Barney Frank, the shy and retiring retired Congressman from Massachusetts, who has his name and political legacy attached to the controversial Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation has been in the news this week, not as a political pundit, but rather as a television critic.
In an Op-Ed piece – it’s always an Op-Ed piece, isn’t it, where news is made these days – Frank allowed as how the hit show House of Cards, with the excellent Kevin Spacey as uber-Congressman Frank Underwood, really isn’t how politics in Washington (or the USA) really works.
“House of Cards,” Frank writes, “has no stronger relation to political reality than the ratings given by Standard and Poor’s to packages of subprime mortgages had to economic truth.
“Having watched several episodes, I agree that it is well acted. My problem is that it might mislead people into thinking that this is the way our political system actually works. It is not.”
OK, granted that Rep. Frank makes it clear that no one member of the current Congress is as powerful or successful as Rep. Frank Underwood and that nothing is quite so easily manipulated as what he accomplishes in 60 minute bursts. Still, one only has to check out the daily headlines to confirm that shows like House of Cards and other politically themed shows of the moment, including The Newsroom and The Veep, offer story lines that almost seem quaint when compared to the real thing.
Let’s consider Sen. Ted Cruz, but only for a minute.
How is this for an episode of House of Cards? Rep. Underwood, always thinking three steps ahead of the White House and his opponents, discovers that a potential rival who may one day be a candidate for president and has made his brief national reputation opposing immigration reform was actually, wait – suspend your disbelief – born in Canada! Our make believe Rep. Underwood, using his vast contacts in the D.C. media, leaks the whole story causing the rival to renounce his heretofore unknown dual citizenship, produce his birth certificate and, not incidentally, look like a hypocrite. The rival, let’s cast him as an upstart U.S. Senator from Texas, is left to mutter that politics has entered “the silly season.”
Spoiler alert: when all a politician can say regarding his predicament, whether on the big screen, small screen or in “real” life, is “this is the silly season,” he has been had. But, back to Barney Frank. My make believe episode of House of Cards involving an upstart, anti-immigration reform Texas senator is just too far out to pass the D.C. smell test. I get it.
But how about cooking up a story line about a certain New York City mayor’s race? Forget the Tweetting Twit Anthony Weiner (and wouldn’t we all like to) and let’s talk about the new frontrunner in the race to succeed the billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is only mayor because he manipulated the electoral system in the Big Apple so that he could win a third term. No Kevin Spacey/Frank Underwood-like intrigue in that, right? Moving right along.
So, the latest front runner is a fella named Bill de Blasio who jumped to the head of the crowded field just as it was revealed that he is a life-long Boston Red Sox fan, which to many New Yorkers is about as politically correct as saying Benito Mussolini was just a misunderstood Italian. But, wait, there is more. It turns out that de Blasio’s wife Chirlane McCray is, well let’s allow the stylish Maureen Dowd explain, as she did in her New York Times column:
“Last spring,” Dowd wrote, “McCray did an interview with Essence magazine about her feelings about being a black lesbian who fell in love with a white heterosexual, back in 1991, when she worked for the New York Commission on Human Rights and wore African clothing and a nose ring and he was an aide to then-Mayor David Dinkins. With her husband, she was also interviewed by the press in December and was asked if she was no longer a lesbian, and she answered ambiguously: ‘I am married. I have two children. Sexuality is a fluid thing, and it’s personal. I don’t even understand the question, quite frankly.'”
Let’s see, add that plot line to Weiner’s tweets of private parts and to the former front runner Christine Quinn’s storyline as married lesbian without children who is now defending “childless families” and I guess a “real” campaign just has nothing on television drama.
Anything else? OK, turn the dial to The Newsroom, the Aaron Sorkin-created HBO drama about a cable news operation that stars Jeff Daniels as the Republican anchorman who finds himself constantly at odds with the Tea Party wing of the GOP. Any similarity to Morning Joe, the MSNBC show that stars a former Republican Congressman, is strictly aimed at making Barney Frank dizzy. Such things simply don’t happen in the “real” world. Trust me.
Which brings me to Roger Ailes who has fired his long-time PR guy, Brian Lewis, at Fox News the other day. As the understated New York Daily News put it, “When the ax fell on the senior flack — who was Ailes’ chief adviser and oversaw public relations for Fox News, Fox Business Network, Fox Television and Twentieth Television — security staff escorted him out of his Sixth Ave. office, according to the Hollywood Reporter.” Move along, people, nothing to see here. This is too crazy for mere art. It doesn’t pass the test of being anything like the way the “real” world works. Nope.
OK, how about this as a story line: One the world’s richest men, a technology entrepreneur who owns a huge company that exists to sell things to customers who provide lots of personal information over the Internet, buys one of the nation’s most politically important newspapers in the capitol of that nation where government officials can regulate his business? Crazy, right? Wait, how about we add that the tech guy’s company is a big government contractor who sells technology services to the government at a time when government spy programs are all over the news and he seems to be something of a Libertarian? No way that makes it into a Sorkin script for The Newsroom. No way. Way too unbelievable.
But, back to the former Barney Frank. Here’s part of his Op-Ed take down of House of Cards.
“House of Cards demeans the democratic process in ways that are unfair, inaccurate, and if they were to be believed by a substantial number of the public, deeply unfortunate.
“The character is wholly amoral. He has no political principles, either substantive or procedural. There is no issue about which he cares; no tactic he will not employ, no matter how unfair it is to others; and he is thoroughly dishonest.
“I have never met anyone in a position of power in Congress who resembles that caricature.”
Barney is spending the summer in Maine. Maybe he’s eaten too much lobster or gotten too much fresh air. The really unbelievable thing about House of Cards is that Spacey’s Frank Underwood is a Democratic congressman from South Carolina. At least that part of House of Cards really doesn’t pass the Washington, D.C. smell test. A Democrat from South Carolina? Unreal.
Come to think of it, how about an episode featuring a loud, opinionated, gay Congressman (who once faced scandal because his boy friend who turned out to be a male prostitute) who passes major financial services legislation in the wake of the greatest financial meltdown since the Great Depression and then sees its implementation stalled in part by a Congress where the financial industry has lavished campaign contributions. You’re right. Couldn’t happen.
Let’s be real. Kevin Spacey and Aaron Sorkin know something Barney Frank doesn’t, but should. You can make this stuff up, but you don’t really need to.