A Tale of Two Jobs Plans

The surprising contrast between House of Cards and Dave.

It may not have the gravitas of The American President, but Dave is still among the best Washington movies of the ‘90s. The charming comedy stars Kevin Klein as a presidential look-alike thrust into the real Oval Office when the commander in chief becomes incapacitated. The earnest Dave is meant to be a puppet for callous politicos, but seizes his opportunity to improve the country he loves—including a bold, ambitious plan to give a job to every American who wants one. That story line parallels the new House of Cards season: In Episode 2, evil President Frank Underwood unleashes a similar plan.

Each announces his job proposal in front of media, with the first lady looking on proudly. But while the outlines are the same, the details diverge. Dave is soaked in daylight, while Underwood is dark. Dave speaks off the cuff, surprising everyone, while Underwood is scripted, down to the harsh line, “You are entitled to nothing.”

Despite the two decades between them, though, Dave and House of Cards come from eras that look a lot alike. According to Pew, public trust in Washington in the early ’90s and today (well, February 2014) is roughly the same—about one-quarter of Americans have faith in the government. Unemployment rates are similar, too—in 1993, it was 6.9 percent, and the average in 2014 was 6.2.

But the contrast between the sunny and selfless Dave and the dark and selfish Frank suggests that pessimism might be more status quo now. After all, House of Cards can even make a jobs program seem sinister.