The ABC political thriller Scandal debuted in 2012. Nothing on television does a better job of illuminating how progressives think Washington works. That ought to make all of us really worried.
Now in its third season, the show has won favorable reviews, a strong following, and even some awards. But its popularity and longevity may say more about shifts in public sentiments towards politics than the quality of the scripts and the talents of the cast.
Last time a Hollywood favorite held the White House their show was The West Wing, the NBC series that premiered in 1999. Most of the action focused on the president, a “white hat” named Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) who played by the rules to make sure at the end of the day liberal causes ended up on top.
The West Wing mostly focused on the business of government, with the writers making a good-faith effort to at least get the facts right. During one string of episodes, our make-believe president was brokering Middle East peace when terrorists attacked U.S. peacekeepers. A writer from the show called and we went over in great detail what a realistic peace-keeping force would look like. They wanted the show to feel authentic.
This time progressives play by their own rules. Scandal is closer to Game of Thrones than West Wing.
Although former George H. Bush press aide Judy Smith served as executive co-producer for the series, little in the series resembles anything that happened in a Republican White House. `
The story of Scandal turns around Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), who runs a “crisis management” firm. Pope also has close ties to the White House, which includes having an on-going extra-martial affair with the president.
In addition to the on-going narrative revolving around Pope’s complicated relationship with the White House and the unraveling of a conspiracy that led to the president’s election, many of the episodes feature Pope & Associates “helping” out various clients with their own “scandals.” This feature of the show is the most disturbing. Pope plays by her own rules–ones that might make Machiavelli blanch. She literally serves as judge, jury and executioner for anyone who crosses paths with personal progressive predilections.
Pope is part of emerging breed of anti-hero in modern American pop culture. These are not characters we love to hate “because” they are bad. Nor are they heroes with tragic flaws that we cherish anyway. Pope is president of the class of terrible people doing terrible things–that we are supposed to nonetheless admire. Like real-life figures such Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, Hollywood expects us to praise them because they “do their own thing” and at heart they are championing liberal causes. Checking both blocks is enough to make any act admirable.
Scandal is so cartoonish in its self-righteous liberal vigilante crusade that a recent parody on Saturday Night Live seemed not much of stretch at all.
Following the adventures of Olivia Pope might be worth watching as liberal fantasy. But, unlike The West Wing, it is anything but a civic lesson in how Washington does the people’s business. The show routinely casts reality overboard.
Here are five warnings about where the show goes off the reality rail.
1. Justice Must Really be Blind.
It would have to be to let Pope & Associates get away with what they do on the show. There is no such crime as “obstruction of justice” in the world of Scandal. Pope’s minions routinely mess with crime scenes, act like disbarred lawyers and commit any number of felonies that would make Watergate look like a misdemeanor. The worst penalty they ever suffer on the show is when a character is forced to buy their own latte.
2. Cyber Stupidity Rules.
On the one hand, the US intelligence services are truly evil and omnipotent. In one episode it is revealed they can and do snoop on anything without restraint or oversight of any kind. On the other hand, during the second season Pope talks to the president all the time on the phone in all kinds of intimate detail. But, that’s okay. We are told they are on a “secure” line. Meanwhile, Pope has her own personal hacker who apparently can do anything the NSA can do–which raises the question of why everyone in the show is worried about the NSA.
No part of the show is more embarrassing than when the president tries to act presidential. Although the character is meant to be portrayed as a “moderate” Republican, when it comes to exercising his duties as commander-in-chief he acts much more like a tortured liberal. In one series of episodes dealing with a potential military incursion into the “East” Sudan, it becomes clear that the only permissible use of US military force is when the United States has no interest to defend and the troops are only being sent in for a humanitarian purpose. The hallmark of real military leadership is empathy.
4. Congress Doesn’t Matter.
Other than an occasional cameo to trumpet a a liberal cause, the Oval Office does not waste time working on a legislative agenda. The White House staff are too busy managing conspiracies, pulling strings, and brokering deals to worry much about what is going on up on the Hill. The main purpose of Congress is to serve as a debating forum and reservoir of clients for Olivia Pope.
5. The Press isn’t Very Impressive.
Occasionally a member of the fourth estate will awaken from a comatose state to help advance a plot line, but for the most part the press are sheep to be steered by Pope & Associates. Hordes of public affair firms and press secretaries must watch this show in absolute envy, wishing that they had the magic wand that could turn the media on a dime whenever they wanted.
What is really scary about Scandal is that there are people in Washington who really want Washington to work this way. For them Scandal isn’t silly political soap-opera. The show is an idolized version of how they want to run this city.
The pop culture liberal version of governance has drifted far from the days of The West Wing when the left wanted to win the battle of ideas. Now, progressivism is about taking and holding power, taking revenge and calling it justice.
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