Monday, March 23, 2015

House of Cards:The New Hampshire Illusion

"House of Cards" took 4 episodes to get interesting this season, but now the candidates are in Iowa and New Hampshire and the cold states have heated things up big time.

I have to keep reminding myself this is fiction, but the way the staffers and the politicos speak sounds very real to my ear. Granted, I never worked on the Hill, but I certainly heard this kind of talk, as you do when you go to dinner parties, the swimming pool, the gym and all the places you run into people who do work on the Hill. It's more than those wonderful shots of the city and the waterfront which open the show--the voices, the phrases, the culture sounds authentic. 

What I could not  know living in  Washington, was what happened when the politicos got out on the hustings.  What HOC shows you is how the Washington people view the folks in the trenches in New Hampshire. The strivers are testing out lines, the way comedians test out their material, to see what works, to field the embarrassing questions in a small groups before they have to answer these questions in front of a large national TV  audience.

Having spent most of my life in Washington, DC, the only President I ever met in person was George H.W. Bush, and he was Vice President at the time. Up here in New Hampshire, I stand on "visible presence" lines, holding signs with people who've had Obama over for coffee, who have chatted with  Hillary and all the people I could only read about, when I lived in DC. I heard about these figures all the time, but never actually heard them in person. Here, people have direct conversations with the candidates. So you might think New Hampshire folk play a special role in the political life of the nation.

And they do.

But I don't think it's quite the role we'd like to believe we play up here.  We are not so much shaping events as being sampled and weighed. We are not selecting future leaders; we are acting as focus group subjects, as the candidates move on to hone their images and messages.  If we like Claire Underwood as a blonde, well then, we see Claire go blonde, but we are not changing anything substantive. We are constantly being "played" by people whose only real conviction is the conviction they have to be elected, they have to win.  Whatever it takes to get us to say, "I'll vote for you," is what they will say. None of it really means anything to the people who want to be winners. 

Rand Paul may believe in minimal government and Hiliary Clinton may believe in more government, but in the end they will have to compromise enough for the distinction to be without a difference. 

We can chat with the players and think we are backstage, getting a feel for them, but they are never really off stage when they are with us.  They may, at best, try to learn who we are, what matters to us, but they are not going to let us know what they are thinking. 

And if we go door to door and have conversations with our neighbors, we are likely the only ones affected by this exercise. The movers and shapers from Washington are not being changed by our opinions. 

And we are certainly not selecting or culling; we are only a ripple in the pond, not a wave carrying the boat along.

As the story line sweeps HOC along this season an unexpected theme emerges: Personal feelings matter.  Established institutions only constrain, but do not shape how people really feel or behave

There are three parallel stories, relationships: There is Claire and Francis Underwood, who are a "fusion" of power, and their very modern love starts to corrode them. There is Tom, who is writing an authorized biography of the President while bedding his chief antagonist in the media, but when he gets too close to the truth about the Francis/Claire relationship, he is thrown off the bus. And there are those two thoroughly driven, ruthless and absorbing people: Jackie (the ambitious Congresswoman, who marries the "right" man but who longs for Remy, the wrong man) and Remy, who is a consummate professional, who routinely sets aside his personal feelings to serve and protect his boss, until he can do neither.

When Jackie finally shows up at Remy's door, it is the first time over the three seasons you see any one doing the "right" thing, following her heart, and what she is doing is a violation of her obligations, vows and career.

We can learn something here in New Hampshire from "House of Cards." We can be earnest and we can educate ourselves on the issues and we can discuss them with our neighbors and we can blog and we can vote. 

But we cannot know the people we are voting for, not from what we are seeing here. 

For that, we have to  speculate and imagine. 

No comments:

Post a Comment