reporter who has managed to get hold of his cell number and asks him about his reaction. Toby hangs up, but it's not too long before a copy of the document itself is delivered. Barren, clumsy phrases, from someone in the Attorney General's office who manages to excel in legal lifelessness, and then that signature, Josiah E. Bartlet, which Leo's secretary Margaret once said was easy to fake. Something interchangeable.
He had no right to make something like that the last word, Toby thinks, and wishes for a shredder. Alternatively, a lighter would do, except that instead of burning the damned thing he keeps staring at it and starts to wonder about a redraft.
The White House staff does most of the packing. A lot of the books and papers will eventually end up in the soon to be build Presidential library. He might not be able to revisit them for much longer anyway, if last year's episodes repeat themselves. At least something like the inability to see a flag won't endanger diplomatic relations again, but Jed hates the idea of being unable to read anymore as much as he hated the paralysis of his hands and legs. Audiobooks are all very well, but not only are they usually some patronizing reader's digests edition of the real thing, but whoever reads them presumes to dictate the pace at which the book in question should be experienced. It's almost as much a loss of a control he has taken for granted as being carried like a child by the redoubtable Curtis had been.
There are two documents which won't be among the official papers, and he hasn't let anyone else file or pack it anywhere, either, because only two people have ever seen it. He keeps them in his edition of Alfred Marshall's Principles of Economics, which he can be reasonably be sure Abbey will never look into, or any of the girls. And a good thing, too, because reading one of them would upset them too much.
The first document is the one speech written for him which was he wasn't supposed to know about. The speech in the case of Zoey's death, which he made Toby give him that night, just before they found her, because if your own words, ordering murder for the greater good, have condemned your child to suffer for your sins you really need to know there is a reason not to remain silent for the rest of your life. When Zoey was rescued, that speech was redrafted, and that was the version everyone knew, but he has kept the original.
The other document might yet end up in the Library, he's not sure. His initial fury has burned itself out, but he knows himself too well not to assume there isn't something still left lingering beneath the ashes and the regret. Besides, the words feel too personal, but then, that was always the problem. In any case, he has put it together with the speech. It's a note he received from Toby after apologizing to his staff for the lawyers, the press, the mess, the fear that had followed the weeks after they had made his MS public. Hand written, nothing but a quote he recognized at once, Thomas Paine's first Crisis manifesto:
These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.
He wanted to leave it behind in Washington, he truly did, but he is not able to let go of that note.