Episode 75: Inside House of Cards 3

It’s “House of Cards” week on DecodeDC.

We are helping get YOU ready for the release of Season 3 of the Netflix series with a five-podcast special series, “Inside House of Cards.”

Today’s installment – the third – is all about the business, or maybe the bloodsport, of lobbying and politics.

One day, you’re an elected official or a political staff member. The next, you’re a member of a K Street firm trying your best to influence the very same government officials and legislators you just worked with.That’s the revolving door Jimmy Williams spun through when he went from Senate staffer to lobbyist.

In the Netflix series, Remy Danton is a former press secretary and protege of Frank Underwood turned lobbyist. He uses his connections and contacts on behalf of one main client, an energy company.

Jimmy Williams says Danton is a great character – he’s just not realistic. “You know what a lobbyist does in Washington, D.C.?” he rhetorically asks podcast host Andrea Seabrook.  “Fund-raises. Nothing more and nothing less.”

Williams says being a successful lobbyist means raising and delivering the most cash to a politician.  “You raise the most money, you have the most access.” And it’s all legal.

We go inside the real and fictional world of lobbying in today’s installment of  “Inside House of Cards.”

Episode 74: Inside House of Cards 2

In the second installment of our DecodeDC special series, “Inside House of Cards,” we go into the world of journalism and politics. 

Our guide, Matt Bai, spent years as a Washington political reporter for The New York Times Magazine and is now a political columnist for Yahoo News.  He has a particularly interesting perspective on how “House of Cards” depicts his profession, because Bai plays himself in several episodes of the second season of the series. 

While Bai thinks journalism in “House of Cards is much darker than what really happens in Washington, D.C., he says there still is a lot that rings true. Frank Underwood and other characters are more transactional than real politicians, Bai says, but the series represents some essential truths about how the public sees Washington politics.

“Sadly the thing that ‘House of Cards’ gets at is that everybody is about themselves, everybody is trying to game the system to their own advantage” Bai says. “There’s virtually no one for whom the end game is the actual enactment of policy.”

Episode 73: Inside House of Cards 1

February has been a brutal month for most of us – snow and cold and ice and kids home from school and trips cancelled. Perhaps the only thing that redeems this month is the release of season three of “House of Cards” on Feb. 27.

Perhaps it is our fascination with the dysfunction of Washington that makes the Netflix drama so irresistible. Perhaps it’s the fact that the series takes you where no journalist is allowed to go - into the fantastical and not so fantastical political wheeling and dealing going on all around us – with a large dose of dramatic license.

Where exactly is that line between truth, fiction and Washington politics? That’s the question we try to answer with a special series of podcasts – that’s right, it is “House of Cards” week on DecodeDC. Whether you are a series fan or just want to get the inside scoop on the dirtiest deeds of politicians, journalists and the political operatives that occupy Washington, you will definitely want to listen.

**Spoiler alert – we’re going to talk about things that happened in seasons one and two.**

In case you missed the first two seasons – here are the essentials.

Francis Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, has wheedled and schemed his way from Congress to the vice presidency to the Oval Office.  Together with his equally conniving wife, Claire, played by Robin Wright, they knock down every conceivable barrier, using any means necessary, in their quest for power. Along the way there’s murder, blackmail, a risque assortment of sexual forays, a crazy trade deal with China, a lot of seduction and deception. Those on the Underwoods’ side are rewarded, those obstructing their path are mowed down.  Where do these people come up with these plots? We go to the sources for the answer.

  • In episode one of “Inside House of Cards,” we take you into the writers room.  Staff writer Bill Kennedy explains the narrative and the relationships and the key scenes that define seasons one and two.
  • Journalism takes a shellacking in the series and in our second episode, we speak with Matt Bai, formally a political reporter at The New York Times Magazine.  Bai plays a political reporter for The New York Times in season two and says the series gets at some essential truths about Washington and journalism.
  • In episode three, we enter the world of Capitol-Hill-staffer-turned-lobbyist.  Jimmy Williams has led the real life of one of the fictional characters in the series, Remy Danton. Williams says the life of a lobbyist is about one thing, raising money for members of Congress.
  • House of Cards has a lot of nasty people, but some of the nastiest are female reporters. In episode four, we talk to two real-life women journalists who cover Washington -- Pam Kirkland of the Washington Post, the paper fictionalized in "House of Cards", and Carrie Wells of the Baltimore Sun, stand-in and real life set for the imagined "Washington Herald."
  • In our fifth and final episode, we speak with Beau Willimon, the man behind the series. Willimon adapted the British version of “House of Cards” for the American audience and runs the show.  A former campaign staffer, Willimon knows how the system works from the inside out, and as playwright he knows how to do drama.

Download the DecodeDC's "Inside House of Cards" special series starting today and all next week – or, you can just binge listen to them all before the 27th!

Episode 72: The politics of love

Picture this: Girl agrees to go on date with boy. Girl and boy are having a great time together. But girl has a really bad feeling about boy.

Girl thinks boy is a Republican. Date comes to a screeching halt.

No, this is not some weird political romance novel. It’s the true story of Jessica’s first date with her now-husband, Ross. (Side note, he’s not a Republican.)

“I sort of stopped and was like, can we set the record straight on this, like are you a Republican or not? Because if you are, like we could just end this date right now,” said Jessica Morales Rocketto.

It may sound a little dramatic—refusing to date someone based on political ideology. But on this week’s podcast, host Andrea Seabrook and producer Rachel Quester explore the wonky world of how much politics actually affect our romantic relationships.

For liberals and conservatives, compatibility on political ideology is more important when picking a spouse than personality or physical characteristics. That’s according to John Alford, a political science professor at Rice University.

Alford says that our biology predisposes us toward one ideology or the other—that the brains of liberals and conservatives are just wired differently. And that, he says, is why it’s really difficult to marry across the aisle.

“One of the nicest views about the United States is this idea of the United States as a melting pot where over generations, differences disappear…. because we’re mating disproportionately with people of like-political views, there is no melting pot,” Alford said.

Now for those who haven’t already picked their mate, there is hope for the politically minded single.

Two dating sites, Red State Date and Blue State Date, match people based on compatible political ideologies. Alex Fondrier, the founder of both sites, said the purpose of the dating service is to help people passionate about politics find others who share that same passion.

Listen to this week’s podcast for political dating advice, and why you should start every date with this question: What’s the first word that comes to mind when someone says Hillary Clinton?

Want to keep up with all the latest DecodeDC stories and podcasts? Sign up for our weekly newsletter at decodedc.com/newsletter.

Episode 71: Is it enough to make community college free?

Ever since President Obama unveiled his proposal to make two years of community college free for every American, it seems like all we’ve heard about is the money. How much would it cost?

(Answer: about $6 billion.) How much would it bring in, once those students graduate, get better paying jobs, and contribute more in taxes?

Here’s what no one seems to be talking about: actually finishing.

Just 35 percent of students who start a two-year community college program get their degree within six years. There are a lot of reasons for that, says Krissy DeAlejandro, who started a full-tuition community college scholarship program in her home state of Tennessee.

There isn’t one big reason why students tend to drop out, says DeAlejandro, but a combination of lots of little reasons. If their parents haven't been to college, which is the case for most of the students DeAlejandro works with, all of the college jargon can sound like a foreign language.

"Oftentimes, what we've found is that they have questions you or I would take for granted like, 'What's a semester?' or 'What's a credit hour?' Those sorts of things, little barriers, will make a student throw up their hands and say, 'You know what, this is not for me.'"

In Tennessee, DeAlejandro confronts these challenges with a unique weapon: volunteer mentors. She has a cadre of thousands. They visit high schools in 83 counties and help high school seniors keep up with all of the paperwork and deadlines so they can earn the scholarship.

Once the students get on campus, DeAlejandro and her team follow up with texts, emails and regular face-to-face meetings. The state of Tennesee's fall-to-fall retention rate for community college students is about 50 percent. But among DeAlejandro's scholarship students? That retention rate is closer to 80 percent.

So far, President Obama's plan doesn't include any of the mentoring or other supports DeAlejandro believes are so critical. Even though she and a colleague visited the White House over the summer to brief members of Obama's staff, it doesn't appear, at least, like they've taken all her advice.

Still, DeAlejandro says she supports the President's program and is excited to see how it evolves.