February 19 2014
What--If Anything--Does "House of Cards" Say About Washington?
Although I am a huge fan of the original, U.K. version of “House of Cards,” I haven’t yet seen the U.S. show starring Kevin Spacey as ruthless Washington politician Frank Underwood.
The Brit version is sheer delight, with the late Ian Richardson dominating the camera as Francis Urquhart, the Chief Whip who becomes Prime Minister by destroying (literally, in some cases) those who stand in his way. Machiavellian is too kind a word for Urquhart.
I don’t mind it that Urquhart is a conservative because—after all—we conservatives, by and large, have good senses of humor and can take a joke.
As far as I know, no real-life members of Parliament ever landed bit parts in the the English “House of Cards.” Not so in the case of its American cousin: majority whip, Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Reps. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), Donna Edwards (D-Md.), Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) put in brief appearances. The real-life pols quote from the fictional Frank Underwood.
It is easy to dismiss this as good clean fun. But Peggy Noonan doesn’t do that:
“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.
But it’s all vaguely decadent, no? Or maybe not vaguely. America sees Washington as the capital of vacant, empty souls, chattering among the pillars. Suggesting this perception is valid is helpful in what way?
No one wants to be the earnest outsider now, no one wants to play the sober steward, no one wants to be the grind, the guy carrying around a cross of dignity. No one wants to be accused of being staid. No one wants to say, “This isn’t good for the country, and it isn’t good for our profession.”
And it is all about the behavior of our elites, our upper classes, which we define now in a practical sense as those who are successful, affluent and powerful. This group not only includes but is almost limited to our political class, Wall Street, and the media, from Hollywood to the news divisions.
They’re all kind of running America.
They all seem increasingly decadent.
What are the implications of this, do you think?
They’re making their videos, holding their parties and having a ball. OK. But imagine you’re a Citizen at Home just grinding through—trying to do it all, the job, the parenthood, the mowing the lawn and paying the taxes. No glamour, all responsibility and effort. And you see these little clips on the Net where the wealthy sing about how great taxpayer bailouts are and you feel like . . . they’re laughing at you.
What happens to a nation whose elites laugh at its citizens?
What happens to its elites?
Even if you haven’t seen “House of Cards” and perhaps have a milder reaction to real-life, elected officials appearing in the show (though Peggy does make a good point: however do they find the time? Don't they have work to do?), you recognize the elites she describes.