The hit political drama has quickly became the highest-rated scripted television drama among African-Americans. It is the kind of show that African-American women have demanded for a long time: anchored by three highly successful African-American women. The show stars Kerry Washington, the first African-American actress to play the protagonist and primary lead in a television drama since Diahann Carroll in Julia and Teresa Graves in Get Christie Love! The show's creator, Shonda Rimes, is the creative genius behind Grey's Anatomy, and the plot is loosely based on Judy Smith, an administrative press aide for President George Bush and the CEO of her own crisis management firm. This indeed was the kind of progress African-Americans had been anxious to see in network television for years.
Beyond the suggestion of a new era of post-racial television where characters are ethnically diverse but not defined by their race or ethnicity, Scandals offers a view into the future of the Republican Party. The show highlights three issues that the Republican Party is struggling to address — its lack of minority representation, its anti-gay platform, and the growing rift between social conservatives, the establishment, and the civil libertarians.
The show is about a conservative African-American Republican woman that is the former White House press secretary. Forget about the fact that Washington's character is having an affair with the moderate establishment Republican president (that is just the TV drama part) and focus on how liberal Hollywood believes that there is a role for African-Americans in the Republican Party. African-Americans routinely attack black conservatives and members of the liberal press routinely attack conservative women, so it is encouraging to see that liberal Hollywood envisions the press and the African-American community evolving in its views about conservative women and black conservatives respectively. Unfortunately, while Hollywood believes this is possible, the Republican Party only has one black elected official in Congress and still hasn't quite figured out how to talk to the minority community.
The White House Chief of Staff is an openly gay man in a same-sex marriage whose husband is a well-placed and influential Beltway journalist. During his tenure in office, he and his husband adopt a baby. That is a great Hollywood story but the Republican Party just unanimously re-confirmed its opposition to same sex marriage in its platform and only two Republican Senators support same sex marriage. Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) just announced his support for gay adoption. The fact that the announcement was considered big news tells you something about that issue within the GOP.
The show's vice president is a far-right female social conservative and clearly represents the Christian right of the party. The president is a legacy baby whose father is a long-term power broker in the party. The ticket that won the election is a merger of the far-right social conservatives and the moderate establishment Washington insider crowd. Those two groups are not getting along in today's Republican Party, and I can't recall the GOP ever pairing the two at the top of the presidential election ticket. Hollywood seems to think that they may be able to mend their differences to hold the party together.
The notion that a moderate male establishment conservative and a far-right conservative woman can share the presidential ticket while the White House staff includes an African-American woman and a gay man in a same–sex marriage is kind of the vision that the GOP is looking to foster in their blueprint for change. The show holds out hope that sometime in the near future, the Republican Party will figure out how to have its social and establishment conservatives co-exist with its civil libertarians.
The political landscape depicted by the fictional world of Scandal is a long stretch from today's Republican Party. However, Hollywood seems to hold out hope that it is possible. If you are a political wonk, then suspend disbelief for an hour and see what liberal Hollywood thinks about a future Republican Party ... because if liberal Hollywood can dream it, then maybe the Republican Party can achieve it.