Happy Days Again

Out here in Hollywood the fifties never died. For ten years that television comedy Happy Days brought the fifties back – until it jumped the shark of course. And still, every Friday night, it’s the classic chopped-and-channeled custom cars at the Big Boy drive-in restaurant over in Toluca Lake – with all the fifties hotrods and the pretty carhops on roller-skates (not rollerblades) – and since NBC Studios is a few blocks away, that car-nut Jay Leno often drops by with one of his fifties gems, or just to chat. Now and then you’ll see a woman in her sixties in a poodle skirt, with the big teased hair. That’s a trip, if a little frightening. And of course American Graffiti captured the tail-end of that era, just as the turbulent sixties buried it all. Still there was Rebel Without a Cause – that 1955 James Dean movie that captured the essence of those times. From the window here, across the hills, the Griffith Park Observatory glows in the late light – the place where that film opens, and closes. And James Dean is still there – brooding. The fifties just won’t go away.

And there are some of us who grew up in the fifties – the real fifties, not the Hollywood version. Dad was proud of that large green ’57 Chrysler with the big fins – just like this – and every Sunday night it was the Ed Sullivan Show on the big console television set (black-and-white of course) – years before Sullivan had the Beatles drop by. In fact, on the radio at the time, Perry Como and Rosemary Clooney were fighting that long losing battle against Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis and the rest. They lost. And in 1957 the Russians had just launched Sputnik and Ronald Reagan was simply that less than second-rate actor on television, now reduced to merely hosting General Electric Theater – and the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, breaking Larry King’s heart or whatever.

All this was a long time ago and hardly matters now. And it’s hard to miss those times – nostalgia is inherently stupid. There’s just the reality. Blacks hardly existed, and gays didn’t exist at all – and there were no Hispanics except in Disney cartoons about South America. And all girls were good girls who simply wanted to get married, and have lots of kids and play bridge with the other ladies – or they were tramps. Sex was dangerous before the pill. That colored everything. And as for career women, they were just odd. There weren’t any of them, really, as far as most people knew. Who cared what women thought about anything? So the family rode to church each Sunday, in the giant car with the giant fins, and that evening watched Ed Sullivan together – and no one questioned much of anything. It was a dead time in America. But maybe you had to be there to understand that. It wasn’t Happy Days. It was soul-killing.

But the fifties won’t go away:

A wealthy backer of GOP presidential contender Rick Santorum left his interviewer scratching her head Thursday when he suggested that in the olden days, birth control was less expensive because women just squeezed an aspirin between their knees to prevent them from having sex.

Foster Friess, the retired mutual fund executive from Wyoming who has been basking in the spotlight recently thanks to his six-figure donations to a “super PAC” backing Santorum, made the remark in an interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell.

“This contraception thing – my gosh – it’s so inexpensive,” Friess said. “You know, back in my days, they’d use Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.”

Mitchell didn’t know what to make of the comment. “Excuse me, I’m just trying to catch my breath from that,” she said before changing the subject.

The remark was about the last thing Santorum needed on a day that featured a renewed discussion of a 2006 interview in which he said he believed birth control was “harmful to women” and “harmful to our society” because it encouraged sex outside of marriage.

That’ real fifties stuff. But the guy is important. This guy gives Santorum’s SuperPAC three or four hundred grand each month – keeping Santorum afloat, and now ahead in the polls. How important is he? See The 196 People Who Will Choose Our Next President from Ari Berman – “Billionaires like Adelson and Friess are behind the vast majority of super PAC dollars. The rest of us don’t count.” There are the few rich white men who matter, just like in the fifties. And they’re still living in the fifties.

Of course Santorum did the required damage control:

Asked about the quote outside the Oakland County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner here in Novi, Santorum wasn’t at first aware of the incident – but when it was described to him, he told Buzzfeed “I’m not responsible for every bad joke one of my supporters makes.”

That’s Novi, Michigan, by the way. And Steve M offers this:

We know that the only reason Santorum is still in the race is that Citizens United allowed a candidate to survive on massive outlays by one individual to a super PAC allied with, though technically separate from, the candidate’s campaign. Once upon a time, of course, every viable campaign had to have donations from a full roster of rich people. Now one is enough.

That means if you’re, say, Santorum or Newt Gingrich, your patron all but gets naming rights to you. (And someday, I’m sure, naming rights will literally be up for grabs, and will be offered to corporations as well; four years and a few Roberts Court rulings from now, I look forward to the Tostitos® Mitch Daniels 2016 Presidential Campaign.)

But what this means right now is that Foster Friess isn’t just one of a bunch of rich guys who gave Santorum money – Friess owns Santorum. That’s why this hurts Santorum, at least if he gets to the general election. Pre-Citizens United, you had to be a felon to hurt the candidate you financed this much. Now, if he’s your boy, practically anything you do can hurt him.

And maybe it hurts to be owned by the guy still living in 1957 or so. It wasn’t that good a year. And Sarah Posner comments:

My first thought was that no one should tell the Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that aspirin could be used as birth control. First, they’d believe it, and second, they’d start a crusade to make sure managers of CVS could opt out of stocking it on their shelves. Religious conscience, you know.

Of course she’s referring to this:

A Capitol Hill hearing that was supposed to be about religious freedom and a mandate that health insurers cover contraception in the United States began as an argument about whether Democrats could add a woman to the all-male panel.

“Where are the women?” the minority Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., asked early in the hearing.

She criticized the Republican committee chairman, Rep. Darrel Issa, for wanting to “roll back the fundamental rights of women to a time when the government thought what happens in the bedroom is their business.”

“We will not be forced back to that primitive era,” she said.

Issa bristled at the charge and said Democrats could not add their witness because she was not a member of the clergy, but a student at Georgetown.

And she’s a woman of course, and this is the fifties, and who cares what women think? Maloney and the other women on the committee got up and walked out. Issa kind of shrugged.

But there’s more to it, and the witness they had wished to call, Sandra Fluke:

Fluke would have talked about a classmate who lost an ovary because of a syndrome that causes ovarian cysts. Georgetown, which is affiliated with the Catholic Church, does not insure birth control, which is also used to treat the syndrome. Issa said the hearing is meant to be more broadly about religious freedom and not specifically about the contraception mandate in the Health Reform law.

Why would they want to hear from her? They had who they wanted to hear:

Among the witnesses invited by Issa to attend the hearing was a representative of the Catholic bishops, who oppose the Obama administration “accommodation” on birth-control coverage. Joining them are many other men of other religions. Not invited, complained Democrats, were representatives from the Catholic Health Association, which is run by a woman and actually runs the Catholic hospitals, nor Catholic Charities, both of which said Friday they supported the president’s plan. …

“It was just crushing to hear the chairman’s reason to not allow my testimony,” Fluke told ABC News. “I can understand that [the issue] is connected to religion, but I don’t understand how you can have an open conversation without hearing from the women who have been personally affected by this.”

She should just let the men handle this of course:

In what seemed like a move to drive home his point, Issa’s first witness, Roman Catholic Bishop William Lori, used a hypothetical example of the government forcing a Jewish orthodox-owned deli to serve pork, as a comparison to the Health and Human Services’ mandate for religious employers.

The next three witnesses asked why the government was getting involved in the conscience of the American people.

“Religious people determine what violates their conscience, not the federal government,” the Rev. Jonah Paffhausen, Washington archbishop of the Orthodox Church in America, said. “Please get the federal government, Mr. Chairman, out of our consciences.”

Congressman Danny K. Davis asked the witnesses about their position regarding the ability of birth control to offer other preventative care for woman (such as ovarian cancer prevention) offered and endorsed by groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Public Health Association.

And the witnesses pretty much said that was hardly the issue here:

The witnesses often emphasized they would not violate their “liberty of conscience.”

“If there is real religious liberty in our country,” Bishop Lori said, “then churches have the god-given right to run their own institutions and own internal affairs according to their teachings.” Fluke sat directly behind the bishop as he made the orthodox deli analogy.

“He spent his entire testimony talking about a hypothetical story,” she said. “It was very difficult to hear his testimony about a hypothetical story and not about the real stories, about the women in my story.”

She didn’t think much of the amusing story of the deli forced to serve pork sandwiches. She’s just not a fifties gal. And Talking Points Memo discusses how the Republican Party went back to the fifties in just one day:

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) held hearings on contraception and religious freedom that produced the now-famous picture of a table full of men called to weigh in on access to contraceptives. Democrats wanted a woman – a Georgetown law student with a friend who lost an ovary because the university doesn’t cover birth control – to say her piece at the hearing, but Issa wouldn’t let her on the panel. He said she wasn’t “appropriate or qualified” to discuss the topic at hand.

Jaws dropped in the women’s rights community.

“She didn’t have the right credentials?” NOW President Terry O’Neill scoffed. “I’m thinking to myself, ‘Buddy, you and your little panel over there don’t have the right anatomy to talk about birth control.'”

And this:

Politico published a story about a right wing firestorm that had been burning for days: Did the young women who attended this year’s CPAC wear skirts that were too short? The days following the massive conservative conference, which closed Saturday, were filled with tweets and blog posts weighing in on what conservative pundit Melissa Clouthier called outfits that made the college-age women at CPAC look either “frumpish” or “like two-bit whores.” CPAC needs these women to survive – 55% of attendees at the 2011 conference were under 25 – but apparently conservatives want to make sure they don’t show too much of their legs lest they detract from the solemnity of the proceedings. The general agreement among conservatives after days of debate: a CPAC dress code would go too far – but ladies, please.

That was odd. But at least no one suggested a Burqa would be appropriate dress for conservative women – yet. And there was Foster Friess and his aspirin-between-the-knees joke. And Evan McMorris-Santoro then adds this:

So there you have it: modern women being told by Republicans that they’re not qualified to talk about their own sexual health, are dressed like “whores” and probably need birth control because they’re so slutty. And this is just in one day.

Yes, it is 1957 again, but some are not surprised:

Democratic women say this is all part of a general pattern that began in 2010 when the Tea Party helped Republicans win a congressional election based on jobs and deficits and the Republicans then set about passing new anti-abortion legislation and declaring war on Planned Parenthood once in office. They agreed Thursday stood out, though.

“Republican policies have been stuck in the 50s for a while now. I guess this week they decided they wanted the whole retro package,” said Jess McIntosh, communications director at Emily’s List. “Darrel Issa, you are no Jon Hamm.”

That would be Jon Hamm, the star of the retro show Mad Men – all about one of New York’s most prestigious Madison Avenue ad agencies at the very end of the fifties, focusing on the mysterious but oddly talented ad executive, Donald Draper. It’s a Hollywood retro thing. But McMorris-Santoro notes that it’s not real. And this one day in 2012 was the issue:

Republican women were not any more impressed. One GOP operative I talked to laughed out loud at the CPAC controversy. “Who the hell cares?” she said.

Another Republican operative defended her party for fighting the fight on contraception access, which she said was an important pushback on White House overreach and electoral winner in states with heavy Catholic populations. But she said the “optics” of the Issa hearing were “probably bad.” And she wasn’t thrilled with the image of Republicans that the likes of Santorum and Friess were presenting.

“Some will see it as reinforcing the impression a lot of people have of Rick Santorum as the candidate straight out of the 1950’s. I bet it gets played up that way,” she said. “I think most of us know you can keep your knees together and still, um, do it.”

And at this point Obama is up in the polls and the Republicans down. Maybe no one really liked the fifties, except for that frightening woman in her sixties in a poodle skirt, with the big teased hair, out in Toluca Lake.

And of course Andrew Sullivan titles his post about this Mad Men:

It’s hard to believe that the GOP has become so isolated from the American mainstream that they could not find and would not allow a single woman to testify in the Issa hearings today on contraception and religious freedom for Catholic bishops and the small minority of American Catholics who don’t agree with birth control on grounds of conscience. I know the GOP doesn’t want the debate to be about birth control, even though it obviously is at least in part, but seriously. They couldn’t even find a Catholic woman to make the case that this isn’t about abortion? Or do any actually exist? And they excluded a Catholic woman representing the majority Catholic view that Obama’s compromise was acceptable as a reasonable balance?

Whatever else this is, it is not good PR.

And then to hand the Democrats an opportunity for a walk-out that would only make the issue – especially in TV soundbites – more about contraception than religious liberty? It’s political and PR malpractice. My view that this is the wedge issue that will finally hurt the GOP has not been disproven today, has it?

The day could not have been worse for these guys:

Added to Santorum’s chief financial backer’s simply staggering and disgustingly sexist recommendation that the only birth control a woman should have is crossing her legs – with the implication that straight men have no responsibility for the matter – and we have really returned to the 1950s… But that’s who they are now backing: Santorum, the man who wants gays back in the closet and women in their 1950s reproductive place: beneath men without a condom, and denied an abortion thereafter.

Hence in part, perhaps, Obama’s growing popularity among single women… He beats Romney now among single women by 65-30. Only two months ago, it was 54-37. Now imagine what the margin would be if Santorum were the nominee.

Hey, no one really liked the fifties. And there’s No More Mister Nice Blog:

And this comes at a time when state legislatures, even in battleground states like Virginia, are pursuing personhood bills and mandatory ultrasounds before abortions. Why?

I think the right is mostly making short-sighted calculations about how to pursue this year’s campaigns – “Well, if the economy is getting better, and Obama got bin Laden killed, all we have left is abortion.” But that’s absurd when “all you have left” is potentially very unpopular. This is stuff you keep at the state level, assuming most voters won’t notice – you don’t trumpet it in a presidential election year when your pro-choice opponent is rising in the polls (and your current front-runner’s biggest weakness is that voters who pay attention to him – which could be all voters soon – know he’s a huge prig).

Is this an attempt to give cover to Mitt Romney if he’s the nominee, because it’s feared that he won’t turn out the base otherwise? Is it Catholic and Protestant organizations just opportunistically trolling for wingnut support and cash? Is it a woeful misreading of the electorate, the result of epistemic closure?

I don’t know. But I think making this the focus of GOP efforts in 2012 is a disastrous idea. Even Santorum could make it a race if he were seen as a guy with right-wing economic ideas and a coalminer grandfather who happened to be sexually square. But put that last bit first and he’s really, really doomed – as is the entire GOP no matter who tops the ticket, if the right keeps this up.

Really, this is turning out just like Happy Days – when the Fonz jumped the shark and it was all over. Don’t these guys know about that?

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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