Don’t believe House of Cards: Not everyone in D.C. is like Frank Underwood.
At midnight last night, Netflix released all 13 episodes of season two of the much talked about show. House of Cards, a remake of a British political miniseries set in the after-Thatcher era 1990s, stars Kevin Spacey as Representative Frank Underwood, the House Majority Whip and Democrat from South Carolina who has some of the best one-liners ever uttered by a politician, real or made-for-TV, such as “friends make the worst enemies.”
However, I’m no fan. Not because the writing is bad or the characters are boring or the story lines lack interest. In my opinion, the show gets an A on all those fronts.
The question is not whether the show is well done. It’s whether it’s good for America and Americans who are watching it. House of Cards is a program that reinforces all the negatives, the darkest sides of Washington and politics. The show’s characters–whether Congressmen, the President, Hill staffers, journalists, or lobbyists — are dishonest, ruthless, corrupt, greedy and power-hungry, and several are all that and worse.
It’s all about the deal and getting ahead. It’s never about the policy, the principle or the people. Everybody uses everybody, including friends, co-workers, and spouses. (There may well be more sex scenes in House of Cards than in Sex and the City!) Apparently the only way to get a lead or big story if you’re a female journalist is to sleep with those in power. There are virtually no good guys.
You want to believe what a TV critic from The Boston Globe during season one wrote about Underwood and his wife Claire: “They are a loyal team, rather than another one of TV’s sham marriages in D.C.” But I have to wonder if this critic actually watched most of season one before writing that line. Like any relationship, the Underwoods’ dynamic is complicated, but this couple is more loyal to what they can do for each other’s careers, including accepting each other’s ongoing extramarital affairs, than to each other or the causes they say they believe in.
No doubt, the nation’s capital has plenty of such characters. You won’t get me to argue otherwise.
But as a friend who doesn’t work in politics recently said to me, “I just assume they’re all that way” in Washington. My friend isn’t alone in her assumption: public opinion of Washington, the President, Congress, and both political parties is at record lows.
And considering the response of lawmakers this week to the country’s $17 trillion — and growing — debt was to give themselves and President Obama a blank check for the next year to spend even more, their approval ratings should be in the basement. But that doesn’t mean that out of the 535 members of Congress there aren’t some very principled folks committed to doing right by their constituents and their country, people like Representative Tom Price (R-GA) and his wife, Betty, who I had the pleasure of meeting last week.
Price was a doctor before becoming a legislator and his wife is a member of the city council in their hometown of Roswell, fighting the good fight to ensure even bills and budgets at the local level are read before they are passed. The Prices are a team and both are passionate about what they do, but for the right reason — their concern for the future of their country and local community. The Underwoods they are not.
For those inside the Beltway, perhaps House of Cards is just self-aggrandizing entertainment. But for the average citizen, I have to believe it increases their cynicism about Washington and the political arena.
And that’s not good for America or we the people.