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Why Do American Politicians Wrap Themselves in ‘House of Cards’?

house-of-cards

While I’ve always thought Peggy Noonan a fine writer, I’ve found her stuck in something of a time warp and haven’t been a regular reader of her columns in quite some time. Her latest, “Our Decadent Elites,” however, is worth a read.

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?

Here’s the video in question:

Noonan continues,

“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.

[...]

It’s all supposed to be amusing, supposed to show you’re an insider who sees right through this town. But I’m not sure it shows that.

We’re at a funny point in our political culture. To have judgment is to be an elitist. To have dignity is to be yesterday. To have standards is to be a hypocrite—you won’t always meet standards even when they’re your own, so why have them?

To be sure, there’s a certain Church Lady quality to the tone here. Still, she has a point. While I enjoy the show (albeit, season 2 isn’t grabbing me as quickly as the first one did) it’s an incredibly negative portrayal of DC politics. As frustrating and base as the real thing can be, it’s not nearly as sinister as “House of Cards.” Tom DeLay was oily and at least borderline corrupt but I have no reason to think he was murdering people at the drop of a hat in the fashion of the show’s protagonist. It’s odd, indeed, for DC pols to wrap themselves in the show.

For that matter, it’s weird to me to see media figures portraying themselves in this sort of drama. They’re supposed to be pretending to be objective and yet here they are participating in a show that portrays not only the politicians they cover but some members of their own guild as highly unsavory.

Here, incidentally, is the vido

That said, I’m not sure I buy Noonan’s conclusion:

All of this is supposed to be merry, high-jinksy, unpretentious, wickedly self-spoofing. But it seems more self-exposing, doesn’t it?

And all of it feels so decadent.

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?

I doubt that average citizen thinks about the world in this fashion. To me, the danger is that having real people play themselves in shows like “House of Cards” contributes to the notion that it’s a sort of particularly exciting documentary, fictional but nonetheless depicting a larger truth about the institutions.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Dmichael says:

    Mr. Joyner:

    It is hard to understand how you can call Peggy Noonan a “fine writer” when you admit you “haven’t been a regular reader of her columns in quite some time.” Let me bring you up to date: She started as a shill for President Ronald Reagan and every column she has written since then has been a variation on the theme that Ronald Reagan was the best president ever. Yes, she has been “stuck in something of a time warp” but she expresses nostalgia for a time that didn’t exist. Her column appeared to be (it is frequently hard to tell what she is writing about) a response to Kevin Roose’s article “I Crashed a Wall Street Secret Society.” I suggest reading SteveM at http://nomoremister.blogspot.com or TBogg at http://www.rawstory.com/rs/category/panic-in-funland for the appropriate analysis and evisceration of her writing, including the column you write about.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 20 Thumb down 10

  2. legion says:

    Why Do American Politicians Wrap Themselves in ‘House of Cards’?

    Why? Because it makes politicians look competent and effective and sexy – why else?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  3. stonetools says:

    Watched both seasons. The politics makes NO sense, but it is interesting and entertaining. This is as oppsed to the real world, where the politics are often boring and unenteraining-and STILL often make no sense.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  4. john personna says:

    I had some friends who ware cops, who liked crazy-cops shows. I think it was escapist for them, and they didn’t “go rouge” in real life. Maybe this is the same.

    On the other hand, my dad was an inner city teacher and would not allow “Room 222″ on in the house.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  5. john personna says:

    @Dmichael:

    It’s been a while since Noonan was dialed-in, but I think it’s pretty silly to call a presidential speechwriter a “shill” for a president.

    Or rather, duh.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  6. ernieyeball says:

    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.

    Why does anybody do anything? Because they can!

    Richard Nixon on Laugh In. Sock it to me?
    Dwight Eisenhower, was the first to harness the pop culture power of the small screen. Throughout his eight years in office, Eisenhower would mix politics with the new medium, and had his appearances televised on programs like The Ed Sullivan Show. He even shared face-time with the comedy duo Abbott and Costello while kicking off Armed Forces Week in 1955.

    http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2007228_2007230_2007255,00.html

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  7. ernieyeball says:

    @stonetools:..the real world, where the politics are often boring and unenteraining-

    I sure am glad I was in college during Watergate.
    The Saturday Night Massacre…The Tapes…Tricky Dick’s Resignation…The Pardon…
    You just had to be there.

    On another note. I was a Sophmore in High School when John Kennedy was shot dead…
    RIP

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  8. James Pearce says:

    “To me, the danger is that having real people play themselves in shows like “House of Cards” contributes to the notion that it’s a sort of particularly exciting documentary, fictional but nonetheless depicting a larger truth about the institutions.”

    It’s weird seeing Maddow and Hannity talk about Vice President Underwood. That Lawrence O’Donnell interview was ridiculous. I kept watching that thinking, “O’Donnell would never EVER get a big exclusive interview like this…..but maybe Netflix could only get O’Donnell.”

    Clearly “House of Cards” is set in an alternate universe.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  9. Tillman says:

    @James Pearce: Spacey said much the same thing on an interview he did for Colbert: “Obviously this is fiction, because the Congress in House of Cards actually gets things accomplished.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  10. Tillman says:

    I’m with you, Dr. Joyner, on how Noonan’s conclusion that the elite are “laughing” at their constituents by self-spoofing is a little off. It’s not too far off, though, and the sense I get is that Washington is so decadent that the self-spoofing isn’t even registered that way.

    When you’ve reached a certain level of distance from the lives of the everyday man, as our elite probably has, you don’t question that these self-deprecating skits serve a humbling purpose to your social peers. You also can effectively use the self-deprecation as a way to never address actual problems.

    Finally, if you still haven’t seen the BBC original, Jesus get yourself to a streaming device. Ian Richardson’s positive delight at taking down the establishment that spurned him? I’m not saying Kevin Spacey pales in comparison, but they are two very different creatures. Spacey’s monologues are darkly humorous, like he’s lamenting the human condition; Richardson’s are impishly delightful, as he celebrates it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  11. al-Ameda says:

    @john personna:

    On the other hand, my dad was an inner city teacher and would not allow “Room 222″ on in the house.

    My father was a big city police officer and he didn’t watch much television, let alone cop shows, but the one he did watch regularly was “Kojak” – I think he liked the snarky dialogue among the guys at the station. By the way, each time I visited my dad down at Central Station I noticed that the guys who ran the place were snarky as hell.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  12. john personna says:

    @al-Ameda:

    In a strange loop, the kids at my dad’s school called him “Kojak” as he did noontime supervision.

    He then took to lollipops.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  13. Crusty Dem says:

    While I’ve always thought Peggy Noonan a fine writer,

    WHAT???

    I’m sorry, that is nuts. I will accept this only of after the comma is “I haven’t read her in 20 years”.

    Between the Reagan foot fetish, dolphins of god, and “is it irresponsible to speculate? It’s irresponsible not to..”, I can’t imagine anyone finding her thoughtful, insightful, or even sane.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 4

  14. anjin-san says:

    Going off topic – has the public beating of Pussy Riot members during the Olympics impacted the conservative love affair with Putin? Inquiring minds want to know.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 6

  15. Pinky says:

    @legion:

    Because it makes politicians look competent and effective and sexy

    Ding ding ding ding ding! Stock brokers loved Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. Then again, rock bands loved Spinal Tap. Maybe it’s just more basically that everyone’s flattered by attention, and politicians are probably on the more insecure end of the spectrum.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  16. grewgills says:

    To me, the danger is that having real people play themselves in shows like “House of Cards” contributes to the notion that it’s a sort of particularly exciting documentary, fictional but nonetheless depicting a larger truth about the institutions.

    Much like the actual tv news, but that has less of the ”depicting the larger truth about the institutions.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  17. Rafer Janders says:

    While I’ve always thought Peggy Noonan a fine writer,

    Peggy Noonan, fine writer:

    I first saw President Reagan as a foot, highly polished brown cordovan wagging merrily on a hassock. I spied it through the door. It was a beautiful foot, sleek. Such casual elegance and clean lines! But not a big foot, not formidable, maybe a little …frail. I imagined cradling it in my arms, protecting it from unsmooth roads.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 1

  18. gVOR08 says:

    @Rafer Janders: I’ll be a while scrubbing that off my eyeballs.

    I have trouble getting excited about this. Noonan’s piece is a bit overblown. But I repeat myself. Most people understand fiction is fiction. But it’s popular, so of course pols try to jump on board. At least it beats the heck out of dragging Ted Nugent along.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  19. edmondo says:

    The most realistic part of the second season was watching the Democrats fight so hard to gut social security so that the GOP wouldn’t shut down the government. Then watching the weak and ineffective Democrat in the White House “take credit” for it.

    It was like being in DC today.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  20. Tillman says:

    @Rafer Janders: Wow. I’d never read the actual foot fetish bit. I always thought she used the Tolstoyan play of constantly mentioning the foot in a flattering way peppered throughout other prose like the little princess’s mustache.

    I really need to stop thinking better of people.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  21. rachel says:

    @Pinky: Maybe that’s why the old Star Trek cast members (TOS and TNG) liked Galaxy Quest so much.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  22. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Rafer Janders: Screw you Rafer, I really could have done with out that trip down Foot Fetish Alley. ;-)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  23. wr says:

    @anjin-san:”Going off topic – has the public beating of Pussy Riot members during the Olympics impacted the conservative love affair with Putin? Inquiring minds want to know.”

    Sluts got out of line and Big Daddy sent Kossacks to whip them into behaving.

    Why would a conservative have a problem with that?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  24. James Pearce says:

    @edmondo:

    The most realistic part of the second season was watching the Democrats fight so hard to gut social security so that the GOP wouldn’t shut down the government. Then watching the weak and ineffective Democrat in the White House “take credit” for it.

    Ha. If you thought that was “realistic” you may be living in the alternate universe in which House of Cards takes place.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  25. JFogerty says:

    HoC is Washington’s version of Entourage. Famous celebrities love to play themselves on Entourage but not as sweet, fan-loving, regular people, but as rich, distant, and priviliged jackasses. Why would they do that and possibly hurt their public reputation?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  26. dazedandconfused says:

    @john personna:

    As to your cop friends in your area, I have to ask, are they also addicted to “Amish Mafia” as mine are? They find it utterly fascinating, and have gone to some lengths to verify it is real. There is some kind of lesson in that. Has to be.

    Noonan? She participates in the spin game. She must find that show disturbing, at some level.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  27. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @anjin-san: Pussy Riot is an all-girl punk band, right? In that case, probably not.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  28. Davebo says:

    Peggy Noonan seeing DC insiders as out of touch elitists willing to openly flaunt their disdain for ordinary Americans is more than a bit hilarious.

    James finding anything in that obviously self serving commentary (look, I’m not at all like them!) used to be a bit depressing.

    Peggy being published behind a WSJ paywall brings images of Newt Gingrich’s glory hole dreams to mind and that stuff can’t be scraped off with steel wool.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  29. Scott says:

    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.

    Whenever I read stuff like this I just want to barf. Peggy Noonan is part of this group. She is part of the elite. It’s ridiculous. It is the same as Fox News railing about the MSM. They are part of the MSM. Who are these people all fooling?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  30. john personna says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    ;-) haven’t heard a report on that one.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  31. bk says:

    Would it be irresponsible to speculate if she was drinking when she wrote this column (and pretty much every other column she has written in the past several years)? It would be irresponsible etc.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0