By Adam Weber.
WARNING: Contains spoilers.
Well, it’s official. The long-awaited announcement has finally arrived. Hillary Clinton will be running for president in 2016. This announcement has solidified the possibility that the Clintons may once again occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, although it certainly came as no surprise to the American public. For the past 15 years, Bill and Hillary have been carefully calculating and plotting their recapture of the White House. The methods and schemes utilized by the Clintons over the past decade and a half bear a distinct resemblance to those of America’s favorite new fictional political couple: the Underwoods.
After the Clinton e-mail scandal, several questions were asked about whether the Clintons inspired, at least to some extent, Beau Willimon’s portrayal of the Underwoods. Bill and Frank certainly share many qualities, but it would obviously be a stretch to place Bill on the same shelf as the overly corrupt and clearly fictional president played by Kevin Spacey. The real comparison to be analyzed is that between the First Ladies: Hillary and Claire.
Because the Clinton e-mail scandal sparked the initial comparisons between the two families, it is a good place to begin. The private e-mail accounts maintained by Hillary during her time at the State Department undoubtedly replicate the clandestine and sketchy behavior practiced by the Underwoods in the Netflix drama. Furthermore, the fact that many of those e-mails were deleted raises even more questions as to whether there was a real-life Doug Stamper in the Clinton inner-circle on the other side of those e-mails. But at the end of the day, no evidence of shady messages has been found and a private e-mail account is not going to win or lose Hillary the election. Plus, it is naïve to think that there are not other American politicians who take measures to protect their political strategies through separate e-mail accounts, private Blackberries, and the like. The Hillary-Claire complex goes far beyond a frivolous e-mail “scandal.”
Looking at the backgrounds of both characters, Hillary and Claire are intelligent, savvy, and well educated. Hillary completed her undergraduate studies at Wellesley College, a prestigious liberal arts school in Massachusetts, and went on to receive her law degree from Yale. Similarly, Claire Underwood received her graduate degree from Harvard University, alongside her soon-to-be husband, Francis. In addition, both of these women have always exhibited a high level of political awareness and intelligence. Shortly after graduating from Yale, Hillary started an Arkansas non-profit organization and went on to become the first female partner at her law firm. Claire, as viewers see in Season 1, headed a political advocacy group called the Clean Water Initiative. Both of these women, however, had higher aspirations, and used the connections of their husbands to climb the ladder.
Both the Clinton and Underwood marriages have never been characterized by love and affection, but by strategy and manipulation. The Monica Lewinsky scandal is the first and most obvious example that comes to mind when thinking about the Clinton marriage, but the distance between Bill and Hillary goes much deeper than that. Those who have studied the Clintons present evidence of Bill’s ongoing affairs and Hillary’s acceptance of them. It has been rumored that the two rarely see each other at all. When Hillary is lobbying potential donors in their Chappaqua mansion, Slick Willie often stays back in Little Rock, whistling at his favorite waitresses. The relationship of Claire and Frank is not much different. Frank’s affair with Zoe Barnes in Season 1 was no secret to Claire, but Claire was willing to live with it because a divorce would have put an end to their political ambitions. In fact, Claire even carried out an affair of her own with her childhood sweetheart, Adam Galloway. Despite the continual infidelity in the Clinton and Underwood domiciles, both marriages have prevailed due to the political benefits. The only difference is that Claire does end up leaving Francis at the end of Season 3, but we would be foolish to think that she will not be back in Season 4.
The political benefits these marriages have yielded are not insignificant. After her term as First Lady, Hillary finagled her way into a Senate seat in New York, despite her Illinois and Arkansas roots. Her eight years in the Senate were largely characterized by political posturing and tactical relationships, with very little substance produced. She was unsuccessful in her 2008 presidential bid, but nonetheless found herself heading the State Department under President Obama. While the titles on her resume are present, the substance that should follow is remarkably absent. The story of Claire Underwood follows the same blueprint, as she used the influence of her husband to become appointed as United Nations Ambassador, a position which she later found herself strikingly unfit to handle.
Now, as Hillary prepares for yet another presidential bid, I urge the American public to step back and ponder this comparison. While House of Cards is a fictional and highly exaggerated portrayal of American politics in most respects, the foundational similarities between Hillary and Claire nonetheless exist. So as the American public listens to the next 18 months of speeches, debates, and political advertisements, they should ask themselves this one question: Do we want four more years of Underwood?