As Scandal approaches its midseason finale, we examine how history will judge President Fitzgerald Grant III

By Nate Jones
Updated December 05, 2013 05:00 PM
Credit: Michael Ansell/ABC

Fitzgerald Grant III, the commander-in-chief in the ABC primetime soap Scandal, has not had a very easy first term. His time in office has been marked by infidelity, a stolen election and one failed assassination attempt. Nearly since the day he was inaugurated, Fitz (as portrayed by Tony Goldwyn) has dreamed of giving up the presidency in order to live a normal life with his advisor/mistress Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington). And yet, at every turn, he has backed down – his destiny, his duty to the American people, has been too great.

But has America actually benefitted from having Fitz in office? As Scandal approaches its midseason finale, let’s examine how good of a chief executive Fitzgerald Grant III has been throughout his first term.

Point: He cares about the American people

It’s a point constantly hammered home by the people in the Grant White House. Unlike other politicians on Scandal – nearly all of whom turn out to be lying, cheating, crooks – Fitz isn’t out for his own gain. He’s “one of the good ones;” an idealist who sincerely cares about the fate of the country. Even in the dirty world of politics, Fitz’s first instinct is to take the high road at every turn, and when he doesn’t, that’s usually because of back-room maneuvering on the part of his ostensible allies.

Counterpoint: Except when it comes to specific people

Has any President since Nixon abused his power more than Fitz? The man employed a secret agent whose entire job was to stalk his ex girlfriend, and he’s not been shy in using the privileges of his office to force Olivia to go his way. (How many times has the Secret Service appeared on Olivia’s doorstep?) And most of his vaunted concern for the American people is just lip-service: He loves the country so much that he spends most of his first term lying to voters about what’s really going on – always for their own good, he tells himself. Also, he murdered a Supreme Court justice once, which would move any politician down a good-government scorecard.

Point: His ideas are sound

Politically, Fitzgerald Grant almost perfectly encapsulates Hollywood’s ides about what a “good” Republican should be. He’s the moderate governor of a coastal state (in this case, California) who spends as much time smacking down his conservative counterparts as he does battling Democrats. He refuses to let the CIA and Big Energy manipulate him into a rash war with East Sudan, and domestically his platform is full of popular, centrist ideas like the DREAM Act and a national volunteer program for higher education.

Counterpoint: But he hasn’t actually accomplished much

Yes, he has two notable foreign-policy accomplishments: handling out the East Sudan situation without going to war, and rescuing captured CIA agents in Afghanistan. But those were both crises the U.S. found itself in, which speaks to one of Fitz’s major weaknesses as President. He’s disturbingly passive for a Commander-in-Chief. Sure, the Senate is controlled by the opposition (Edison, a Democrat, is the Senate Majority Leader) but when his signature education plan fails shortly after his inauguration, we rarely see Fitz make another policy push.

Point: He cares about diversity

No old boy’s club here: Fitz’s White House could double as an episode of Glee. His chief of staff is an openly gay Republican, while his closest advisor is a black woman. It’s not a lot, but it’s something.

Counterpoint: But that doesn’t stop him from using and abusing his subordinates at every turn

One of the underlying themes of Scandal is how Fitz – a rich, straight, white guy – acts as a vessel for the ambitions of characters who, by virtue of their race, gender or sexuality, could not be elected to the presidency themselves. Fitz understands this dynamic, but still abuses it. He slept with a White House intern, then threw her away, and he’s complicit in turning his brilliant wife into a glorified broodmare. Even his bold plan to get the public to accept Olivia as First Lady boiled down to calling his opponents racist.

Point: He loves Olivia Pope

Scandal wouldn’t be a Shonda Rhimes show if it wasn’t centered on a steamy, messy love affair, and Fitz really does have epic love for Olivia. (It’s creepy, manipulative love, but still.) The American people have generally been fine with cheating politicians who seem like they’re genuinely in love with their mistresses. You could say that continuing to love Olivia is the bravest thing Fitz has ever done.

Counterpoint: More than he loves being president

That’s the tragedy of Fitzgerald Grant: The man doesn’t want to be president, not really. He only got into politics to one-up his hated father, and now that he’s reached the highest office in the land, he’s adrift. Every so often he’ll wake up with renewed purpose and vigor, but within a few episodes it’s back to shower-scotch and weary resignation. The best presidents have had a joy for the job in all its forms. Think FDR’s fireside chats, or Reagan’s stirring stump speeches. At this point, the nation might be better served under the auspices of villainous vice-president Sally Langston. Say what you will about her politics, at least she’s got verve.

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