“Part of what has made ‘House of Cards’ so successful — and what sets it apart from its political-snake-pit brethren — is how Willimon’s personal obsession about power, and the freedom Netflix grants him to explore it, dovetails so perfectly with our collective impressions of the current political arena. You can make the case that ‘House of Cards’ will one day seem as instructive about our current political moment as ‘The West Wing’ was of its political moment. The latter show appeared in 1999 as a kind of late-Clinton-era liberal cri de coeur, full of dedicated, snappily literate bureaucrats who would always win their debates, serving under an unimpeachable President-Dad whose moral compass never wavered from true north. Aaron Sorkin’s ‘West Wing’ was a vision of American government, presided over by a morally righteous liberal leader, unfolding each week even as Bill Clinton was assailed for abandoning liberal principles and subsuming important issues in his own moral messiness. Jed Bartlet was the kind of president, albeit fictional, we could believe in.
The politicians in ‘House of Cards,’ by contrast, are morally bankrupt and endlessly opportunistic. The show is no cri de coeur, but a cold dissection of the post-Obama (or post-the-Obama-many-hoped-they’d-elected), post-hope political landscape. It’s a vision of American government not as we wish it were, but as we secretly fear it is. Good old Jed Bartlet wouldn’t last a single news cycle here.”