July 16th, 2019

Why I Love House of Cards


“Congressman Max Abrams: hopelessly conservative. Abrams voted to increase Medicare co-pays for people most in need. And Abrams co-sponsored a bill that would have raised the minimum age for Social Security recipients. Max Abrams: Bad for seniors. Bad for Vermont. (Paid for by Ted Wilkins for Congress 2014).”

If I were a politician, I’d have to watch nasty television ads like this during campaign season. And I’d have to read nastier editorials and social media posts about me every day.

I’d be pressured by rich, influential people to vote for laws that I know are flawed, corrupt, or just plain wrong.

These are just a few of the reasons why being a Washington politician is a pressure-filled nightmare that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

So, why on earth does a smart person choose to run for Congress, anyway? The addictive Netflix original series “House of Cards” makes the answer clear: POWER.

Kevin Spacey is mesmerizing as Rep. Frank Underwood (D, South Carolina). When we meet him, he is already majority whip of the House and he’s moving up in the world.

Frank worked to get the new president elected. And, in return, newly inaugurated President Walker has promised Frank an important cabinet position. But the president breaks his promise to Frank.

Frank Underwood doesn’t get mad, he gets even. The congressman hatches an outlandish, complex, and diabolical scheme to destroy his new enemies and enrich himself in the process.

For the lead character of a serious TV drama, Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood is surprisingly simple. He’s like a shark, always swimming forward toward the next kill.

While Frank isn’t very complex, he is always interesting; interesting to the extent that he might be the most evil lead character in television history. You can count the decent things he does on one hand. But acts of dishonesty and betrayal just keep piling up.

Frank views everyone in his life as pawns to be manipulated, used, and then discarded. Everyone except his wife Claire (Robin Wright). Frank neither loves his spouse nor is he attracted to her. But in Claire, Frank has found a life partner who shares the same goals. The Underwoods are like two snakes in the Garden of Eden, working together to seduce Eve to eat the apple.

The creator of “House of Cards” – Beau Willimon – faced a serious challenge: How do you get the audience to watch a villainous, murderous, soulless protagonist without hating him? Willimon’s splendid solution was to have Kevin Spacey turn to the camera sometimes and explain his feelings and motivations directly to us.

That technique somehow makes us, the audience, feel like we are in on Frank’s schemes; it somehow makes us root for him. Watching “House of Cards” from Frank’s perspective is like watching “Star Wars” from the point of view of the Emperor.

Though “House of Cards” makes us root for Frank, it definitely doesn’t glorify him. The awful thing about power is that achieving it never makes you happy; it only makes you want more. Ted Wilkins can have that congressional seat. I truly don’t want it.

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