Like most of us with an Internet connection, $8 of monthly disposable income and an interest in politics, I started watching the latest season of House of Cards on Netflix this weekend. If you haven’t watched it, the broad outline is that Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is the constantly scheming House Whip and Claire (Robin Wright) is his perhaps even more cold blooded and calculating wife, and together both of them leave a trail of deception, betrayal and general chaos as they advance their shared agenda. It’s clear that House of Cards is fiction when you realize that Frank is supposed to be a Southern Democrat from a mostly white district with a safe enough seat that he doesn’t need to worry too much about his re-election campaign.
Without giving away spoilers, perhaps the most unreal aspect of this piece of fiction, other than Frank’s electoral status, is the notion that the House Whip has power over his caucus. The centerpiece of Frank’s office is a whip count board that has color-coded magnetic pieces representing each member of his caucus. If Kevin McCarthy’s version of this board isn’t already in storage, can you imagine the layer of dust that has collected on each of his member’s names?
In a world where a functioning party has factions amenable to compromises that are brokered by party leadership, being the Majority Whip can be a seat of power and an interesting job. But what’s the point of being the Republican whip in the current Congress? I imagine it has all the job satisfaction of being the manager of the worst chain restaurant in the country, except that even a Red Lobster manager can comp a dessert. The Republican Whip is just a impotent spectator to Boehner’s excuse making, Cantor’s comically transparent scheming, and Ted Cruz’ Bieber-like hold over a bunch of white middle-aged dimwits.