I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW. For months, I�ve been assuming that The West Wing would conclude with Arnold Vinick, the moderate GOP California senator played by Alan Alda, taking the presidency over Jimmy SmitsMatt Santos, a Democratic Congressman from Houston. It has seemed to me all season (and, out of step with my fellow countrypersons, I didn�t even watch the show regularly until this season) as if the writers, a couple of whom I know a bit -- both had high-level Democratic jobs in Washington -- had filled the Vinick character with more elan and a more appealing story line: A pro-choice Republican from California wins the presidency and reels his party back in from winguttia and into the land of reasonable, Howard Baker conservatism. Just the kind of Republican to whom Democratic writers would be willing to hand the presidency!

But now, with last night�s plot twist (SPOILER: John Spencer�s Leo McGarry, Santos� veep choice, died in last night�s episode, which took place on Election Day), I think I see where things are going. Santos wins a squeaker. And, after a proper mourning period for McGarry and bucking tremendous pressure from his party elders and perhaps even Josiah Bartlet himself, as his vice president, he names: Vinick!

Right? This is perfect television politics: A national unity administration. Santos shows the kind of bold leadership that yada yada yada, and Vinick, for the sake of this great nation, decides that yada yada yada. They even end up seeing eye to eye on nuclear power!

The wingnut woman adviser to Vinick, who keeps pestering him to campaign in the South and forget these swing voters in these pusillanimous purple states, is put in her place (as a stand-in, of course, for the America she represents); Ron Silver probably gets a piece of the action, but he has to report to Bradley Whitford. America is healed.

I bet I�m better at this than I was at the office March Madness pool. And by the way, I�d also do a better job with the national political map, because a couple of turns last night were surprising, especially given that the writers know their politics. Santos carrying South Carolina? I can only assume that this is the exit-polls-are-unreliable plotline, and the Palmetto State will be taken off the board.

But worse was some aide�s carrying on about how Massachusetts looked blue in the early exits, but Berkshire County hadn�t come in yet. Berkshire County?!?!?!? This rang suspiciously of Lawrence O�Donnel (a WW writer who grew up in Boston and Bay State politics) dreaming that Silvio Conte (the one-time Western Mass Congressman, a liberal Republican) and the kind of Republicanism he represented are still alive or something.

Two points: A.), Berkshire County is as liberal as it gets -- the very liberal Democratic Congressman, John Olver, didn�t even have an opponent last time, and Bush has never received more than 35 percent of the vote in his district; B.), Since presidential elections operate according to (news flash!) electoral college totals, it might have occurred to them that Berkshire County would be quite unlikely to undo the deep blue handiwork done over in Boston, and thus was entirely irrelevant. Maybe O�Donnell has a house in Stockbridge and it was an in-joke, but it just looked stupid.

--Mike Tomasky