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Richard Schiff, best known for playing White House communications director Toby Ziegler on The West Wing, has been campaigning around the country tirelessly for Hillary Clinton for one simple reason: “This is the most important election of my lifetime.”
“That’s why every day I am trying to do something about it,” Schiff adds, speaking with The Hollywood Reporter. “I don’t like knocking on doors and imposing my opinion on someone else, I really don’t. I’d much rather be playing golf or taking my daughter to school in the morning. Every single votes counts, and that’s why I am knocking on all the doors I can. Got to save democracy.”
Schiff, who has never shied away from speaking his mind about politics and vocally supported then Sen. Joe Biden in 2008, Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders and now is a Clinton surrogate, says it’s imperative that young people vote in this election.
“The discussion for me is trying to get people, especially millennials, involved in the election, who might not be either because of general apathy or so much passion having been involved with Bernie Sanders that they are disheartened,” says the actor. “And both of those dispositions are fatal to someone like Hillary Clinton in this particular cycle.”
When speaking to young potential voters — which he has done while stumping, sometimes with other West Wing castmembers, in Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania — Schiff stresses what occurred in the 2000 election when George W. Bush defeated Al Gore.
“My talk to them has been, ‘You’re too young to remember the 2000 election was a fork in the road of history, and we took the wrong fork,'” he explains. “I remind them that 537 votes made the difference in Florida. If Al Gore is president, we do not invade Iraq. We do not lose the economy as a result of the expenditure of a two-front war you can’t win. Not to mention that Al Gore would have led us into an alternative energy economy.”
He continues, “This is another fork in the road of history. We can stay on this road of progress or go deep, deep, deep into the backwoods. If we make the wrong choice here, they will be paying for it for their lifetime.”
Saying Trump is more diabolical than any character ever thought up by Oscar-winning writer and West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin, Schiff does have, in his opinion, a comparison for the GOP presidential nominee.
“Trump compares to Berzelius ‘Buzz’ Windrip from Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here, which was a warning against fascism in the 1930s when fascism was a thing,” he says. “He wrote about how it could happen in America. If you’re a great writer like Aaron Sorkin, the name ‘Donald Trump’ for the person who is going to destroy our democracy and our civilization as we know it — it’s a great name. It’s a great fictional name.”
Schiff also takes issue with anyone casting a vote for a third-party candidate.
“As we get closer, I am noticing that fewer and fewer people in the polls are staying with the independents,” he says. “Someone like [stanch Berne Sanders’ supporter] Susan Sarandon, who is holding onto the Jill Stein idea, to me, is petulant and childish. I get voting with your conscience, but understand your responsibility for the consequences if it turns out in a bad way. If you choose now not to participate, you really have to be able to look yourself in the mirror and be able to take reasonability for the fallout.”
Schiff admits it took him some time to come around and become a Clinton supporter, believing some reports before really learning about the candidate for himself. And when he hits that wall with potential voters, he reminds them of his former show.
“The West Wing characters people seem to love and admire so much, these characters are flawed,” says Schiff. “Sam Seaborn slept with a hooker. President Bartlet hid his MS [multiple sclerosis]. And, a storyline that I particularly hate and don’t like to bring up: Toby Ziegler was a national security leak. But we know their hearts and minds were in the right place. They wanted to leave the world in a better place than when they went into office. So when we judge these two candidates, which one do we know in our heart and gut and mind will leave the world a better place than how she found it?”
He continues, “How is this even a choice? This Trump phenomenon, if you want to call it, has to do with that real fear that the old world is gone. It’s attached itself to deep-seeded racism and prejudice, again, and anti-foreigner sentiment, again. And I think it’s showing us for who we still really are. But I think it’s the last resistance — it’s the wrestler who’s about to be pinned who’s at his strongest. The last resistance of the old world. This is the last battle of the Civil War. This is the last fight of the compromise that caused all of this division, which was three-fifths of a human being originally in the Constitution. We’re getting younger and that old world of Jim Crow South is fading away. So, we have the chance to be a beautiful and prosperous place in the country for the next 20 years, if we do that right thing.”
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