A Proportional Response

A Proportional Response

"A Proportional Response" is the 3rd episode of The West Wing.


An angry President Bartlet seeks vengeance after Syrian operatives blew up a jet which happened to carry his personal physician and dozens of American passengers. The Pentagon comes up with what they call a "proportional response" to the attack, which involves airstrikes on three low-level targets in Syria as well as one against the Syrian intelligence agency headquarters. President Bartlet wants an attack on a much more prominent target: the international airport in Damascus. The subtext of the story involves the President's unease around the Joint Chiefs of Staff because he never served in the military and worries about their respect; Leo McGarry talks to Admiral Fitzwallace who tells him the President is doing fine. A member of the Joint Chiefs informs the president that the response is disproportionate, saying, "it's like ordering decapitation for something that deserves a fifty-buck fine." Leo confronts the President about the disproportionate response and says that he will stand up against him if he seeks to conquer the world "like Charlemagne". President Bartlet confesses he has personalized the terrorist attack because his physician, a good man with a newborn son, was among the victims. He then authorizes the proportional response and has a televised press conference to explain the situation to the American people.

In other stories, Charlie Young applies for a White House job, and C.J. talks reporter Danny Concannon out of writing a story about Sam's relationship with the call girl. Charlie, who was applying for a messenger job, impresses Josh (as well as Debbie, who becomes a recurring character played by Lily Tomlin late in season 3) enough that Josh insists on hiring Charlie as the President's personal aide, or "body man."

Episode title

The military option offered to the President is a proportional response but he calls for a disproportionate response.


The NAACP criticized the lack of diversity on the show and therefore the character of Charlie was created. Dule Hill joins the cast in this episode as Charlie Young.


The issue of the virtue of a proportional response, which is a major theme of this episode was also touched on in the Aaron Sorkin-penned 1995 Movie, The American President when after being told attacking the Libyan Intelligence Headquarters is a proportional response to Libya's attack on C-STAD in Israel, President Shepherd asks, "Someday somebody's going to have to explain to me the virtue of a proportional response." Another early episode that took its main storyline directly from the 1995 film was Five Votes Down, which centered around an effort to pass an ambitious gun-control bill.


External links

Search another word or see A Proportional Responseon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature