Saturday, September 1, 2012

In Search of Mayberry R.F.D.

Okay, let’s wrap it up.  Mitt Romney had two objectives Thursday night when he gave his acceptance speech at the Republican convention. The first was to not embarrass himself; the second was to look human.  Mission reasonably accomplished on both.

Unlike his running mate, who did his best impersonation of Pinocchio, and Clint Eastwood, who apparently was giving us a sneak preview of his latest movie, The Bad, The Ugly and The Senile, Romney chose to paint in broader strokes.  That’s not to say he didn’t lay it on thick; only that he managed not to dig himself into a hole that Barack Obama would later be able to bury him in.  Between Ryan and Romney, you could tell who the seasoned veteran was.  Romney maybe the used-car salesman from hell, but he at least knows how to work a crowd.  He should; he’s had years of practice at it.

Channeling his inner Andy Taylor, the former governor of Massachusetts talked wistfully about his “humble” beginnings in an obvious attempt to paint a human, more likeable face on a candidate that is about as two-dimensional as a cardboard cutout.  Forget substance, this was all style.  Romney’s mission was not to blaze a trail but to seduce a nation.  He was the Candy Man, handing out goodies for all the starving children who’ve had to go to bed deprived since emperor Obama came to live with them.

Romney’s subterfuge was sheer brilliance.  It mattered not that the world that he spoke of never truly existed, or if it did, it existed for only the mostly white crowd that cheered him on.  When you’re in the middle of a dream that you refuse to wake up from, reality might as well be a universe away.

You see the real problem at the Republican National Convention wasn’t about factual errors, or out and out lies or improper context usage.  Yes it was ironic and amusing that all throughout the event the attendees kept invoking the now famous tag line “We Built That” inside a building that was subsidized by federal tax dollars.  But, as bad as all that was, it couldn’t hold a candle to the real culprit.

Denial is a powerful word.  It prevents us from progressing and moving forward because it enables us to stay stuck in the past.  Not only that, it tells us to fear the future and shun it because it cannot be controlled.  The fantasy we cling to is so much more reassuring than an uncertain future.  Of all the drugs out there, none is more potent than nostalgia.  It stunts our growth and locks us into a paranoid delusion where we convince ourselves that the good old days were, well, good old days.

To the minions who spent the better part of three days crammed inside a dark convention hall, Mitt Romney represented their last best chance to turn back the clock to a time that was safer and more secure. A time when government left them alone, everybody worked hard and you could leave your front door opened because your neighbors were trustworthy.  And of course that beleaguered Constitution was protected from those who would later come to subvert it.  Everybody bathed themselves in the pure waters of democracy and no one bad-mouthed the country.

We were one big happy family back then. The world was our oyster, the songs were happy and carefree and America stood alone among the ashes of the post-World War II era.  Might was right and the Communists were the enemy.  Everybody liked Ike and loved Uncle Miltie.

Of course there was only one problem with that narrative.  It simply wasn’t true.  For millions of Americans the reality was far different.  Nearly one quarter of the nation never had a chance at that American dream because of their skin color, ethnic background or economic standing.  They couldn’t afford many of the pleasantries that so many people took for granted.  They would’ve loved nothing better than to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps except they didn’t have any to pull up.  The government, more often than not, was the only hope many of these people had of getting even some relief in a system that had all but shut them out. 

And while the United States did enjoy a moment in the sun, while Europe and Asia rebuilt their infrastructures and industries, that moment was fleeting at best.  Within two decades of winning World War II, America was playing catch up to the Japanese, who made better cars and better TVs.  It wasn’t that we were so great; it was that most of the rest of the world was so bad.

And there was a very good reason why all those songs were happy and carefree.  The Red-scare that had inflicted our body politic during the McCarthy era pretty much did away with true free speech.  If you had something negative to say about your country you kept it to yourself, lest you be dragged before a Congressional committee.  If freedom was just another word for nothing left to lose, small wonder it was in short supply.  How can you be free when you’re fat and numb all at the same time?

This is the world the Republicans want to return the good old U.S. of A. to.  A world where father knows best, everybody leaves it to Beaver and, above all else, Sherriff Andy Taylor keeps the peace.  How much is that doggy in the window?  Who cares?  He’s so cute. Just gotta have him.

The 1960s in so many ways marked the end of America’s innocence and the beginning of its long nightmare.  Think about it, we went from Kennedy to Nixon, from Gunsmoke to Laugh In, from Chubby Checker to Hendrix.  And in between we had some profound, eye-opening moments where we came face to face with the sins of our past.  The “I have a dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr. and the passage of the Civil Rights Act represented turning points for a nation that had denied its history for far too long.  It sucks waking up, especially to a bucket of cold water.

And now, thanks to the GOP, America doesn’t have to wake up and face its reality.  No more buckets of cold water ruining that wonderful dream.  Ladies and gentlemen, coming soon to a television set near you, the 2012 Republican presidential and vice-presidential nominees: Mitt Romney playing Sheriff Andy Taylor and Paul Ryan playing Barney Fife.  They’re still holding auditions for Opie, while I hear Paul Ryan's mother has the inside track to play Aunt Bee. 

Naturally, it’ll be in black and white.  No colors allowed. 

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