Leave it to the executive producer of one of the biggest political shows of our time, "House of Cards," to call politics dramatic.
"Politics is theater," Beau Wilimon in an interview with Sirius XM's PopPolitics. "It is all about perception. It's about convincing, persuading, seducing, not just the American people, but your fellow politicians."
Wilimon has a point. When asked what he thought about why President Obama was so bold since his party lost control in November, he figured it was for show.
"If I had to speculate, I would say that there was a desire to show strength and resolve after having taken a bit of a beating," he said. Sometimes, part of convincing is being "tough, to intimidate, to show a stiff upper lip," he said.
Two weeks after the 2014 midterms, Obama issued an executive action on immigration. And, in January, he delivered a State of the Union address so confident, you almost forgot about the midterm losses (he certainly seemed to have done so). His stage was one of the biggest in politics -- nearly as many people watched the State of the Union as the Oscars -- and though the gist of his remarks had been known for weeks, his line about winning both his presidential elections, something missing from his prepared remarks, but surely not an off-the-cusp ad-lib, added braggadocio. His SOTU zinger was GIF'd, paired with Beyonce, and reblogged.
Our president wields a selfie stick and sat down for an interview with a woman who ate cereal in a bathtub for a video, and a leading possible 2016 contender made a parody Pinterest page for a rival. On Thursday, a member of Congress tossed a snow ball on the Senate floor to try to prove a point on climate change, and it was made into a Vine that was looped nearly a half a million times in six hours. Politics has always been theatrical, but today, it's remixed, mashed-up, and played out in six-second videos on smartphones. The theater of modern politics is viral, and it echoes in a way it never has before.
The theater of politics is also something that plays out in shows like "House of Cards," "Scandal," and "Veep" that present an exaggerated look at how Washington works.
"House of Cards" season 3 begins six months into President Frank Underwood's presidency. His approval rating is tanking, and he's desperate to push an agenda, including a jobs package bill, that puts him in a stronger position to win a full term in 2016. He was once a man who seemed in control, but during an appearance on "The Colbert Report" in the first episode, he's a punchline. His standing complicates the timing of his expected nomination of a new Supreme Court justice and his wife as ambassador to the U.N.
"We've seen [Underwood] for two seasons climb to the top, and there you are standing atop Mount Everest," Wilimon said. "Now what? You either stay there or you start heading down, and probably not voluntarily."
In the past several weeks, politicians have bemoaned issues they said were unsubstantial but dominated the political conversation, from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's comments on Obama not loving America to what color Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock decided to paint his office. They're not hard-hitting policy issues, but they mattered, in as much as how politicians responded to Giuliani was a peek into the state of our partisanship and Schock's office decor has snowballed into a larger look at how he spends taxpayer and donor money. Politics is about policy and power, but it's about perception, too.
Any issue can become political if it sways voters, making our politics complex. Too complex to be summed up by a single show, if you ask Wilimon.
"Washington is not the sort of place you can encapsulate in one show or one movie," he said. "There are lots of shows that dramatize D.C. right now and I think even all of them put together don't fully give you a picture of the complex layered place that is Washington, D.C."
Even if "House of Cards" isn't a show that defines our time of historic distrust in the government and heightened partisanship, it's a reminder that for better or worse, theater plays an integral role in our politics.