Real Life Lessons We Learned From Watching Fictional House of Cards


Check out the previous installments in Becky Graebner’s dissection of House of Cards. Spoiler Warning!

May 8: 3 Washington D.C. Stereotypes House of Cards Hits Too Close for Comfort

May 15: The House of Cards Vision of Infidelity: More Fact than Fiction

May 22: Seduce Your Way to the Top? Meet The Anne Boleyns of Washington, D.C.

May 29: Why We Love to Hate Politicians

June 5: Can ‘Evil’ Sometimes Be Good?

June 12: House of Cards, Part 6: A Cast of Master Obfuscators

June 19: 4 Reasons Why House of Cards is Such a Hit


The show House of Cards isn’t over yet—but my writing filibuster for season one, that has delayed the realization that there is not yet a season two, is nearing an end.

There is an entirely new season being written, shot, and acted as we speak.  I like to think that Kevin Spacey is delivering a monologue at this very moment in Baltimore (they film most of the show in Charm City because it is less expensive).  But, for now, all we have is season one—and we will have to be content watching Frank lie to Peter Russo over and over again until season two arrives.

How does one “wrap up” a filibuster on House of Cards? On the venerable Frank Underwood?  Book readings and spontaneous speaking aside, in some real-life filibusters on The Hill, our officials use their floor time to get right to the point.  Some spurn a day-long Harry Potter book reading in order to lay out the problems or their fears regarding Proposal X.  Some use the time to stand on their soapbox and outline what they think is wrong with the present—and further describe their vision and hope for the future.  Others illustrate how far we have come by explaining past challenges and our “lessons learned”—showing us how much farther we could go.


We are still following Monica around…

We have learned several lessons from both real-life D.C. and fictional House of Cards in our analysis of season one.  I have already laid out predictions and character analyses, we have compared Zoe and Claire to infamous D.C. ladder-climbers, and I have relayed stories that make House of Cards seem a little bit too real.  Hopefully, the audience will be able to apply these lessons to real-life; and skirt the pitfalls of the “glamorous life” thought to exist in Washington, D.C.  In House of Cards season two, let us hope that the characters have learned some lessons from their experiences in season one.

Lessons for House of Cards Characters:

1.  Current-day John Edwards and General David Petraeus.

Lesson for Frank Underwood: Be wary of ladder-climbing women and spinning webs of lies.  Is it really worth the risk of potentially ruining one’s career and credibility?

2. Monica’s plight.

Lesson for Zoe Barnes:  Riding the coat tails of a political all-star might sound like the perfect plan, but after the magic dissipates, you could be left with nothing but ruin and confusion.

3. Bill’s impeachment, General Petraeus’ resignation, Rielle’s current reputation, etc.

Lesson for Frank and Claire Underwood: Lying and backstabbing usually doesn’t end well…


Lessons for the audience:

1. Be wary of that intense staffer—he might seem shallow but he makes up for it in craftiness.  He isn’t afraid to throw you under the bus, blackmail, or arrange your murder.

Lesson from Doug Stamper: Don’t ever show your weaknesses or let someone get “dirt” on you.

2. Power makes people feel indestructible but it also makes them more interesting to prying photographers and journalists.

Lesson from Peter Russo: Whatever you do, right or wrong, (more likely the “wrong”) will get found out.

3. Politicians love the “Cinderella Story” angle that allows them to snag a second chance with a disillusioned and disappointed public.

Lesson from Peter Russo:  An official might say he has reformed… but he probably didn’t. Don’t get played.

4. Freddy’s BBQ.

Lesson from Freddy: There are decent, hard-working people in the world.


And I will end on that sweet, BBQ note with Freddy. Filibuster concluded.

After eight weeks of analysis I think it has become clear what path not to take. Don’t become Doug Stamper, Zoe Barnes, or Frank Underwood, and definitely don’t follow in the footsteps of Monica Lewinsky, Rielle Hunter, Bill Clinton, or General Patraeus.  No short cuts and don’t get wrapped up with the underground crowd.  Until we meet again in season two, stay strong, readers, and play out your political ambitions the smart way.