House of Cards: Reality TV
Were I in charge of grand strategy for the Tea Party, I would have one particular pipedream.
In it, I would create a popular TV program depicting Washington politicians as a lying, thieving, corrupt, cynical bunch of egomaniacs, concerned solely with their own power and privilege and empty of any sense of obligation to the public. The main characters would be role models for such a world, but, as an interesting twist, they would not be cartoon monsters, which are easily dismissed. My leads would be very human, and would often appear sympathetic. I would not want the audience to dismiss my program as obvious fantasy, so, helped by superb acting, my story and characters would be believable.
A few more hits on the pipe and I would make it explicit that the main characters were Democrats, but a few equally-repulsive Republican establishment types would be thrown in for balance. Both sides would hate the Tea Parties.
Then I would make the president into a boob, obsessed with the appearance of strength to mask his weakness, easily deceived and manipulated by the sharks, blowing in the wind of his last conversation and tricked into dumping loyal staffers.
I would add a couple of psychopathic congressional aides, a ruthless lobbyist who sleeps with an equally amoral member of the House leadership, and some crony capitalists and corrupt Chinese businessmen. Environmental organizations, militant feminism, and Indian casinos would all be portrayed as rackets. The principals would use control of the law enforcement apparatus to frame curious journalists, and would even commit murder given a convenient opportunity. Anyone exhibiting a touch of decency or integrity would be turned into a chump.
Finally, I would further blur the line between the show and reality by having my program create a special spoof to be shown at the White House correspondents' dinner in which Washington insiders demonstrate petty pique over seating arrangements, and I would make sure that the series got praised by the Washington political community, including representatives of the real president, not just as an entertainment but as a picture of Washington as it is.
When I awoke from this pipedream, I would be pleasantly surprised to learn that Netflix had been reading my mind. The second season of House of Cards premiered last Friday, and the political world is both bingeing on it and attesting to its authenticity: " 'The only unrealistic thing about the show is that a democrat could represent Gaffney, South Carolina,' [Sen. Lindsey] Graham said of Kevin Spacey's Congressman Frank Underwood." Search google for "House of Cards" and "reality" and one turns up considerable confirmation that people accept its depictions as accurate.
My only reservation would be that viewership for even a hit TV program is modest. Netflix does not reveal audience numbers, and viewer estimates are in the 10 to 13 million range, rather small for a nation of 320 million. But the audience is building, helped by Netflix's expert PR (Frank Underwood would be proud), and a viral phenomenon may well be in the offing.
So, to complete my dream, all Netflix must do is add a note to the viewers at the beginning: "This is reality TV, not satire -- and is this really how you want to be ruled?"
James V DeLong is the author of Ending 'Big SIS' (The Special Interest State) & Renewing the American Republic