But the historical LBJ and his by-any-means-necessary style brought us a War on Poverty that bulldozed people’s rights without measurably improving their lot and a Vietnam War escalation that stands as one of the single greatest policy follies in U.S. history. His temperament may have given us the Civil Rights Act, but it also gave us the unseemly spectacle of a paranoid president enlisting the FBI and a Supreme Court justice to dig up dirt on actor George Hamilton just for having the temerity to fancy LBJ’s daughter.
Where the Lincolnphiles suffered from an over-fondness of rhetoric, the knock-a-few-heads-together crowd labors under a similarly unrealistic notion of what could be accomplished if you just locked warring political tribes in a room. That approach fails to take into account the many awful examples of bipartisan deal making, from Medicare Part D to the stimulus packages of 2008-09. Even worse, it reduces the dull, protracted realities of real-world policy making to a drama tidy enough to fit within the length of a major motion picture or Broadway show.
More troubling even than the rehabilitation of a man Democrats once couldn’t wait to hound out of office is the rising fondness for an even more ruthless commander in chief: Frank Underwood, our cover boy this month, the fictional anti-hero of Netflix’s critically acclaimed Washington drama House of Cards. Underwood is a honey-throated liberal Democrat in the LBJ mold who—spoiler alert!—actually murders his way from House majority whip to commander in chief.
“Given the congressional gridlock of recent years,” National Journal’s Lucia Graves wrote in February, Underwood’s ruthlessness “doesn’t sound like such a bad thing. The question, given the current legislative paralysis, is does the ends justify the means?”