American politics needs a Frank

February 16th, 2014

By Harold Evans

Kevin Spacey’s wicked Congressman, Frank Underwood, may be just the man the headless Republican Party needs at the moment in Washington DC. He can get people to do what they don’t want to do, and punishes resisters without leaving his fingerprints on the dagger.

House of Cards, the eagerly awaited second season of which was released last week on Netflix, is a story of revenge in motion, of politics as a series of plots in between bouts of idealism. With Underwood as the protagonist, it’s altogether more cynical than the original British series of the Nineties, which starred Ian Richardson as the chief whip and political schemer Francis Urquhart. But it is ideally suited to these dysfunctional times in America when nothing can get done. Unfortunately, Underwood’s skills aren’t in the repertoire of the titular leader of the Republican Party in the House, Speaker John Boehner.

Last autumn, Boehner was unable to stop the Pied Piper of the hard Right, the junior senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, from leading the entire Republican Party over the cliff. Cruz, the pin-up boy of the Tea Party, filibustered a shutdown of the entire US government in an attempt to undermine President Obama’s health programme. The public is not in love with Obamacare, but even less with the Congressional gridlocks that paralysed the country. The Republicans had to cave in on the shutdown, chastened by popular uproar.

People were beginning to forget that episode. They were beginning to wonder if the chaos of the Obamacare launch had sabotaged Hillary Clinton’s prospects for the White House, but then a scandal blew up that seems to have derailed the swaggering Republican presidential front-runner, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The outing of a plot from his camp to punish a Democratic mayor by causing a traffic snarl-up at the George Washington Bridge shows that he has none of Underwood’s finesse. ♦