Post hoc ergo propter hoc.
When President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet inquires whether anyone in an Oval Office meeting knows the translation of this Latin bromide, Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman understands “post” (after) and “ergo” (therefore).[i] Chief of Staff Leo McGarry—former Secretary of Labor and an old friend of Josh’s father, Noah Lyman[ii], a litigator[iii] and partner at the powerhouse law firm Debevoise & Plimpton[iv]—reveals the complete translation: “After it, therefore, because of it.”[v] B happens after A, so B must have been caused by A. It’s one of many examples underscoring the fictional president’s worldliness on The West Wing, which aired on NBC from 1999-2006, won 26 Emmys, and made political topics from census[vi] to censure[vii] palatable for prime time.
Using biographical details, it’s apparent that Josh, a Mets fan, began his political career in the mid-1980s as the Mets emerged with swagger. So, it is quite possible that the “post hoc ergo proper hoc” syllogism applies. His body language as he walks through the White House corridors—head high and shoulders squared—conveys authority, confidence, and a take-on-all-comers attitude that Lenny Dykstra would admire.
A Fulbright Scholar[viii] and a graduate of Harvard and Yale,[ix] Josh is 38 years old when the series begins in 1999.[x] Though his “IQ doesn’t break the bank,” he invested sweat equity to build a political career[xi] and is noted for possessing a “world-class political mind”[xii] and being “the finest political mind in the party” aside from Leo.[xiii] His perspective is a “wide angle lens” for the president to factor the effects of a political decision. “It’s not unusual for me to meet with the President in the Oval Office five or ten times a day.”[xiv]
During an argument about political strategy with Bartlet re-election consultant Bruno Gianelli, Josh says, “I got two years as legislative director in the House, two years as Floor Director in the Senate, and thirty months as Deputy Chief of Staff. What do you got?”[xv] It’s also mentioned in a first-season episode that Josh was a Chief of Staff for a congressman and Floor Manager to the House Minority Whip.[xvi]
Josh’s passion for the Mets is evident in at least three episodes. He books a Spring Training trip because he hopes for a potential head nod and one-word acknowledgment—“Dude”—but his plans are dashed by a filibuster held by an elderly senator holding a filibuster to prevent a bill from being voted upon without expanded funding for autism.[xvii] His pleasure at being home with his girlfriend—women’s advocate Amy Gardner—enhances with a nationally-televised Mets game.[xviii] When the Mets lose, it can take him longer to focus on political matters the next day.[xix]
This blog entry is part of my essay “A Tale of Two Fans: Josh Lyman, Toby Ziegler, and The West Wing” appearing in The New York Mets in Popular Culture (McFarland and Company, 2020).
[i] “Oval Office Meeting,” Schlamme, Thomas, dir. The West Wing, Season 1, episode 2, “Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc.” Aired September 29, 1999 on NBC.
[ii] “Josh and Leo,” Schlamme, Thomas, dir. The West Wing. Season 2, episode 1, “In the Shadow of Two Gunmen, Part I.” Aired October 4, 2000 on NBC.
[iii] “Josh and Governor Bartlet at airport,” Schlamme, Thomas, dir. The West Wing. Season 2, episode 2, “In the Shadow of Two Gunmen, Part II.” Aired October 4, 2000 on NBC.
[iv] “Joe Quincy is a Republican,” Misiano, Christopher, dir. The West Wing. Season 4, episode 20, “Evidence of Things Not Seen.” Aired April 23, 2003 on NBC.
[v] “Oval Office Meeting,” The West Wing, “Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc.”
[vi] Misiano, Christopher, dir. The West Wing. Season 1, episode 6, “Mr. Willis of Ohio.” Aired November 3, 1999 on NBC.
[vii] Misiano, Vincent, dir. The West Wing. Season 3, episode 1, “H. Con-172.” Aired January 9, 2002 on NBC.
[viii] “Josh and Mandy,” Schlamme, Thomas, dir. The West Wing. Season 1, episode 1, “Pilot.” Aired September 22, 1999 on NBC; “Josh and Mrs. Landingham,” The West Wing. “Mr. Willis of Ohio.”
[ix] “Josh and Danny,” Misiano, Christopher, dir. The West Wing. Season 1, episode 15, “Celestial Navigation.” Aired February 16, 2000 on NBC.
[x] Josh Lyman, “Josh Lyman,” The West Wing wiki, accessed December 7, 2019, https://westwing.fandom.com/wiki/Josh_Lyman. The pilot script posted on The Daily Script web site describes, “A youthful 38, Josh is Deputy Chief of Staff and a highly regarded brain. The Daily Script, accessed December 7, 2019, http://www.dailyscript.com/scripts/West_Wing_Pilot.pdf.
[xi] “Josh gets personal with Amy,” The West Wing, “H. Con-172.”
[xii] “Sam and Mallory,” Misiano, Christopher, dir. The West Wing. Season 4, episode 2, “20 Hours in America: Part II.” Aired September 25, 2002 on NBC.
[xiii] “Will praises Josh,” Misiano, Christopher, dir. The West Wing. Season 6, episode 11, “Opposition Research.” Aired January 12, 2005 on NBC.
[xiv] “Josh explains job to therapist,” Schlamme, Thomas, dir. The West Wing. Season 2, episode 10, “Nöel.” Aired December 20, 2000 on NBC.
[xv] “Josh and Bruno,” Schlamme, Thomas, dir. The West Wing. Season 3, episode 1, “Manchester: Part II.” Aired October 17, 2001 on NBC.
[xvi] “Introduction for Josh Lyman,” The West Wing, “Celestial Navigation.”
[xvii] Gordon, Bryan, dir. The West Wing. Season 2, episode 17, “The Stackhouse Filibuster.” Aired March 14, 2002 on NBC.
[xviii] “Josh and Amy at home,” Schlamme, Thomas, dir. The West Wing. Season 3, episode 21, “We Killed Yamamoto.” Aired May 15, 2002 on NBC.
[xix] “Amy talks about Josh,” Misiano, Vincent, dir. The West Wing. Season 4, episode 4, “The Red Mass.” Aired October 9, 2002 on NBC.