What Veep Can Teach Us About a Hillary Clinton Presidency
By Megan Angelo
Around three in the afternoon yesterday, I watched as Hillary Clinton, the first viable female presidential candidate of my lifetime, officially announced her run on YouTube. Seven hours later, I watched the fourth-season premiere of Veep, in which Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s Selina Meyer has just become the first female president of the United States. Of course, I won’t go so far as to say the timing was planned. But for me and anyone else who saw both events, it felt like a brave, glowing new world by bedtime.
Watching Veep, I found myself thrilling to the tiny indicators of having a woman in the spot a man has occupied for 226 years. There’s plenty of controversy over how and how much we should talk about what women in power wear, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking at her shoes. I hope it doesn’t make me bad-feminist that I loved watching the President of the United States stride onto the floor of the Capitol in ombre red and black heels. I hope it doesn’t make me weird that I found Gary’s joke about Selina’s glasses in her pocket looking “like a penis—which you could totally rock, if you wanted to” both hilarious and strangely energizing.
And I hope it doesn’t make me shallow that I wasn’t thinking about President Obama or Bush 2 or Clinton (perhaps soon to be known as “Clinton 1”) as I took in Selina taking over. My visual references for this shift aren’t images of those men. I don’t have closed-circuit access to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, so I’ve never personally watched them lean pensively against the windows in the Oval Office. But I have seen Frank Underwood and Fitzgerald Grant do it. They’re the ones Selina was displacing in my view last night as she worried near the curtains. The sight of her there made my heart jump, which made my brain realize: If I’m this excited about a girl taking over on a sitcom, imagine if it happens in real life.
Besides the potential same place in history, Selina and Clinton don’t share much. Even as the leader of the free world, Selina doesn’t trust her gut. If the teleprompter goes down, so does she. When it’s time to ask someone how she looks, she aims the question at Gary, knowing that his puppy love for her guarantees validation. (“Beautiful,” he breathed last night.) By contrast, Clinton is known for her confidence. Selina is visibly uncomfortable connecting with real women. Clinton’s rise to power has been pushed by millions of them rallying behind her. And though Veep never reveals Selina’s party affiliation, suffice to say she’s more conservative than Clinton, as evidenced by the show’s laugh/cringe/laugh season three plot that had Selina fretting over the right abortion week cutoff to come out in support of.
Also, so far, Selina is kind of bad at being president. She exudes a level of incompetence that even people who disagree with Clinton would not accuse her of. This is where the action on Veep and Clinton’s story part ways, vibe-wise. Clinton’s run has begun with a video applauding the new beginnings and gutsy changes of young moms, college girls, and, of course, Clinton herself. Season four of Veep opened on credits adjusted to let us know Selina’s tenure is already in trouble: "The 8-Month Presidency?" flashed across the screen. Obviously, things aren't ideal.
We’ve got some other non-ideal situations with TV women on the top job right now: There’s State of Affairs’ Constance Payton, played by Alfre Woodard, and on Scandal, Mellie is in what a pundit might brand the “pre-exploratory phase” of her own campaign. But Affairs isn’t widely watched, and Lord knows Mellie’s got her foibles (though I like the idea of Fitz’s crystal scotch decanter being washed out and refilled with her daddy’s hooch in 2016.) Take these two with Selina, and it might be tempting, if you’re a Clinton supporter, to wish for something with a bit more girls-rock propaganda running through it at this crucial time.
I don’t. In fact, I find Selina’s shaky presidency comforting, because it’s business as usual. Veep wouldn’t be true to itself or real life if it positioned Selina as the godlike answer to femalekind’s prayers. She came to the seat through the same B.S. chess that marks all modern elections. Now that she has it, she’s being forced to bargain behind closed doors and savaged in the open. She’s as free to fail as she is to lead. She is not a poster girl, and she reminds us that a poster girl isn’t what we need. If Clinton wins, I’ll think it's very cool that the first two presidents of my child’s lifetime are an African American man and a woman. But, just as it’s happening to Selina, I and everyone else will quickly become less interested in who Clinton is than what she’s going to do. That’s the true gender-equalizing moment. I may be a big TV fan, but when it comes to girls in the Oval, I’m not looking for a perfect ending. I’m looking for a strong start.