I’m going to say no, but not because I quibble with any of Will Rahn’s six supporting points. I just don’t think the show cares about policy or ideology at all. Even Frank’s major accomplishments, like the education bill in season one, come off as things he does to keep busy will he’s waiting for his traps to be sprung, not anything he’s deeply committed to.
And yet, how many political shows over the years have held up entitlement reform as something worth doing? Imagine how that topic would have been handled on, say, “The West Wing.”
1. Entitlement reform is presented as a necessity.
“Why keep fighting it?” says Frank Underwood, the House Whip-turned-Vice President antihero, as he persuades his fellow Democrats to raise the retirement age to 68. Indeed, everyone on the show sees boosting the retirement age as essential to keeping Social Security solvent, with the exception of limp-wristed liberal Rep. Donald Blythe, who eventually caves anyway.
2. Christians actually come off looking good.
Rachel Posner, the long-suffering prostitute enlisted by Underwood and his aide Doug Stamper to help Rep. Peter Russo destroy himself, finds a path to redemption in the form of a Maryland church and its attractive, kindhearted and weirdly hip congregants. This does not sit well with Doug, who looks positively Demonic as he demands that Rachel stop attending the church because he fears she’ll tell someone about Underwood’s schemes.
3. All the Democrats are beyond terrible.
Underwood, who ascends to the Vice Presidency at the start of the season, has murdered two people since the series began, including Russo and Zoe Barnes, a young female reporter/former girlfriend he tosses in front of a moving train. His boss, President Walker, is weak and easily manipulated. His replacement as House whip, Jackie Sharp (played by the great Molly Parker), destroys the life of her mentor and father figure for a shot at more power. And Raymond Tusk, the liberal billionaire who really runs the administration until Underwood shows up, is more than happy to black out much of the East Coast so long as it gets him some political leverage.
There’s more where that came from but point three is key. Is it that the Democrats are beyond terrible or is it that everyone is beyond terrible and it so happens that all of the major players are Democrats? In the 11 or so hours of season two, Republicans are onscreen for about 20 minutes. That’s not, I think, because they’re uninteresting in their virtuousness, it’s because the show’s all about Frank scheming to grasp power and all the people in his way are members of his own party. It would be bizarre if the producers believed one party was significantly less corrupt than the other given that the whole point of the show — I thought — is that Washington, as a collective, rewards corruption and rewards absolute corruption absolutely. (Which is Rahn’s sixth point, actually.) Morally, it’s a toxic waste dump and Frank is the fish who’s evolved a tiny bit past the others in learning to survive while swimming in it. But everyone who’s swimming alongside him has, by definition, learned to adapt too, so it goes without saying that the Republicans are also rotten. We just don’t get to see it. Maybe in season three?
In fact, if you want to pick nits, it’s the Republicans — specifically the tea party — who almost undo the big entitlement reform bill by preventing a quorum. They have to be dragged to the floor, literally, by Capitol Police so that Democrats can pass the sort of fiscal reform that conservatives have been screaming about for years. You could, if you like, read that as the show accusing conservatives of being stubborn to the point of stupidity, insisting on looking even the biggest gift horse in the mouth. Either way, it’s the Democrats who get all the glory for being forward-thinking budget-balancers in the HOC universe. As for Rachel Posner, I got the sense that she was less moved by the faith itself than by the friendship and community the church provided her. (Yeah, I know — leave it to an atheist to say that.) She was the loneliest person in the world, tormented by Stamper, then she made a friend on the bus and finally had someone to talk to. The church welcomed her in — at which point she and her friend began a lesbian affair, which further complicates the alleged religious message here. I think Rachel wanted a safe haven, not Christianity per se.
Anyway. I have no HOC clips to offer you so here’s a reminder from Jimmy Kimmel that America’s low-information voters probably are gullible enough to be serially exploited by even a liar as bad as Frank Underwood.