The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

House of Cards

Last year, Netflix, independent of broadcast or cable TV, created the groundbreaking series, House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey as a venal, but at the same time oddly-likeable Congressman Frank Underwood. Congressman Underwood is a master political player, willing to throw anyone (including his beautiful, conniving wife) under the bus to achieve his many political goals. He is ruthless to the point of criminality, politically effective to the point of coersion, and operationally efficient, using the media to leverage his goals and strategies. As you watch the series, you wonder whether Washington is really as bad as the series depicts, whether hardball politics is really that bruising. Insiders smile and say, no, but they've have images to protect. My guess is that the series depicts hardball politics in our nation's capital with brutal honesty. Not every politician is Frank Underwood, but I suspect that more than a few are or would like to be.

After a meeting with Netflix executives, Barack Obama joked with White House reporters:
“I wish things were that ruthlessly efficient.”
Jonathan Tobin comments:
We’re supposed to chuckle at this comment and regard it as an understandable expression of frustration by the president at the inability of Congress to do its job. But I’m afraid this crack tells us more about Obama’s way of governing that it does about the fact that neither House Speaker John Boehner nor Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid can teach Frank Underwood much about passing legislation. The fact is, for five years Obama has sat in the White House and acted as if he had as little interest in accommodating the positions of his political foes as Underwood does. The problem isn’t that the West Wing and its congressional allies aren’t as “ruthlessly efficient” as the wicked Underwood, it’s that he has as negative an attitude toward the normal business of democracy as the character played by actor Kevin Spacey ...

It should be noted that in the show, Underwood has shown a dogged talent for negotiation that Obama lacks, even if, in the end, the character gets his way more by underhanded tactics than give and take. But he shares the president’s desire to have his own way at all costs. In the program’s fictional Washington where the anti-hero can do as he likes, “ruthless efficiency” can be achieved. But in the real Washington, Obama’s desire for acclimation of his every ideological whim is always bound to be frustrated by a constitutional system of checks and balances that allows the views of the minority to be heard and even at times to stop those of the president and the majority.
There is no doubt in my mind—none—that Barack Obama has "little interest in accommodating the positions of his political foes." In fact, this President is a true ideological believer. At his core, I honestly believe that he thinks the GOP is the enemy and that approximately half the country, you know, the half that didn't vote for him, don't need to be listened to.

Ironically, the consequence is a "house of cards" of his own making. Disastrous foreign policy, ineffective governance, and catastrophically damaging legislation all flow out of an inability to integrate opposing views and recommendations into his policies.