Friday, February 21, 2014

House of Cards: Profoundly Subversive

Peggy Noonan's Wall Street Journal column asks a really important question, and gives the answer:
Watching Season 2 of “House of Cards.” Not to be a scold or humorless, but do Washington politicians understand how they make themselves look when they embrace the show and become part of its promotion by spouting its famous lines? Congressmen only work three days a week. Each shot must have taken two hours or so—the setup, the crew, the rehearsal, the learning the line. How do they have time for that? Why do they think it’s good for them?
“House of Cards” very famously does nothing to enhance Washington’s reputation. It reinforces the idea that the capital has no room for clean people. The earnest, the diligent, the idealistic, they have no place there. Why would powerful members of Congress align themselves with this message? Why do they become part of it? I guess they think they’re showing they’re in on the joke and hip to the culture. I guess they think they’re impressing people with their surprising groovelocity.
Or maybe they’re just stupid.
 If you have not watched it, House of Cards is perhaps the most mercilessly subversive television show about politics that I have ever seen.  (If you are familar with Shakespeare's Richard III, you will recognize the essential plot outline.)  Interestingly enough, while it is not partisan in the same sense that West Wing was reported to be (evil, ignorant Republicans, well-intentioned Democrats), it is primarily focused on a Democratic Administration, and a Democratic member of Congress moving his way up, through criminal actions and hardball politics.  I don't know if any members of Congress are quite as criminal as Frank Underwood, but the manipulation, log-rolling of favors for votes, and the general moral turpitude of most of the players, is very accurate.  And the Republicans are nearly villagers in the opera, they are so unimportant.

Raymond Tusk is a very obvious Warren Buffett-like character -- fabulously rich because of business acumen and knowing how to grease the levers of power in Washington, trying to get even richer, while pretending to be looking out for the public good.

The only people that do not seem to be utterly crooked is one Congresscritter who is far enough left to still be idealistic and a Tea Party Senator who is unwilling to go along with entitlement reform because of some of the dirty stuff in the bill.

I don't know how many Americans actually watch House of Cards, but it should provoke considerable skepticism of Big Government, no matter which party is in charge.  Sadly, I know that many state legislatures are every bit this sleazy.  (Maybe all?  I don't know quite enough about Idaho's legislative insides to know for sure.)

Amusing side note: Texas senator Wendy Davis, Democratic gubernatorial nominee and general all-around sleazy politician, was married to... Frank Underwood.  (Not the fictional character; Wendy Davis would fit right in with the fictional character, however.)

1 comment:

Rich Rostrom said...

I saw an episode of the British version, and it was brilliant but hideously bleak. I'm not sure it translates into U.S. terms. The U.S. House of Representatives is the parallel to the House of Commons, but the U.S. Executive branch doesn't arise from it, and in fact Representatives almost never go to the White House.

One has to be a Senator or Governor, and that means rising in the state party.

One thing that was brilliant was that the protagonist was amoral and ruthless and an extremely competent adminstrator, often right on policy issues where his rivals were egregiously wrong.