In C.J Cregg’s defense, it seemed like a good idea at the time --
(“No. No, it didn’t. Not in any sense at any time did this seem like a good idea,” Toby Ziegler would be later heard to insist. But then, he was a grumpy contrarian bastard at the best of times, and he said that about almost anything.)
-- and there were plenty of advantages to a brief stop-off at a community college during their tour of Colorado. A quick tour, a shake of hands with the school board and the president of the student council, a few brief comments to the press about the President’s education initiatives and how everyone deserved the benefits of a top-quality higher education, booyah, instant good publicity and ‘man of the people’ points for the next news cycle.
One thing became apparent during the vetting process, however; by any standards or criteria that could be used to select an appropriate institution, out of all the institutions in Colorado that could be chosen, Greendale Community College was not one of them. Bottom of every chart you could mention. Overall GPA down the tubes. Lowest job-placement figures in the county. Endemic stories about students running wild, crazy stuff about blanket forts and pillow fights and paintball fights. It was said that a crazy security guard had turned it into his personal fiefdom at one point.
Almost everything about Greendale screamed “forget all hope, ye who enter here!”
So naturally, that was the one the President wanted to visit.
“Sir, I really don’t think...”
“Isn’t the point of this little visit, Claudia Jean, to show these students that I’m behind them?”
“Yes, sir, but --”
“That this administration is determined to help even those in the most unfortunate circumstances achieve their full potential?”
“Yes, sir, but --”
“And wouldn’t this prove to be a perfect morale boost to those who truly needed it?”
“Yes, sir, but --”
“Perfect. It’s settled, then. What’s next?”
(Everyone swore it was purely out of morbid curiosity that the President chose Greendale. I mean after all, how bad could it be?)
When they arrived, the Dean of the school was dressed as the Statue of Liberty.
The Dean was a guy.
Maybe the student council were better, C.J thought optimistically.
The student council were not better.
“Mr. President, has Air Force One ever been boarded by terrorists?” Abed Nadir asked earnestly.
“As in the movie Air Force One, Mr. President.” Troy Barnes clarified.
“And, most importantly, were you instrumental in defeating them via a process of systematic ass-kicking?”
“Again, as in the movie Air Force One, sir. Not to put any pressure on you, sir, but at least two votes depend upon your answer.”
“Mr. President, I’m a very wealthy man, I donated to your campaign and that of your opponent, and I was promised pie.”
“Mr. President, as an anarchist and a psych major...” Britta Perry began.
“Mr. President, sir, it’s so nice to meet you!” Shirley Bennett gushed eagerly. C.J Cregg felt a faint glimmer of hope stir in her chest. “I would have baked you brownies, sir, but I only learned you were going to be here a little while ago.”
“And also,” she added pleasantly, “because you’re a godless Papist, but I’m sure you can’t help that.”
“And this, Mr. President, is Annie Edison,” said the Dean, with just the slightest hint of telepathically willing her not to humiliate herself.
“Hello, Annie,” the President said warmly, “it’s nice to meet you.”
Annie looked at him with big, round, terrified eyes. She opened her mouth, but the only sounds that emerged were a few high-pitched ‘eeps’ before she turned and fled down the corridor.
Jeff Winger sighed. “She says ‘hello’, Mr. President. And I was going to apologize for my friends, sir, but at this point I think I’ll just go ahead and apologize for the human race, if that’s okay.”
“I’m not saying ‘I told you so’,” Toby Ziegler said.
“Thank you, Toby,” C.J sighed.
“This is me, explicitly not saying ‘I told you so’.”
“Well, I appreciate that, Toby.”
“Because if I was, I’d be saying that this is all your idea and I was vehemently opposed to it.”
“Yes, you would, Toby.”
“But I’m not. I’m actively restraining myself from saying ‘I told you so’.”
“And yet, it somehow bleeds through anyway.”
“I’m gonna wait until we get back to Washington. Then I’m gonna say I told you so.”
“I’m looking forward to it already.”
In defense of the student council, who had only become the student council that day, it might be worth rewinding things to a point earlier that day:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created Dean-qual! Now, you folks might be wondering why I’m dressed like this...”
“Is it because you have pointless news that for some reason you think we’re all interested in, or that you’re desperate for attention and looking for an excuse to touch my chest again?”
“Close enough, Jeffrey. Actually, I’m just stopping by to announce that thanks to Greendale’s unique status among the community colleges in this era, we have been selected for the honor of hosting a visit from none other than President Bartlet as part of his tour of Colorado!”
“Oh, that’s nice!”
“The President’s coming here? Didn’t we already do this plot? Will we need to elect another student council? I’m just concerned that we’re retreading old ground.”
“I don’t understand a word you’re saying, Abed, but latching on to the one thing I did understand, we actually will need a student council as part of the welcoming committee, but after the hoo-haa last time I thought I’d make the process less of a democracy and more of a Dean-ocracy; as such, I’ve nominated seven people totally at random to act as the school’s official representatives.”
“I wonder where this is going.”
“And guess what -- it ended up being you guys!”
“What a surprise. Pass.”
“Jeff! This is an honor.”
“Annie, I’m not gonna have that argument with you again --”
“Character development. Cool. Coolcoolcool.”
“Shut up Abed. Like I say, Annie, not gonna retread old ground, but if there is one role in which I do not want to be seen by the President of the United States of all people, it is as representative to this place.”
“Okay, I’m in the room, Jeffrey.”
“Will there be pie?”
“No pie, Pierce, but you will get to act as the school’s official representatives in front of the leader of the free world.”
“...But no pie.”
“I don’t normally agree with Jeff, Dean, but I’m afraid I have to pass as well. As a psych major and an anarchist...”
“How is the fact that you’re a psych major possibly relevant here?”
“... I’m afraid I have to decline. President Bartlet is the leader of a corrupt, decaying hegemonic social order that represents everything I detest.”
“Plus, you all get a free credit and 75% off all fire-damaged merchandise in the campus book store!”
“... Fine. When’s he coming?”
“In about five minutes; I’ve kinda left this to the last minute, but in my defense, this costume was not as easy to make as you might think.”
And as the motorcade pulled up:
“Oh God! Oh God! Oh God! Oh God! Oh God!”
“Don’t care what anyone says, I don’t have anything to offer the President, that’s just rude. Don’t care if he is in the wrong religion.”
“Isn’t he Christian as well?”
“That depends; are you looking to get your ass kicked, Britta?”
“So if the Vice-President becomes the President, who becomes the Vice-President? Does everyone just move up a step? I just wrinkled my own brain here, Jeff.”
“I don’t see any pie, here.”
“Guys, calm down! Annie in particular, take a pill and visualize a blue sky or something. Okay, so we’re meeting the President of the United States in less than thirty seconds and we’ve had no preparation whatsoever. But here’s the thing; all we have to do is smile and shake his hand. Ask yourselves; how can we mess this up?”
“Via a classic conga of humiliation.”
“Shut up, Leonard! I know about your stint in rehab. Who gets addicted to Pop Tarts?”
It was Charlie Young who found Annie, huddled under a study booth in the library.
“First time I met the President,” he said conversationally, crouching down so that she could see him, “I was almost certain I was gonna go the bathroom right there and then. In the middle of the Oval Office, right before the President announced he was gonna bomb Syria. And then he yelled at me. So yeah, not my finest hour. Didn’t exactly make a good first impression.”
“I’m an idiot,” Annie sniffled miserably, dabbing at her eyes. “I just humiliated myself in front of the President of the United States.”
“No, you didn’t,” Charlie said gently.
Annie scoffed and glared at him.
“Okay... yeah, you kinda did. But you know what happened my second meeting with the President?”
Annie shook her head.
“He asked me to be his personal aide. I just went there to get a job as a messenger, and suddenly I’m working right next to the President. Best damn job I ever had.”
“I don’t think the President’s gonna be offering me a job.”
“Well, damn straight you’re not getting mine. Point is, though, that the first impression doesn’t mean jack if you get the chance to make a second one.” Charlie held out his hand. “Wanna make a second impression?”
“Besides,” Charlie added as they walked out the library, “least you didn’t ask him for pie.”
“You should have seen how fast I ran when I met Mrs. Thatcher,” the President smiled. “She is a very scary woman. And surprisingly fast, as well.”
Annie Edison smiled a watery smile.
“Ms. Edison, I hope you don’t mind, but your friends have been telling me a little something about you while you were away, and I just wanted to say that you’re a very bright young woman with a lot of potential. And it’s so that bright young people like you and your friends here have the chance to make the most of themselves that we’re doing this. I know you'll make me and all of us proud, Ms. Edison.”
Annie felt Jeff’s hand on her back and Britta and Shirley by her side, looked up at Abed and Troy’s thumbs up as they shared a slice of pie with Pierce. There may have been a few tears welling up as a result. "Thank you, sir."
President Bartlet was decent enough to allow the Dean to distract him with a poster on the wall of a cat hanging from a wire with the words “HANG IN THERE” underneath, and C.J Cregg and Toby Ziegler watched Annie Edison’s friends swarm around her and privately decided that maybe this visit wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
It would be nice to say that the story ended there, with those kind, inspirational words from a kind, inspirational man to an intelligent young woman. That the rest of the President’s visit to Greendale was peaceful and uneventful, that everyone otherwise behaved themselves and moved on from that experience better, wiser and humbler people.
But unfortunately, no one informed C.J Cregg when she was vetting the school about Greendale’s rivalry with City College. And it’s tendency to get... messy.
Much to everyone’s surprise, however, it turned out as a a result that Josiah Bartlet, descendant of one of the Founding Fathers, Nobel Laureate in Economics and President of the United States of America, kicked ass at paintball. Which earned him at least two votes that day.
“I did not know that they made paintball machine guns,” President Josiah Bartlet remarked as he admired his gift from the school later that night, as Air Force One flew through the dark skies of Colorado that night, far from Greendale. “Did you know that, C.J?”
“No sir, I did not.”
“Well, looks like we learnt something at Greendale after all. Guess those terrorists better not mess with me or Air Force One after all.”
“I guess they hadn’t, sir.”
"Damn straight; I'm capable of kicking ass." The President laid the red-and-black tiger stripe paintball machine gun on his desk and smiled at her. “Well, that was fun. We should do that more often.”
C.J Cregg looked at the orange, yellow and purple splatters on her suit jacket, glowered at the President’s departing back, and mentally reconsidered whether assassination was really that bad an idea.