Robots of Mayberry

by Michael I. Niman, ArtVoice 9/6/12

The GOP on the eve of destruction

Mayberry is the mythical all-white North Carolina town that writers conjured up for the early 1960s TV sitcom, The Andy Griffith Show. In our modern lexicon, it personifies the nostalgic vision of an “innocent” America before the civil rights era, the Vietnam War, hippies, Watergate, global warming, and, most of all, a black president.

Mitt Romney’s “most important speech of his political career,” his acceptance pitch at the GOP convention, was Mayberry on steroids. Only this Mayberry seems populated by robots, as a spookier than normal Bishop Mitt, with an odd mechanical glow in his eyes, conjured up a sort of Mayberry, Ward and June Cleaver, Project Gemini, vanilla shake at the malt shop, chrome tailfins hallucination of a dreamy, prosperous past.

And that was it—the grand finale of the GOP convention. Four days of some of the fanciest mouthwork modern propagandists have conjured, but nary a detail about any Republican plan for the future. Just a promise to roll the clock back, back, back, to a time before facts.

While this tack may work with a select group of privileged 70-something men as they lustily remember a hay-roll with Mary Lou, the era was actually far more complicated and way less than idyllic for most Americans. We were a nation crippled by legally sanctioned segregation; where women were routinely denied basic economic opportunities, equal rights, and reproductive freedom; where polluted rivers caught on fire and urban air poisoned us daily. It was a world where babies, unencumbered by child seats, careened through windshields, where universities denied admittance to minorities, where workers regularly died because of unsafe conditions—and I’m just getting started.

But when you think about it, the Mittster wasn’t just rambling on aimlessly. He was giving us one of the only honest moments in the whole carefully choreographed convention. He wants to roll the clock back—but how far?

The Republicans do have a platform. Both Romney and Paul Ryan, the boy wonder, have made very clear policy statements this year. So has the Republican majority in the US Congress, which tried to enact Ryan’s slash-and-burn budget into law. Republican-controlled statehouses have been clear, too. For starters, they want to take us back to Mayberry. In more than two dozen states, Republicans have pushed through restrictive voter ID laws that disenfranchise minority and poor voters while accomplishing nothing else. Romney and Ryan both back these measures to move the clock back to early 1965, before the Voting Rights Act.

Their stated desire to outlaw abortion moves the clock back four decades to 1973, while their stance on birth control brings us back to the 1920s: Both Romney and Ryan support radical laws declaring that once sperm meets egg, the resulting fertilized egg becomes a legally recognized person, thus outlawing most effective birth control methods such as the pill.

Their plans for Social Security and Medicare, which would easily be solvent into the next millennium if we lifted the cap that exempts all income over $110,000 from Social Security and Medicare taxes, bring us back to the era of the Great Depression, food lines, and Hoovervilles. Their environmental deregulation mantra brings us back to an age before science when we soiled our environment out of ignorance—only now we’ll do it because of the one percent’s pathological greed. Their plans to gut education funding and aid to college students will move us back to the 19th century, when schooling was the privilege of the elite. Again, I can go on and on—these are just a few key pet peeves of mine. You’d do well to read their speeches and the Ryan budget.

If Romney and Ryan ascend to power, it’s likely that such a Republican sweep will also give the party control of the Senate while further solidifying their control of the House of Representatives. By my math, that would give the GOP all three branches of government. So don’t count on any discussion or debate—just lots of quick votes on bills written by corporate lobbyists and religious zealots. I figure it will take them perhaps one month to roll back about 130 years or so of social progress. And you won’t know what hit you. When democracies fall hard, they do it fast. Take Germany. In 1932 the Nazis won 37 percent of the seats in the federal legislature, but by early 1933 Hitler was chancellor and the nation was constructing concentration camps. Historically, radical governments see no point in lollygagging when they finally get to make their moves.

In our case, the date will be mid-February 2013 when we kiss goodbye Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, legal abortions, hormonal birth control, the Voter Rights Act, the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts, progressive taxation, and any remaining laws curtailing Wall Street. Give them another few months before they start talking about divvying up our national parks, national forests, and other public lands, or privatizing chunks of the interstate highway system. When people finally rise up to respond to all of this, we’ll be in uncharted territory.

This all brings me to the disappointing presidency of Barack Obama, and the failure of third-party movements to give us real choice beyond Democrats and Republicans. Sure, the Greens have a great platform. Had Ralph Nader won New York in 2000, I would have gone to the Electoral College as an elector. But I wasn’t holding my breath or making hotel reservations. Still, we thought we could expand the debate, literally. But we were never allowed into any debate. The problem is that we had our heads in the sand, harboring delusions that the United States is a democracy, rather than a corrupt, gamed, winner-take-all system.

Sure, Obama let you down. That’s only because folks bought into the “hope” meme. Obama supporters had a naïve belief that the election represented an end, when it fact it signified only the beginning of what should have been a much longer struggle. In a tainted democracy, meaningful victories are only won by turning out bodies on the streets. But when it came time for the real fights to begin—to define a popular healthcare bill, to rein in Wall Street, to make some real progress on renewable energy or planning to deal with the effects of global warming—the energy that elected Obama was gone. This diminution occurred just as the Koch brothers were writing blank checks to brand their corporate agenda as populist under the Tea Party label. By then we were angry that Obama hadn’t turned the Bush depression around in his first six months. Or folks were feigning surprise that their guy actually supported the Afghan war, which he always said he supported during his campaign, but none of the “hope” set would hear it.

The reality is that when “hope” won, everyone chilled out and went back to their homes, schools, and jobs. This was just as the corporatocracy and the feudalists were making their moves.

Now we have a choice again. But it’s limited. We either vote to hit reboot on the Obama presidency, and then hit the streets to make it our presidency, or we let January 2012 be the most historic month in US history. Your choice.

Dr. Michael I. Niman is a professor of journalism and media studies at Buffalo State College. His previous columns are at, archived at, and available globally through syndication.

ęCopyright 2012

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