Truth be told, Will Bailey never had loved his job in the West Wing. He enjoyed it; he always enjoyed a challenge. Love wasn’t a word he would use, though, because he thought of love in terms of passion, and he was not passionate about what he did. He was just good at it, he was one of the best.
He’d gotten a dead man elected, hadn’t he?
Will didn’t have passions. He was good at what he did; he always had been. When he was twelve he could parse Latin phrases and conjugate French verbs. When he was seven he could build the boxed rocket sets without using the instructions. If he asked his mother, he was sure he had also weaned faster and talked sooner than any other baby, and it wouldn’t be maternal hyperbole.
Passions, though, escaped him. Not that he wanted them. He liked pushing hard enough to get something done, and then he would take a vacation. France for the big wins, Atlantic City for the smaller ones. Or maybe the Poconos.
The West Wing had presented challenges, so Will Bailey thrived there. He particularly enjoyed his vacations back then.
Working for Bob Russell had proved no less challenging. It wasn’t the same sort of challenge. Will had to make Russell. There never had been a need to make Josiah Bartlet. Bartlet came with everything, and if there had once been a warranty and cellophane wrapping, it wouldn’t have surprised Will at all. Russell was cheap plywood and you had to keep track of all those tiny screws. A challenge because how does one make something like that shine?
Will Bailey liked challenges, and that made the job with Russell worth it. There was nothing passionate about Bob Russell, there was even less that was passionate about Will Bailey, and so it worked. Victories came often, and Will really did like the south of France.
The campaign, though.
The day Horton Wilde had come to Will and asked him to run that campaign, Will was still a little starry-eyed. Toby Ziegler would have laughed that Will Bailey out of his office, note from Sam Seaborn or not. The cost of a campaign no one thought they would win was Will’s idealism. Sam’s note had said that Will was “one of them,” but he hadn’t been in the West Wing very long before he knew Sam had been imagining things.
Will Bailey was someone outside of that tight, driven circle. He would listen to Toby sometimes and wonder how a man his age, who had seen what he’d seen, could really be idealistic. Passionate. Those were qualities to outgrow, not acquire.
The campaign to elect Bob Russell seemed a no-brainer. Will should have known; in the beginning, there was no challenge. No spark. He wasn’t upset that Russell was pragmatic and realistic and even a little non-chalant about getting the nomination. Everyone knew John Hoynes would misstep somewhere, and really, there wasn’t any other competition! Will Bailey had gotten a dead man elected. The popular wisdom inside the beltway was that he could get anyone elected!
When Donna joined them, Will began to know.
Bartlet had been what College Democrats think of as “the real thing.” There was a story in the West Wing about how Sam Seaborn had joined the campaign, how Josh Lyman had just shown up at Gage Whitney and the look on his face was enough for Sam to know that Bartlet was it, the thing that they had imagined when they were licking envelopes for state House candidates. The real thing.
Donna had been there, and her story was that she’d arrived in Nashua with all the insane hope that only a college dropout who ran away to help on a campaign could possess. Will didn’t know that Donna, but he’d heard about her. He imagined she and Elsie would get along very well. The Donna he worked with, however, was pragmatic, and she was passionless. She got the job done and she was the best at what she did.
He spent maybe a week thinking that she had outgrown the storied youthfulness (he hesitated to think it was naïveté), and it probably wasn’t even that long. And then he was asking her out to dinner and finding out for sure that Donna Moss really just saw this as a way to stay in the game and find her niche. She expected that they would win, because she bought in to the beltway mythos, and because who wouldn’t expect that the vice president from the most popular Democratic presidency since Kennedy would win the next term?
Will knew it was off. This must have been what it was like to follow greatness, then. It was being mediocre and not really trying to fix that, because you know you’ll never be as great anyway. You just maintain the status quo.
Will Bailey had never been status quo.
So now he stood in an empty convention hall, his tie undone and his glasses smudged, feeling a headache creep up the back of his neck. This is what came of hubris, Toby might have said to him. Will had never believed in hubris. He believed in victories and in vacations. There were no grand emotions and the human condition that championed them, that prized passion over accomplishment, was utterly foreign to him.
Or so he thought, until that moment only hours ago when he knew the truth of defeat.
There was a Santos for President sticker stuck to the bottom of his shoe.
“Pride goeth before a fall,” he murmured.
He left the hall and didn't look back.