What’s Left: What Would Frank Do?

JP Letourneau

“Money is the McMansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after ten years. Power is the old stone building which stands for centuries. I cannot respect someone who doesn’t see the difference.” This quote, from the Majority Whip Frank Underwood in the Netflix series “House of Cards,” redefines how Americans view politicians. By and large, the general public views them as a bunch of bumbling idiots. Kevin Spacey portrays Underwood as someone radically dissonant with that perception.

This Valentine’s Day, Netflix released the second season of its critically-acclaimed “House of Cards.” Centered on a scheming and manipulative Congressman, the show offers a different interpretation of what it means to be a politician in modern Washington.

For Underwood, Congress represents the medium through which he can gain absolute power. He intimidates colleagues into voting for certain bills (quite successfully) and never allows himself to owe someone anything. Everything he has achieved has been through his own strategic merit.

Perhaps our Congress needs more Machiavellian representatives. Frank gives liberals a hard nose mentality and a never surrender attitude. Strategy and tact are certainly wanting in Congress. If Democrats choose to adopt more merciless tactics, then maybe more liberal legislation would be pushed through the House of Representatives.

Even so, “House of Cards” shows us a Congress deeply divided (similar to ours). The president is a Democrat while the Senate is controlled by a Republican majority. Despite Frank’s ruthless pragmatism, bills still struggle to pass. Many of them are stripped of vital amendments in order to present symbolic victories with the hope of improving public opinion.

I think this is the reason Americans love “House of Cards.” It doesn’t try to portray politicians and their staff as heroes or gods (i.e. “The West Wing”). Rather, it shows public servants as self-serving aristocrats in pursuit of money and power. Those unwilling to play the game lack political capital are cast aside. The vanquished are propped up as puppets and figureheads, serving as a means to someone’s [Frank’s] political ends. The public already equates politicians to crooks, liars and cheats; it’s about time a show embraced those

qualities, and I think American viewers not only appreciate but adore that fact.

Do Frank and his acolytes thwart political progress? Or do they represent people willing to get things done? There’s no denying that Frank is a powerful and effective politician. He pushes bills through Congress extremely quickly, and although he may be acting selfishly, he still manages to pass some meaningful legislation. If Frank were given the presidency, I believe he could cause some real progressive change to the American legal system.

Marriage equality, deficit reduction and immigration reform are among the litany of divisive issues plaguing our country today. A president with Frank’s mentality could potentially solve these issues. Obviously, there would be a blatant compromise of morality. Frank generally takes whatever measures necessary to ensure his pursuit of power is unencumbered.

Public servants can learn a lot from Frank Underwood’s role as a pragmatic, efficient politician who is willing to cross party lines if it serves his needs. Clearly, congressmen should not practice all of Frank’s tactics, but some emulation could go a long way if channeled in the right direction.

Contact  JP Letourneau at [email protected]