Raw Ambition: Harry Reid vs. “House of Card’s” Frank Underwood

Frank Underwood_Harry Reid

It’s hard to determine if the uncanny similarities between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the acerbic central character of “House of Cards,” Frank Underwood, are a case of art imitating life or rather, an instance of truth being stranger than fiction.

Whether you revel in the wheeling, dealing and scheming of politics or find it all too sordid, there’s no denying the magnetic pull each of these high-powered players has on a rapt nation, whether in the real world or under the lights and cameras of Hollywood.

Reid is the picture of the American Dream. For the son of a hard-working rock miner reared in a town of fewer than 600 people and educated in a one-room school house through the eighth grade to have risen to one of the most powerful positions in the country, is nothing short of amazing. But you don’t climb that far out of the mines without stepping on a few people (and ethical boundaries) along the way.

With nearly 30 years in the U.S. Senate, Reid has become part of the fabric of modern American politics. Known for being outspoken (sometimes to his detriment) and not one to back down from a fight, this strong Democratic leader from Nevada can’t help but put people in mind of Kevin Spacey’s portrayal of another brazen Democrat, Frank Underwood.

Both came from small-town beginnings, although Underwood hails from a peach farm in the south while Reid grew up in the Wild West. Both attended law school – Reid at George Washington University and Underwood at Harvard. Both have made a career out of making memorable, if not always flattering, comments that leave nothing to the imagination when it comes to what side of an issue they are on. And both are known as dealmakers, doggedly committed to accomplishing their objectives no matter what.

Reid orchestrated an unlikely re-election in 2010 when, thanks to Tea Party popularity, he was viewed as a definite underdog. He systematically knocked the players off the board who would be most threatening to him, eventually landing the exact opponent he wanted and was sure to beat. In the past 10 years, Reid has blocked strongly-supported Republican bids to privatize Social Security and it was nothing short of his tenacity that ensured the Affordable Care Act would go into law, even under the threat and ultimate reality of a government shutdown.

Similarly, Underwood has an uncanny knack for getting what he wants, even orchestrating a scandal to replace the Secretary of State with a personal friend and ultimately scheming his way into the coveted role of Vice President of the United States. No doubt, Reid would likely not get away with the outlandish tactics Netflix lets Underwood employ, but the raw ambition and perpetual success of these two political powerhouses are undeniably similar.

Often criticized for bending the rules Reid is frequently viewed as calculating and brutal, being called a “political hit man” by Georgia Republican Tom Graves. Thankfully, Reid hasn’t taken the hit man moniker to heart in the same way Underwood did when he murdered a gubernatorial candidate as part of a plot to further his own interests.

Probably the most unsettling aspect of the Reid-Underwood comparison is that although “House of Cards” obviously pushes political ambition to the limit, the tactics, deals and plotting aren’t such a huge leap from the reality of Washington. Even our Commander in Chief calls the show one of his favorites and acknowledges its relevance, calling the Netflix hit “edgy with hints of reality.” And with season two just around the corner, it’s not too late to bone up on all of Underwood’s underhanded schemes and join the President in watching Underwood’s continued rise or fall come February 14.

Which scares you more – real life politics or glamorized portrayals of corruption?

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Emiah has always been intrigued by the cable TV industry. She is consistently questioning how certain shows become pop culture phenomenons while others unceremoniously fail. Emiah has a deep appreciation for Andy Cohen and The Real Housewives franchise.

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