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- „Education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don’t need little changes. We need gigantic revolutionary changes. Schools should be palaces. Competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be getting six-figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge for its citizens, just like national defense. That is my position. I just haven’t figured out how to do it yet”
- —Sam to Mallory[src]
Sam was the Deputy White House Communications Director under President Josiah Bartlet and, later Deputy White House Chief of Staff under President Matt Santos. Throughout the first season, Sam somewhat struggled with a friendship he had with a prostitute, or call-girl, named Laurie, who when they first met, he didn't know or had any knowledge she was a call-girl.
Sam is generally the idealist in the group, and often the most politically naive, leading him to be duped on several occasions by less scrupulous individuals.
Sam is a perfectionist, as shown when he, for himself, needs to re-write and polish a birthday message for the Deputy Secretary for Transportation, despite the fact the whole assignment was simply sabotage on Leo's part of his date with Mallory. She proceeds to declare that he's 'just like him (Leo)', which Sam takes as 'the nicest thing you've ever said to me' (Enemies).
Sam states, in The Stackhouse Filibuster, that his favorite writer is Toby, and his favorite fiction writer is Charles Dickens. This may be part of a general Anglophilia, since he was also Secretary of the Princeton Gilbert and Sullivan Society for three years (And It's Surely to Their Credit).
Sam attended Princeton University, although his undergraduate major is unclear. He makes repeated references to his alma mater, especially in the earlier seasons, indicating a certain pride in his attendance there. "Princeton" is his Secret Service code name, and he mentions being the recording secretary of the Princeton Gilbert & Sullivan Society. Sam attended Duke Law School, where he was an editor of the Duke Law Review. He also worked at the law firm of Dewey Ballantine in New York City before joining Gage Whitney Pace, the second biggest law firm in New York City. Sam worked there for seven years before leaving to become a speech writer for Josiah Bartlet during Bartlet's campaign for the presidency. Sam was about to be made partner before he joined the campaign on the recommendation of his friend Josh Lyman, who had just gone to see the Governor speak and believed Bartlet was "the real thing".
After he joined the campaign, Sam broke up with his fiance, Lisa Sherborne, whom he was planning to marry in October of that year. In a later episode C.J. asks Sam, "Did she break up with you because her name would be Lisa Sherborne-Seaborn?" Sam's other romantic relationships include a "highly priced call girl" named Laurie (with whom he slept without knowledge of her profession), a flirtation with Leo McGarry's daughter, Mallory who is a school teacher and Ainsley Hayes, a White House Counsel.
Sam's greatest strength and sometimes flaw is his unflinching idealism. His enduring faith in and love for the American political process are important aspects of his character. In a third season episode, President Bartlet told Sam that he would run for President later on in his career and that he should not be scared when he does so. As the Deputy White House Communications Director Sam helps Toby Ziegler write all of the President's speeches and addresses, as well as many of the White House's press releases. Sam and Toby often disagreed on how best to write a particular speech, usually with Sam advocating for more poetic language and Toby more worried about political and policy implications of even minute phrases ("The Portland Trip", "The Fall's Gonna Kill You").
Sam is noted for his exceptional speechwriting skills. He is an extremely talented writer, one of the very few people Toby recognizes as an equal in his field. Sam is seen in many episodes to rewrite speeches over and over again, unwilling to put words in the president's mouth that he isn't completely satisfied with. After a pipe bomb explodes at a university in "20 Hours in America, Part II," killing forty-four people including three swimmers, Bartlet gives a speech, written by Sam, that includes the following: "...More than any time in recent history, America's destiny is not of our own choosing. We did not seek nor did we provoke an assault on our freedoms and our way of life. We did not expect nor did we invite a confrontation with evil. Yet the true measure of a people's strength is how they rise to master that moment when it does arrive. Forty-four people were killed a couple hours ago at Kennison State University; three swimmers from the men's team were killed and two others are in critical condition; when after having heard the explosion from their practice facility they ran into the fire to help get people out... ran into the fire. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight. They're our students and our teachers and our parents and our friends. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we're reminded that that capacity may well be limitless. This is a time for American heroes. We will do what is hard. We will achieve what is great. This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars. God bless their memory, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America."
Bartlet campaign advisor Bruno Gianelli asks Sam when he wrote the last part. He replies, "In the car," which prompts the response, "Freak." Sam was considered to be one of the brightest young minds in the party and was noted for his well versed argumentation. He was often assigned to do opposition research on key issues. An example of this would be when he argued against his opinion insistently with Mallory O'Brien over the issue of school vouchers. In fact so noted were Sam's debating prowess that he was trusted to help prepare President Bartlet for the upcoming presidential debates by portraying Bartlet's opponent Robert Ritchie.
During the fourth season, Sam decides to run for Congress in his home district—the California 47th in Orange County, California — in a special election held after deceased Democratic candidate Horton Wilde posthumously makes history by defeating arch-conservative Republican incumbent Chuck Webb. Sam first became familiar with the congressional race when he was sent to talk to Wilde's campaign manager, Will Bailey, on behalf of the Democratic Party to convince him to drop the campaign. Will had continued running the campaign with earnestness and energy after Wilde died, an act that was seen as bizarre and pointless—or, as Sam put it to him, "a national joke." After seeing firsthand how dedicated Will was, and realizing that he was a public servant in the mold of Bartlet's own senior staff, Sam became impressed with how he ran Wilde's campaign and offered his own name as a replacement candidate for election night in case Wilde won, not thinking he would ever have to honor the promise. When Wilde did win, Sam decided not to back out and to use this opportunity to promote a truly liberal agenda in the traditionally conservative district. He went to California with the blessing of Bartlet and his fellow White House staffers. Once he learned that Will Bailey was not going to stay on to manage his campaign, he recommended him as a temporary replacement for himself, to help Toby write Bartlet's second inaugural address.
It was never explicitly revealed whether Sam won or lost the election, but he was expected to lose in a landslide. Josiah Bartlet came out to California to lend his support, bringing with him Sam's friends on the senior staff, who believed campaign manager Scott Holcomb was wasting Sam's time by having him run a safe, timid campaign. In the midst of the visit, Sam learned that Bartlet was putting off announcing the Democratic budget plan Sam himself had helped design, so that Sam wouldn't feel pressured to support it and further stigmatize himself during the election. Sam was appalled and decided to put things right. While introducing the president at a campaign event, he added that the audience shouldn't "let him off this stage" until he had announced the budget plan. Backstage, Bartlet watched Scott Holcomb react with distress and asked why he was running Sam's campaign the way he was. Holcomb admitted that he was anticipating Sam's loss and trying to smooth the way for a less divisive candidate the next time around, prompting Bartlet to (unofficially) fire him and get Toby to take over the campaign for the final weeks. Toby runs a thoroughly honest and liberal campaign, not until the very end of which does Sam realize, "I'm going to lose." Toby confirms it, explaining, "They're going to throw rocks at you next week, and I wanted to be standing next to you when they did." They hug, and this is the last scene in which Sam appears until the end of the final season.
In Inauguration: Part 2 Toby recommends to Leo that Bartlet appoint Will Bailey as Sam's replacement for Deputy Communications Director, and to promote Sam to Senior Counselor. Toby explains that this move would "take the knucklehead stuff off [Sam's] desk, the way he did for me for four years," noting that, "it's well past his time."
In 2007, after Matt Santos' campaign is victorious, Josh Lyman asks Sam to become Santos' Deputy Chief of Staff. Sam accepts, under the condition that Josh take a vacation first. The series ends with Sam, as Josh puts it, playing "Josh" to Josh's "Leo."
- Lawyer for Dewey Ballantine Law Firm
- 1991-1998 : Lawyer for Gage Whitney Pace Law Firm
- 2002-2006 : Lawyer for a corporate law firm
- Staffer for several Representatives
- Staff member for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee
- 1998 : Speechwriter for the "Bartlet for America" campaign
- 1999-2002 : Deputy White House Communications Director
- 2002 : Democratic Candidate for 47th Congressional District in California
- 2003 : Senior Counselor to the President
- 2007-present : Deputy White House Chief of Staff for Strategic Planning
|Deputy White House Communications Director|
|Democratic Candidate for California's 47th District|
|Deputy White House Chief of Staff for Strategic Planning|