Bartlet represents, in many ways, an idealized president, endowed with a fierce intellect, great (though not infallible) personal integrity, toughness tempered with essential compassion for the less fortunate, and a sense of humor.
Sorkin's main interest in writing for the character was in exploring the side of the president that the public does not generally see. Sheen describes the character as being drawn largely from Bill Clinton: "He's bright, astute and filled with all the negative foibles that make him very human," he told Radio Times. Sorkin has said he takes some of Bartlet's characteristics from his own father, namely his "great love of education and literature [and] all things old," his "[belief] in a genuine goodness in people," and his "'Aw, Dad' sense of humor.
In the middle of the show's first season, it was revealed that Bartlet was suffering from multiple sclerosis. According to Sorkin, this was not planned; the plot came about because he wanted to write an episode in which the president was in bed watching a soap opera and the audience discovered that the first lady was a doctor. "When I wrote the pilot, I didn't have any idea what was going to happen in Episode 2, much less 12," he says.
Bartlet is a devout Catholic; this is due to the influence of his mother, as his father would have preferred that he be raised Protestant. His relationship with his father was often strained, punctuated by periods when the father would physically hit young Jed. In a battle with his subconscious, personified by the "ghost" of Mrs. Landingham, his father is described as "a prick who could never get over the fact that he wasn't as smart as his brothers." Sorkin states that Bartlet's father, "obviously convinced he married some Catholic whore, treats his son terribly for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that he adopted his mother's religion." Bartlet's railing against God in the episode "Two Cathedrals" is therefore directed just as much at his own father. However, when his father's unkind and sometimes abusive treatment of him is mentioned by Toby Ziegler, Bartlet attempts to defend his father to an extent. Though his father is long dead, Toby suggests that Bartlet is still trying to get the man to like him, hoping that "maybe if you get enough votes, win one more election," he will finally be able to earn his father's approval.
Bartlet scored a 1590 on his SAT test. Later he retook the exam, and received the same results. He was accepted to Williams, Harvard, and Yale, but instead chose to go to the University of Notre Dame as he was thinking about becoming a priest. He graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in American studies and a minor in theology. He received a Masters and Ph.D. in economics from the London School of Economics, as well as an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Dartmouth College, where he was a tenured professor prior to entering politics. He speaks four languages, including Latin, English, and German. He was a Nobel Laureate in Economics, and generally is portrayed by his commentary as a macroeconomist sympathetic to Keynesian views. He was required to split his Nobel Prize with another economist, a much more conservative Japanese man whom he did not particularly care for. He is the author of a book entitled Theory and Practice of Macroeconomics in Developing Countries, and his research in economics is described as being focused on the developing world.
Prior to choosing economics as his career, Bartlet considered becoming a priest. He changed his mind upon meeting his future wife, Abigail Bartlet, who became a thoracic surgeon. They had three daughters: Elizabeth Anne Westin, Dr. Eleanor Emily Bartlet, and Zoey Patricia Bartlet. There are two grandchildren from his oldest daughter, Elizabeth - Annie, who is 12 in the pilot, and Gus, who is about 5 in the fifth season. It is also revealed in the 7th season that middle daughter Ellie is pregnant with what would be Bartlet's third grandchild. He is depicted as a stern but loving father, in contrast to his own father, who (as is seen in flashbacks) was cold and physically abusive. In addition to his three daughters, President Bartlet has paternal feelings towards members of his staff, referring to Charlie Young (his former personal aide) and Josh Lyman (his deputy chief of staff) as his sons, and telling C.J. Cregg that she was part of his family.
Bartlet suffers from relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, which at one time put the future of his presidency in doubt. He and his wife concealed his illness during his initial presidential run and did not disclose the information until well into his first term, leading to allegations of fraud perpetrated upon the voters. He received a Congressional censure because he covered up his MS while he was running for President and after he was elected.
Like his ancestor, he was Governor of New Hampshire for two terms, winning re-election in 1996 with 69% of the vote. Prior to becoming governor, Bartlet served on the New Hampshire State Board of Education and was a three-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He also served in the New Hampshire state legislature; apparently in the House of Representatives, as is referred to in the Pilot to the series.
A recurring theme throughout the series is Bartlet's inability to remember the names of junior staffers, a trait taken directly from Martin Sheen's own memory tendencies. While wandering the halls and saying goodbye to everyone in the series finale, he remembers everyone and their family members. He is also regularly displayed as having an obsession with trivia, often quizzing staffers (whether they are interested or not).
Like many of nowdays Democratic Roman Catholic politicians he personnaly opposes abortion but is not totally shown as pro-life or pro-choice.
Bartlet's accomplishments as President include granting amnesty to illegal immigrants from the Americas, appointing the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice and first female Chief Justice, negotiating a peace settlement between Israel and Palestine, creating millions of new jobs, providing strong support for alternative energy, orchestrating a Social Security reform plan (although it is never made clear whether the plan was passed by Congress, the show indicates that a revolutionary agreement was achieved with bi-partisan support). He does, however, express regret at his inability to balance the budget in his eight years at the White House.
Bartlet did not shy away from using the military when he felt it was necessary during his eight years in the White House, and had to deal with major foreign policy crises in various parts of the world. The Middle East was a recurring source of problems, particularly in Iran, Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the fictional gulf state of Qumar. Bartlet was able to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by negotiating a historic agreement at Camp David in 2005 and deploying peacekeepers to the region, despite opposition to these efforts from both Democrats and Republicans. Terrorism, particularly from the Bahji network based in Qumar, was a continual problem and Bartlet even had to confront the kidnapping of his own daughter at the hands of the group, choosing to cede power to the Republican Speaker until she was liberated from her captors to ensure the objectivity of the presidency. In Latin America, Bartlet had to deal with situations in Haiti, Colombia and Bolivia. A conflict and genocide in the fictional African nation of Equatorial Kundu led Bartlet to intervene militarily and declare a bold interventionist foreign policy doctrine. In Asia, Bartlet dealt with tensions and near-conflicts between India and Pakistan, China and Taiwan, and Russia and China. The latter crisis, in his final year, led to Bartlet deploying 140,000 peacekeepers in order to prevent a full blown conflict over oil in Kazakhstan, and this became a key issue in the 2006 presidential campaign to succeed him.
President Bartlet shows the most respect and affection among his staffers to Josh Lyman, C.J. Cregg, and Sam Seaborn. He predicts that Sam will one day run for president and expresses his faith in Sam's capability. While he clearly respects Toby Ziegler, the two are prone to clash, usually when Toby feels the President is not acting according to his true morality or is ducking important issues. He is pained when he finds out Toby has leaked classified national security information and publicly fires him, but eventually signs a pardon for Toby as his last official act as President. He does not get along well with either of his Vice Presidents, John Hoynes or Robert Russell, saying at one point he does not know what either of them are good for. For reasons presumably tied to his own lack of military service, he is somewhat intimidated by acid-tongued Secretary of Defense Miles Hutchinson and deferential to respected Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Percy Fitzwallace.
Bartlet is shot in the first season cliffhanger finale "What Kind of Day Has It Been"; his wounds are not serious and quick medical intervention has him on his feet within a few hours. It is later discovered that the shooters were white supremacists from West Virginia and that his bodyman Charlie Young was the intended target of the assassination attempt, not Bartlet himself.
In the second season finale, "Two Cathedrals", Bartlet announces to the country that he suffers from multiple sclerosis, and has been keeping it a secret, although this had previously been revealed to the show's audience in the first season episode "He Shall, From Time To Time..." This leads to investigation of Bartlet's administration by a special prosecutor and by the House of Representatives, a storyline which dominates much of the show's third season. Eventually, Bartlet accepts a censure from Congress, which settles all investigations against him. While Bartlet's campaign efforts are damaged by the controversy, he nonetheless defeats the Republican nominee, Governor Robert Ritchie of Florida, by a landslide and is returned for a second term. The election was previously forecast to be close until a debate in San Diego where Bartlet scored a decisive win over Ritchie.
Zoey Bartlet is kidnapped on the day of her graduation from Georgetown University, possibly in retaliation for the assassination of the Qumari defense minister, Abdul ibn Shareef, which her father authorized. While Zoey is missing, President Bartlet fears he is incapable of maintaining the necessary dispassion while his daughter is in such danger and invokes Section 3 of the 25th Amendment, declaring himself incapacitated and transferring the powers of the presidency to the next person in the presidential line of succession. Due to the resignation a few days earlier of Vice President Hoynes, the Speaker of the House, Republican Glen Allen Walken, becomes Acting President of the United States. Zoey is recovered with only minor injuries several days later; President Bartlet re-assumes his office shortly thereafter.
On a trip to China, Bartlet is left temporarily paralyzed by an attack of multiple sclerosis. As a result he is briefly confined to a wheelchair, like the real-life president Franklin D. Roosevelt, but he soon recovers although he is left somewhat weakened by the attack (Toby Ziegler mentions that after the final Bartlet State of the Union address, the President is not going to be able to spend much if any time stumping for the speech's recommendations due to his health concerns). After seeing Congressman Matt Santos' stirring speech at the Democratic Convention, he has a chat with a New York Democratic leader who had refused to support Santos due to concerns over educational policy; the leader reverses his course after this and Santos becomes the Democratic nominee for the Presidency.
In the seventh and final season of The West Wing, Bartlet is in the last year of his term as president. Near the end of that season, the Democratic nominee, Congressman Matt Santos of Texas, defeats the Republican nominee, Senator Arnold Vinick of California, in the 2006 presidential election and thereby becomes Bartlet's successor. After Santos' inauguration, Bartlet returns to his New Hampshire home aboard Air Force One, with his wife, and while en route, has the last word of the series. Mrs. Bartlet asks the introspective former President what he is thinking about, and Bartlet replies: "Tomorrow."
The Bartlet Presidential Library opens three years after the end of his term and Bartlet is present at the opening ceremony, along with Kate Harper, C. J. Cregg, Danny Concannon, Charlie Young, Toby Ziegler, Josh Lyman, Will Bailey, and President Matt Santos.
West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin briefly revived the character for Maureen Dowd's September 20, 2008 New York Times column, where he scripted a hypothetical meeting between Bartlet and Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.
Mike McCurry, a former press secretary for the Clinton administration, describes Bartlet as the ideal President, possessing "the compassion and integrity of Jimmy Carter... that shrewd decision-making and hard-nosed realism of a Richard Nixon... the warmth and amiability and the throw-the-arm-around-the-shoulder of a Bill Clinton; and... the liberal passion of a Teddy Kennedy.
|Federal Reserve Chairman||Bernard Dahl||1999–2000|
|Federal Election Commission||John Branford Bacon||2000–|
|Surgeon General||Millicent Griffith (Mary Kay Place)||1999–|