In college I took an Art History class in which the Professor asked “Does art imitate life or does life imitate art?” It’s a interesting question to consider because often in life, especially in politics (and especially this year), truth is stranger than fiction. Here are just three examples of times in political fiction when the line between art and life got a little blurry:
1. House of Cards – Dragging Senators to the Senate Floor
In one of the most shocking moments of the second season of House of Cards, Vice President Frank Underwood, in his capacity as President of the Senate, works with the Democratic minority to instruct the Sergeant at Arms to round up absentee senators and carry them in by their hands and feet into the chamber. This creates a quorum that enables Underwood to force a vote on an omnibus spending bill. It was a bizarre scene… that actually happened.
In real life… In 1988, then-Majority leader Robert Byrd and the Democrats wanted to end a filibuster of campaign finance regulation. The Republicans opposed the bill so they did not appear for quorum call. Byrd, with an order from the Senate, instructed the Sergeant at Arms to arrest the absent senators and bring them in. The Sgt. found Sen. Packwood (after getting a tip from his cleaning lady) and carried him into the Senate in a manner very similar to what happened in the show.
2. Group of Senators living like college kids
The Amazon Prime series Alpha House follows four Republican senators/roommates as they navigate the complexities of life in the public eye. The bulk of the show is set in the house the senators share which looks like it was set up for a group of fraternity guys rather than members of the most powerful deliberative body the world has ever known.
In real life… Senators Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer, and U.S. Rep. George Miller lived together in a run down house that was even worse than how the fictional senators lived in the show. You have to watch this video just to believe how bad it was. Turns out the shows creator, Garry Trudeau, based the premise off the real lawmakers.
3. Members of U.K Parliament copied an idea from The West Wing
In one of the more comical episodes from the final season of The West Wing, presidential candidate Matthew Santos and White House staffer Josh Lyman devise a plot to convince the Republican speaker that many of the Democratic congressmen are out of town so that he calls a vote on a stem cell bill he opposes. After voting commences, Santos and the Democrats appear in order to cast their vote to ensure it passes.
In real life… the Torries in the U.K used the exact same strategy to alter the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill. Remarkably, this was not a coincidence. An anonymous party leader explicitly said he came up with the idea while watching that particular episode of The West Wing
Unfortunately another real life connection that all of these shows share is that they all feature a Congress mired in partisan gridlock. However, this year we have an opportunity to make it so our government does not have to be another example of life imitating art.
Editor’s note: This article, written by Dane Sherrets, originally published on The Centrist Project’s blog on July 13, 2016. If you would like to learn more about The Centrist Project, visit their website or follow them on Facebook or Twitter.