When I saw President Obama stride onstage, my thoughts tuned to “The West Wing.” There simply will never be a television series that can surpass its superb cast, writing, and direction. If you disagree with me, I’ll happily punch you in the throat.

When creator and writer Aaron Sorkin left after season four, however, the political drama — following two terms of a fictional White House — suffered. Seasons five and six came and went, but the show found its spark again in season seven, focusing on a presidential election.

The result was exhilarating to watch — a Hispanic Democrat taking on a moderate Republican. Like much of the show, you take its representation of presidential politics with a grain of salt as opposed to a true depiction. Still, watching a behind-the-scenes depiction of a presidential campaign is fascinating. The back room dealings, secrets and lies, personal relationships and problems scattered along the way make for a great plot. The part I couldn’t get over, however, was how those problems disappeared when a candidate got onstage to address a crowd.

Seeing what occurred immediately before and after rallies and speeches makes you realize how much of a production these events are. Bright lights, camera crews and makeup teams — are we on Capitol Hill or the back lot of Universal Studios?

When I was in Iowa for the Republican caucuses early this month, I could’ve sworn I’d stumbled onto the set of “The West Wing.” The night before the Tuesday caucus, candidate Mitt Romney hosted a rally at a large manufacturing warehouse about 15 minutes outside of Des Moines. I immediately wondered how much thought went into picking that specific location. A safe estimate is “a lot.”

Immediately upon entering the building, attendees were immediately blinded by bright floodlights, which illuminated a small raised stage already surrounded by hundreds of supporters. To play up the scene to the cameras, those who came were packed into a tiny section of the facility — it could have held hundreds more far more comfortably. But, hey, it’s all about appearances.

I went into every event in Iowa with a moderately negative attitude, but the rally won the top prize. Being smashed against people in support of Romney, or any of the Republican candidates, is hardly on my daily to-do list. A teenaged girl with dyed purple hair pushed next to me, attempting to make small talk. “You know what I’m worried about?” What are you worried about, crazy girl? Besides matching your flannel pants to your hair color, of course. “Occupiers.”

I struggled to stifle a laugh. “Why?”

“I don’t know,” she mumbled, “something about them’s just not right.”

I kept staring at one blinding light hanging from the high ceiling that would shine down on the former governor of Massachusetts when he finally emerged. Every part of this was so horrifyingly calculated. I looked around for a grain of truth, but the light kept reminding me I was on a television set, not observing the political process.

Mitt Romney came out and I mused on who had picked out his wife’s necklace, how his sons had been instructed to stand, why his speech said absolutely nothing of substance but was still interrupted by cheers and, most importantly, how good they looked doing it. Romney’s team designed the set; all the news channels had to bring were the cameras.

On Friday, like thousands of other students, I came to see President Barack Obama speak at Al Glick Field House. Fortunately, I was outside the fences caging the packed audience. They only used a small portion of the football field, but I was too excited to see the president to put much thought into that.

I’ll admit it. I was wholeheartedly seduced by the entire event. Students camping in the cold for tickets, my White House Press Pool pass, Obama calling out Denard — how crazy cool was this! When the speech started, I listened attentively and agreed with most of what he proposed — smiling like a crazy person the whole time.

At a certain point, I realized Obama’s sleeves were rolled up. Those cuffs were too perfect, there’s no way he rolled them himself. The illusion was shattered and I emerged from fantasyland.

A light hanging from the ceiling shined on Obama just like it had shone on Romney a month ago. American flags and Block ‘M’s were strategically placed around Glick. His speech pandered to his audience, and he said very little of substance. When the crowd in Ann Arbor erupted after the president said, “Go Blue!” I didn’t roll my eyes like I did in Iowa.

Call it hypocrisy, parochialism or whatever suits you best. From politics to personal relationships, we give passes to those we agree with for doing similar things to those we don’t. To borrow the construction of journalist Sydney Harris: We’re ideological and they’re partisan. We play aggressive and they play dirty.

This frame of mind isn’t beneficial to anyone. It’s what leads to gridlock, it’s what leads to a widening partisan gap and it’s what ultimately leads to hatred. No matter who’s on stage.

Andrew Weiner can be reached at anweiner@umich.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewWeiner.

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