What Party is Selina Meyer and Does it Matter?
Is Selina Meyer a Democrat or a Republican? Veep, a television series for HBO, was created by Armando Iannucci to show what happens behind the scenes of the Vice President’s office. In the vein of his British series, In the Thick of It, Veep maintains an ambiguous approach to political ideologies and focuses on the mundane in the life of a politico. However, avoiding political ideologies is incredibly hard to do, especially when a series is discussing the political life of a well-known government official. Ingrained partisanship makes it incredibly hard to push politics to the backburner.
The show follows the inner workings of the office for Vice President Selina Meyer, former senator from Maryland. The opening credits of the series allow the viewer to get a little background information about Meyer: she ran for president, but when her campaign started to go downhill, she pulled out and accepted an offer to become vice president. This is not an atypical path to becoming Vice President, i.e. current Vice President Joe Biden. What makes Veep stand out from other political series like The West Wing or House of Cards, is Iannucci’s focus on Meyer’s frustration with the position. As Meyer says, “No one aspires to become Vice President.” But this is the position she holds. The series follows her as she attempts to make the Vice Presidency more than a figurehead and scapegoat for the fictional POTUS. In the Washington Post’s initial review, critic Hank Stuever wrote, “[Veep] transacts in awkwardness in a way that summons the oddest sort of cringing sympathy for its lead character.” As scandals happen and missteps occur, Madame Vice President addresses them without the elegance of Josiah Bartlet or the ruthlessness of Frank Underwood. The show portrays Selina Meyer not as an ideological talking head, but as a not-so-perfect human.
Throughout the series’s duration , the showrunners have made a point of never revealing Selina Meyer’s party. This aspect of the show is particularly interesting as the actual American government has become extremely partisan. However, , there are definitely some indicators. In the first episode, Meyer attempts to get support for her Clean Jobs task force and push through filibuster reform. On the surface these very vague platform issues seem like they could be addressed by real politicians on both sides of the aisle. The use of the phrase Clean Jobs task force could come out of the mouths of actual Democrats and Republicans — though of course with very different approaches. However, as the pilot and the rest of the season progresses, we learn more about the Clean Jobs Task Force and meet other members of Meyer’s unstated party, one of whom is upset by the addition of two Big Oil guys on the task force. This isn’t the typical position of a Republican senator, and puts Meyer on the more liberal end of the political spectrum.
In Episode 4 of Season 1, “Chung”, Meyer’s staff discusses “Reaching across the aisle to the Immigration Reform Caucus” to help move forward with filibuster reform. After this idea is brought up, Meyer’s director of communications, Mike McClintock, responds with, “Do you want to break out the white pointy hoods too, ma’am?” Amy, Meyer’s chief of staff quips, “Once you go down that dark country road the lights go out and the scarecrows come to life.” This indicates a divide between Meyer’s side of the aisle and the Immigration Reform Caucus’ side of the aisle, making the opposing team strawman conservatives.
Still, Meyer’s staff does make similar negative comments about their own party throughout the series. Other subjects brought up throughout the three seasons include fiscal responsibility, healthy eating initiatives, tax reform, raising minimum wage, gun control, voter ID laws, and anti-fracking. Most of these issues are fairly typical for Democratic platforms, but their public ambiguity in the series doesn’t focus too much on the ideology. Meyer even maintains this ambiguity in Episode 2 of Season 3, “The Choice” when Meyer discusses the pro-choice/pro-life debate when she says,
“If I say I am pro-life, I am a traitor to my own sex. If I say I am pro-choice, I am a traitor to the President.”
What separates Veep from other political satires is it does not parody a specific person. Selina Meyer isn’t supposed to be Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin just because she is a woman. And she isn’t supposed to be Joe Biden, just because she is vice president. Her ideology is vague because it’s supposed to be what the public wants to hear. She isn’t supposed to be controversial, even if her missteps introduce controversial topics, most of the time unbeknownst to them. Shying away from announcing Selina Meyer’s political party may have been the goal of the showrunners in the beginning, but it starts to become part of the joke by Season 3, when she runs for President. Tying Selina to any particular belief is a part of the satire because her only real conviction is to become president. It doesn’t matter if she is a Democrat or a Republican, because the series is a satire of the job and not of ideology.
Veep is probably the most accurate show about Washington politics. We so often put politicians on pedestals and idolize them, but Veep shows us that they aren’t the geniuses they think they are. Regardless of party, they are, more or less, just like us. They say the F-word (maybe not as much as on Veep), they don’t like who they work with, they don’t always say the right thing at the right time, and their life isn’t scripted. As amazing as Josiah Bartlet’s speech was in The West Wing episode “Midterms”, few speak that eloquently off the cuff. Politicians usually end up like Selina Meyer in the eighth episode of Season 3, “Debate,” where, in a Rick Perry moment, she cannot remember the third ‘r’ of her ‘Three R’s Plan’.
Even showrunner Iannucci is surprised by how well he presents Washington,
“The worst piece of feedback we’ll get is when we actually think that we’ve come up with the most ridiculous story… and we do it, and then we get a call from Washington where they’ll ask, ‘How did you find that out?’”
Veep is a great reminder that politics is as messed up as the rest of our lives. We have personal conversations and views about people we don’t want getting out to the public. We all have social media gaffes or political and personal misstatements. Veep takes these everyday issues, satirizes them, and presents them on a much bigger platform. So no, it doesn’t matter what political party Selina Meyer is, because her party is not the focus. It is a critique of American culture, society, and politics. But most importantly it shows there isn’t much of a difference between those who are governed and those doing the governing. Because hey, we all say fuck.