In the 1960s and 70s, ministers John Profumo and Anthony Lambton had to resign their seats after encounters with prostitutes. More recently, the phone-hacking scandals have exposed a cozy world of networking between politics and media that includes Prime Minister David Cameron, Rupert Murdoch's chief aide Rebekah Brooks, and PR guru and Murdoch son-in-law Matthew Freud (yes, the grandson of Sigmund). Even House of Cards -- the British version -- was based on a three-volume novel written by Michael Dobbs, an advisor to Margaret Thatcher before becoming chairman of the Conservative Party.
Real and fictional intrigue in the United Kingdom tends to be about power based on a class system where relationships are made at boarding school or at Oxford and Cambridge. In England, who you know can be far more useful than how much money you have.
When, for instance, did Rebekah Brooks become a true insider? When Rupert Murdoch promoted her or when she married an old Etonian with an estate close to the Cameron's? Corridors of power don't just run through Westminster but in large country houses that have belonged to the same families for generations.
The Yanks, once again, are different. In the absence of an impenetrable establishment, fictional intrigue in the United States almost invariably revolves around money. Money can buy anything, including the presidency (Scandal). The political landscape changes frequently, but money is always there. The money trail starts in Hollywood, which explains the presence of car chases, multiple shootings, and often the involvement of the entire military in political dramas.
Sometimes there are exceptions to the brashness. See Damages, season 4, which revolved around a private contractor's (John Goodman) role in the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. The story line was inspired by recent headlines, and Goodman's portrayal of a patriotic, American military capitalist was extraordinary. The script was tight and lacked hysteria. This has been the one to beat. Unsurprisingly the show wasn't a hit. Maybe it was too subtle for a national palate dulled by Technicolor and Surround Sound.
The Hollywood myth of Washington is that it's a glamorous place. But real life is never glamorous. The Washington of C-Span -- the authentic Washington -- does not sell a lot of popcorn. So filmmakers create a fairy-tale capital, on the premise that there's a life here you suspect but don't see. It's a city of secrets and lies, where elections are bought or rigged and betrayal is an everyday activity. There is no democracy here. There's not much reality either.
Francis Underwood might have been enraged not to have been made secretary of state but in real life he'd have been given something else -- some pork to take home to his district or a lesser cabinet-level post -- and moved on.